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PNG, for short.

28 Feb

Flight 19 from Hong Kong has been a smooth one so far, and I’ve even managed to get some shuteye. Final cabin checks call for the lifting of our window blinds, and I do so with the excitement of a little child. I’m about to land in a part of the world that has, for the better part of my existence, been nothing more than an enigma; a far away land, inaccessible to most, with many a story to its credit, but few facts to speak of. A smattering of islands between the southern reaches of Indonesia, and the northern tip of the behemoth that is Australia. In pre dawn light, I behold Papua New Guinea…IMG_9832

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The Last Continent

31 Jan

The Port of Ushuaia, the southernmost city on our planet, wears a busy look today, hosting no less than five ocean-worthy vessels on this glorious afternoon. A National Geographic expedition ship sits on one end of the pier, a couple of larger, more conventional cruise liners are moored further along; and sandwiched between them all, is the smallest of the lot, MV Ocean NovaIMG_9112

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Magistrale Diaries: The land of the Khaans

30 Sep

Two knocks on the cabin door and some garbled words spoken by our Provodnitsa are enough to awaken us. Outside, to the backdrop of rolling hills, trucks line a highway that gradually reveals an industrial sprawl. There’s a definite nip in the air and the sun is yet to make an appearance. Moments later, just a few minutes behind our advertised time, we pull in to Ulaanbaatar, the capital of Mongolia…P1020609

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Magistrale Diaries: Naushki, and the International Border

17 Sep

We’re already at Ulan-Ude when I awake. It seems we had the time zones all mixed up – Moscow+5 it shall be for the rest of our trip. We had it right 3 years ago though, alighting here at 4 in the morning local time, just to pay our respects to the junction where the Trans Mongolian bifurcates from the Trans Siberian.

Its barely daybreak as we step outside, and the station thermometer displays a chilly 12C or 54F. As the first rays of light peak out from behind, Ulan-Ude is slowly coming to life. We have a 45-minute halt here, where our locomotive is changed – electric giving way to diesel – and more than half of our original train formation is cut off. We will be seven carriages long upon departure, and ours will bring up the rear.IMG_8059 Continue reading

Magistrale Diaries: Baikal Magic

31 Aug

There’s a distinct chill in the morning air as Train 78 races east towards Irkutsk. The terrain is as flat as can be, but given that we’re scheduled to arrive there at the unearthly hour of 06:09, we get to watch a gorgeous sunrise on our way in. Arrival into Irkutsk-Passazhirsky is eventually 3-minutes early, its beautiful station building basking in brilliant morning light.IMG_7870

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Magistrale Diaries: Tayshet, and the end of the line

22 Aug

Sasha and Anya were at it for a while last night – drunk and very much out of control – eventually reined in by the occupants of our neighboring cabin, who asked them to STFU. So despite my best efforts, it wasn’t until 2 am that I finally got some sleep. I awake just as we’re easing out of Vikhorevka, which, like Ust-kut, features a more traditional-style building, and a steam locomotive plinthed on its main platform. Quite unlike the last couple of days, its blue skies and plenty of sunshine, on this, the final morning of our journey on Train 75.IMG_7715

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Magistrale Diaries: The Sacred Sea and then some

16 Aug

Around 3ish, we’re awoken by activity at the long station stop of Novaya Chara, most of it attributed to the gent who’s just joined our cabin here. If I stay up some more, there’s a slight chance I’ll get to see one of the most bizarre sights in all of Siberia – sand dunes. But I pass. Its a little past 7 when I awake for a second time, and there’s thick fog outside. With the sun unlikely to make an appearance anytime soon, it has all the makings of an overcast day, and I’m hoping to god it stays that way.

Taksimo is our first long halt for the day, and we gain another hour here, moving a timezone closer to Moscow. We also get an additional carriage at the rear, and an electric locomotive up front – the route west of here being under wires. The station building at Taksimo is contemporary in its design, and like a lot of the major ones we’ve seen along the way, fairly well equipped too. I take advantage of the 45-minute long halt here to withdraw some cash from the station ATM. Returning to our carriage, we make ourselves some tea, and head back out on to the platform to sip it al fresco, Indian Railway-style.P1010689

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