While I love airplanes and flying, nothing in the world compares to train travel. The longest train ride I ever took in my life was from Beijing to Ulan Bataar Mongolia. It was about 24 hours through China and Outer Mongolia and I loved every single second of it.
Mary-Alice, who I traveled with across half the world, and I had our own cabin and spent half the trip with our heads out the window, half naked, airing out our souls. That is until night fell and the train would randomly stop in the middle of nowhere. Then we prayed that our souls be saved.
At about two in the morning, in the middle of Mongolia the train just stopped and dumped out the passengers for two hours as they changed the wheels. The tracks in Mongolia and China are different so all the wheels of the train had to be changed and it takes a while. Let me tell you, there is no place that feels like the middle of nowhere like Outer Mongolia at 2 a.m.
I thought that was going to be my favorite memory of the trek, but I was wrong. Just before the Chinese officials boarded the train to check our visas and our cabins, our Mongolian train conductor came to Mary-Alice and I and asked if he could hide some produce in our berth. We of course said yes as Mongolia does not have much farmable land and who were we to deny innocent people of food. So we stuffed our entire room full of produce and kept our mouths shut.
When the border patrol came in, we all but glued our butts to our beds to keep them from finding the contraband tomatoes. Could we be thrown in jail for aiding and abiding the transportation of vegetables across national borders?
I’ll never know because no one was the wiser. When Mary-Al and I finally arrived in Ulan Bataar and headed for the platform, our conductor called for us and threw us a tomato as a thank you. And yes, I kept the thing until it was basically ketchup.