I had taken the train before to see my host family earlier this year. But this last trip to the train station would be different . I would be leaving for good.
The majority of my Peace Corps cohort had already peaced out , taking planes to their respective home of record or to travel stints of their own. I for one elected to do the crazy route. Getting the train out of here. Months of trip planning, visa application paper work and it finally comes down to this. Getting on train car number one, and slowly watching the train station pull away.
I watched the now familiar landscape go by on the train. I watched gers and herds of various animals go by. All of that was familiar and now I was leaving it. At some point during the night we passed by pre service training host site. We just kept on trucking. In all honesty I don’t think it will hit me that I have left for another couple of months , but I will let you know when that happens. Though I did have plenty of time to think about it during our culminated 6 hours of border crossings. Yep. 7 hours.
We arrived at Sukhbaatar at around 7 am in the morning, and waited till 9 am for the customs agents to start work. The actual passport and visa check must have taken around 30 minutes once they did finally show. At 10 am we started trucking along to the Russian border , not even 30 minutes away. Once we arrived in Naushki , the Russian border town, it took perhaps another 30 minutes of passport checks and then around 3 hours of just… hanging out ? My best guess was they were waiting for the Russian engine to come over. We were allowed off the carriage once they finished our customs stuff, so we wandered along the station and chilled in the sun. Finally at around 3 pm we got our engine and headed out. We finally got into Ulaan Ude around 10 pm in the evening.
A quick taxi drive away, we located our hostel, next to the largest Lenin head … in the world . It quite the landmark and you really can’t miss it. After a good nights sleep , we were ready to explore.
Ulaan Ude is considered the home of Buddhism in Russia, and considering a major percentage of the population is Buryiat, a large Mongolian tribe , it almost felt like I was still in Mongolia. We visited local monasteries, that have seen a rejuvenation over the last couple of decades. We also just explored the town, which included pedestrian walking streets, opera houses, traditional Siberian architecture and even a mall… with an H&M store! So in many ways… it felt quite different from Mongolia.
I should also mention that numerous selfies with Lenins head were made. I mean , c’mon who could resist!?
After a busy couple of days, onward we went – Lake Baikal here we come!