Lead us not into tribulations
I LOOKED out the train window at the landscape passing by. Mist covered the distant hills and a glorious red sunrise made the steppes shimmer. It was our last day on our Trans-Manchurian Railway trip and nobody was stirring in their bunks.
Others in our family group of six were no doubt still recovering from yesterday’s shock when we were supposed to finally enjoy our one “upmarket” train on the holiday only to find our tickets, which I’d reserved but only briefly checked, were incorrect and we were jammed four to a carriage, not the luxury of two apiece, which I thought I’d booked.
When I offered to plan our 79-year-old mother’s dream train trip I didn’t realise this also made me group leader, and thus expected to sort out any and all problems. I tried to get us an extra compartment but the train from Ulaanbaatar to Beijing was full; there was not one spare berth. I was directed to put those cases that didn’t fit in our carriages by the train door so at every stop it would be a matter of standing guard duty for the luggage.
I hadn’t expected a smooth trip; it was Russia, Mongo- lia and China, after all, and no one had wanted a package tour.
On Olkhon Island on Lake Baikal in Russia our booked English speaking guide did not appear at all.
The hotel only had seven steaks a night and it depended how the chef cooked your order as to whether you got one or were told an hour later “No steak!” Surely this was not my fault?
On arrival in Ulaanbaatar our transfer chap told us he was taking us to different accommodation The Chinese President had taken over our hotel and we’d been moved. “Could have happened anywhere!” I tell our group.
When we arrived at the beautiful ger camp I had arranged, we discovered no one spoke English. Groups would pass through with an English-speaking guide but no such luxury for us. On the first day, the group wanted to know why I hadn’t thought of booking an Englishspeaking guide but by Day Five they were all great at sign language and able to get water heated for showers whenever they wanted and fires lit in their ger tents.
They all loved the Mongolian staff running the camp. They adored the food, the archery and all the activities I’d booked us, from rafting and horse riding to the pleasures of a traditional sauna. At last I was redeemed.
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