The Russia-Mongolia border crossing, though without real dramas, was tedious, hot and generally unpleasant. Mr K got yelled at by the Russian customs official: “You have no Rubles! Only declare 3,000 US dollars or more! Change here. Sign here.” Everyone in the carriage had filled the form in wrong because there was no country indicated at the top of the form so we all assumed it was for Mongolia and filled in that we were “transiting” rather than “exiting” – so pretty much everyone got yelled at for the that: “why transit? you exit. Change here. Sign here” Mr K’s cross in the exit box was not clear enough: “I cannot see a cross, where’s the cross?”, one of the Swede’s down the hall crossed to large. In the end Mr K had to sign about ten different changes on his form, I was lucky with only two.
There was also a big guy who came through and searched our cabins for illegal stuff which was odd, but over quickly enough after he unscrewed the roof panels, climbed on our beds, inspected our washroom — if we’d wanted to bring something in we would have been best to just put it in the cupboard which he never opened, likewise our actual backpacks.
There was still a certain celebratory vibe in the air as everyone had had hours to try to spend their rubles at the local store, so there was plenty of border crossing cake, cheese, beer and other treats.
Then we headed across no man’s land to the Mongolian officials – the guy we spoke to was excited that we were Dutch and so our team is still in the world cup: “Dutch? Ah – Dutch – South Africa – Dutch, Dutch, Dutch”, he then began listing the surprise eliminations: “France, Italy” with evident glee and left saying “Ah, Dutch, Dutch, Dutch!” The south Africans reported similar treatment and the Swedes got: “Swedish, Ah I speak some German” and then a demonstration. Apparently he also mentioned Princess Victoria’s recent wedding. The whole crossing took around five hours, during which time my sense of humour rather diminished – although even I could appreciate the Mongolian officer who clearly spends much of the week reading the world news so he has tidbits for the international travellers on the long distance trains – and by the time we finally were through the train had heated up so much that no one could sleep.