The Transsiberian Railway – Part XII: The Sausage Smugglers

(Boarding the train in Ulaanbataar, Mongolia… Bound for Irkutsk, Siberia)

This post goes under the category “totally random and a little bit strange”.

No. Actually it doesn’t. The only category that this can be filed under is “really rather ridiculously strange.”

Let me tell you the story of the Sausage Smugglers on the train to Siberia…

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So here we are. We’ve survived the desert and we’ve made our way back to Ulaanbaatar. At this point I’m pretty certain I’ve finally made sense of my train ticket. And I’m pretty damn impressed with myself for doing so, thank you very much.


I’m also rather eager to get on this moving box after being un-moving in the desert for so many days, if you must know. So without too much difficulty (I say it that way because I was ambushed by a homeless Mongol in an alley prior to arriving at the train station – and in order to make him go away, I spent 6 Singaporean dollars on two of the most uninteresting postcards I’ve ever had the displeasure of owning – expensive, yes, but he was still absolutely positive that I was ripping him off and didn’t let me go without throwing more obscenities in my direction as he disappeared, scowling, down the dirty and frozen backstreet) anyway – eventually we manage to find our way to the train station. This is another story entirely, actually – I’ve never been so afraid for my life as I was in that train station: it was completely packed… and smelly. Like old socks dipped in garbage water and hung out to dry in a stable. And the stares. I have never (well, not since crossing into Malaysia from Singapore) felt so many eyeballs tracing my every move. Like I was something interesting. Absurd!

Okay, so after what feels like forever, our train arrives. We gleefully step into the frozen darkness outside the station and make our way to the tracks, stepping on board for another couple days of living in a box. The hope is that this time, the box will carry us into Russia.

Neither of us voice it, but I for one am secretly hoping our 4-person cabin will be empty but for the two of us – just like it was on the journey into Mongolia from China – simply because it’s one heck of a lot easier to make forts when you have two extra beds and no extra people. Reserve your judgement, please. When you’re locked up in a box for 2 days with exactly 4 pillows, 8 blankets, 4 folding beds and a fold-up side-table – well, all I’m saying is that if you don’t make some pretty awesome forts, you suck.

I digress. Ok, so we’ve stepped onto the moving box and I think we’ve managed to navigate ourselves to the right compartment. With a shiver of metal on metal, followed by a resounding clunk, I slide the door open.

There’s a whole family of people in there.

I slide the door shut. Clunk.

This can’t be right?

I look to Sal, who looks to his ticket and gives me a hesitant nod, “…yep, it’s right, all right…”.

Metal on metal, clunk, door open again.

Four sets of eyes on us. And stuff, everywhere. Plastic bags. Socks. Random clothes. You can’t even see the lower bunks for all the crap that’s covering them. The tiny table pressed against the window is piled high with  remnants of a definitively stinky meal. The lower bunks are covered in things. The upper bunks are folded up against the wall. There is literally nowhere for us to go.

Clunk. I slide the door shut again. I look to my ticket, which has never made so much non-sense as it’s making right now. Blasted thing. But before I have time to think any more of it, the door opens again and an angry-faced woman steps out, gesturing for us to go in. Oh, okay. Because there’s a lot of room for us, right?

We pull down the two upper bunks and escape, for a moment, the chaos below. There are a lot of words being spoken down there. A lot of stink and a lot of speak. And a lot of rustling of plastic bags. Lots of socks. New socks. Individually packaged in clear plastic bags. These new neighbours of ours are systematically removing the socks from the plastic bags and re-packing them into their suitcases. Huh? Sal looks at me, I roll my eyes, confused. He shrugs, offers me a wobbly-pop. No better time for a beer, thank you very much. I accept.

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Before the train’s horn has even sounded, the woman stands up (I’m going to call her Bossy Eyes, for reasons you will soon understand) and stares at us, obviously trying to convey something with those crazy bossy eyes of hers. And I obviously haven’t had enough beer at this point, because she’s not making any sense.

It’s a damn good thing Sal was there, because he seemed to understand that her Bossy Eyes wanted him to move to the lower bunk. And some dude, maybe her husband, I don’t know – I’m going to call him the Bag Man because he was responsible for opening a lot of plastic bags down below, for whatever operation was going on down there – was going to take the top bunk. There would be no arguing with Bossy Eyes, so Sal moves below. I hop down too, because to be quite frank, I’m a little afraid of Bag Man. And if you’ve ever tried, it’s a little hard to have a social pint while you’re looking at the ceiling.

Not 5 minutes after we’ve sat down, and a curious Sack Lady enters our compartment. She brings this new smell with her, a smell I can’t yet identify. She sits down across from me and gives this quirky sideways grin. She’s Mongolian, for sure. And once she figures out that Sal and I aren’t, she turns her quirky smile to the right and addresses the other 4 people we seem to be sharing our space with. And then she opens her giant canvas sack.

Her hand disappears to her elbow, then her shoulder. She’s rummaging around for something. Thirty seconds later and it emerges, grasping a giant sausage.

You think I’m kidding.

I’m not.

Her smile grows in size and she says something in Mongol as she hands Bossy Eyes the sausage. Bossy Eyes accepts. So do the other two people who are sitting beside her, each accepting a sausage from Sack Lady. Then Sack Lady stands up, hands the biggest sausage I’ve ever seen to Bag Man and, looking very pleased with herself, leaves our cabin. Clunk. She didn’t get any money for these sausages. So why is she looking so damn content? I’m confused.

Sal and I watch in bewilderment as all four of our cabin-mates shove sausages into whatever nook and cranny they can find. Bossy Lady hangs hers from the mesh pocket above her bed. Bag Man puts his into a side compartment on his suitcase. One of the other two lifts the bed up and stashes his sausage in the box below. And the last one threads it through the pocket of his hoodie.

I’m a little upset I was never offered any sausage, but… I bet I can find my own if I really wanted to. (^.~)

The train shivers, the horn blows, and we’re on our way. Plastic baggies, sausages, socks and all.

Sal and I look on as the individually packaged pairs of socks continue to be systematically removed from their packaging and repacked into suitcases. The now-empty plastic bags are carted down the hall and disappear into the washroom trash-can.

And I’m no expert, but based on what they’re doing, smuggling looks like a lot of work. ^^

… (Read the rest of the story HERE!)