Thursday, September 10, 2009

The Joys of Border Crossing

I decided to take the bus across the Russian-Mongolian border instead of the train because I had read it was faster. If that's true I feel *really* sorry for people on the trains.

To cross the border by bus first a Russian official comes on board and looks at your passport and visa. Then we had to get off with all our luggage, have it x-rayed, have a border official stamp our visa and collect our immigration card and then load everything back on the bus. We also had to walk through a metal detector but no one was watching it so no one seemed to care that it went off for almost everyone. That was to leave Russia.

To enter Mongolia you had to fill out a health declaration form with a '+' sign next to various symptoms if you had them: cough, fever, diarrhea, hepatitis, etc. There I was with a runny and simultaneously stuffy nose and cough from this sinus infection but do you think I marked '+' to any of them? Hell no! When I got up there the official called me forward and asked 'niet?' to each one. I said 'niet' thinking maybe I had been caught but she just wanted me to mark a '-' sign next to each one.

When I got back on the bus I asked another American woman and she said they hadn't made her make any minus marks. So, I concluded that I must look sicker than her, or there is just no rhyme or reason to the way things work here. Yeah, I'm going with the latter. Especially since there was no control check getting on or off the bus to do the health inspection, it seemed to be on the honor system.

So then were on to customs to enter Mongolia. We have to unload all our baggage again, stand in line for the immigration questions and put the bags through x-Ray again. When it was my turn the guy looked through my passport, asked me whereIi was going, what was my purpose, etc. Then he studied my picture intently, looking back and forth at it and me. Then he said 'smile'. I cannot overstate the irony of this stone faced Mongolian official in his starched uniform with no hint of kindness or humor on his face, telling me curtly to smile. Evidently he couldn't be sure i was who my passport claimed unless he could match the shape of my teeth... Or something.

There was a little cocker spaniel running around and at first I didn't think anything of it. But when we boarded the bus a Mongolian official came on board with it and it darted between people's feet sniffing everything. It seems a German Shepard would Be more likely, but this little guy could get in between people's feet and sniff everything.

So then it looks like we're ready to finally get out of there and be on our way! It had been about 2 hours and 15 min at this point and there was nothing for sale - no food, water, pop, nothing- and I'm feening for a diet coke and my nose is completely stuffed on one side and I can't sleep on the bus because the roads (if you can call them that) are SO bad. So I'm getting a little grumpy, but hope this is the end of the torture and we can be on our way to stop for lunch.

We sit there for a bit and I'm talking to the American woman. Then we sit, and sit, and sit. Half an hour goes by and we're wondering what the problem is. We look around and realize that one guy isn't on the bus - and he's the dude that was carrying a case that looked like it held a Samurai sword. Great! So we sit some more and finally about 45 min or an hour later he finally comes out and we're on our way... Or so I think. Turns out there's one more check but at least this time we get to stay on the bus. A Mongolian official comes around and wants to see everyone's immigration stamp or visa. Like we didn't just do this an hour ago!

The whole process took a little over three hours and now I *really* need a diet coke! Hopefully they'll be easier to find in Mongolia than Russia.

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