“I literally have no idea what day it is. I’ve completely lost track of how long we’ve been on this damn train. Hours? Days?
“We’re on our way from Irkutsk – Moscow. That I know. The train ride is 5 days long. Five days. There are no shower facilities on this train. Our roommate is exceptionally smelly.
I thought I would look back on these notes in my journal with some element of clarity, but it turns out I still have no idea what I was talking about, where I was when any of this happened, or even if any of it is true. All I can say with certainty is that the notes were definitely scrawled some time during that blasted 5 day haul from the Asian side of Russia to the European side. I have no idea whether the following recollections are memories from one day, or recollections spanned over several days. I don’t even know what some of the things I wrote actually say, such is the illegibility of most of my penmanship during that train ride. Some of my notes start with a thought and end somewhere in the middle of it. Some of the words I’m sure aren’t even words at all. I’m blaming the Russians and their “juice.” When in doubt… blame the Russians. ;)
Here goes nothing…
“Muddled memories of Baltika Koronas in the dining car, a greeting from the tatooed and toothy Russians the next table over. Like a 1970’s futuristic Euro-star, the dining car looked like the Jetsons made love to a whole lot of fake plants.
That’s where it started. It ended with Sal getting lost somewhere on the train, my new “fiance” budging infront of the lineup of people outside a food kiosk in Krasnoyarsk to buy me “vah-dah” in the late hours of the evening, followed by Russian tea out of glasses sunken into metal holsters with the military boy who is our cabin-mate.
In those hours between, I have faint recollections and vodka-altered memories of what may or may not have actually happened.
It started with our baileys-and-coffee induced haze in the dining car, where I was so overwhelmed by the decor and the contrasting barren expanse of Siberian tundra passing by as we floated in our little Jetsons box through Russia that I somehow managed to tell the sketchy toothless dudes beside us what wagon number we were staying in.
When they eventually introduced themselves to Sal, who had been sitting there, evidently invisible to our new friends for the first twenty minutes of broken conversation, I made my second remembered mistake of the day: when they asked if Sal and I were dating… I told them no. As if I wanted these gross smelly dudes in my life any longer.
The train finally came to a stop (it makes quick 10 minute stops intermittently across the country) and Sal and I tried to make our escape onto the icy platform. Toothless Russians followed us outside, but we moved fast. And we didn’t look back.
For an hour it seemed our plan had worked. But it wasn’t long before we were back in our cabin, tucking into a nice bit of quiet reading, when our door flew open - clunk – and the toothy likes of сергей (Sergei) and Андре (Andre) burst through the threshold.
And then they were beside us, surrounding us, all around us. And they said something in Russian which made our room-mate, as yet silent and with whom we’d exchanged very few words, burst into laughter from the top bunk.
It wasn’t long before our cabin mate Алексей (Alexei) was sitting with us as well (his English, much better than the other two!), and we all sat around, discussing Russia and the parts that were deemed “ok” and “not ok” (For the record, Москва (Moscow) is “not ok”).
And then there were more drinks and more uncomfortable smells wafting about, and then Alexei translated the word “beautiful” for Sergei and then I was told I was beautiful, beautiful. Somewhat surprising considering the lack of shower facilities.
Then there were more Russian words and a lot of “I don’t understand”s, and then the word kinder (children, auf Deutsch), more words, more laughter, nodding.
He gave me his Russian sim-card and then “He wants to have kinder with you” and then there was a lot of movement and he took the gold band off his friend’s finger, then made to put it on mine. I laughed it off but Sal piped up,
“How many roubles will you pay for her? 2,000?”
And then discussions ensued on the amount of my Russian price-tag.
Keep in mind we’d all had several (dozen) vodkas by this point. As I was explaining (ala charades) that I didn’t have a home (because I really was homeless), Sergei responded with “No problem. Live my home,” and pointed to the map of Russia we had on the table, circling Novosibirsk.
Sal was so kind as to take the pen and draw a little house, two stick people, and a smokey chimney somewhere between Omsk and Marlinsk on our map of central Siberia.
Then there were more Baltikas (3’s and 7’s this time), and a silent dialogue exchanged between Alexei and Sal which unmistakably and unspeakably said “Don’t bring out the vodka now. Hide the vodka.” And so it was hidden.
When the tatooed and toothies left our cabin for more than a brief interlude, Sal brought out the vodka he’d carefully stashed behind his sleeping bag. Offering it to Alexei and myself, we shared in drinking rounds of shots – neat of course – and toasting to such things as “friendship,” “trees,” “grandmothers and grandfathers,” “brothers and sisters,” and “today”. After each shot was downed, Alexei broke off a piece of biscuit and offered some to us. This is the way it is done in Russia. “It’s good sense to eat with vodka”, Alexei informed us. Good grief, do these Russians ever know how to drink.
Oh, and the music.
When the train stopped in Novosibirsk, our friend and my “fiance” got off the train (it was about time; we’d started to feel a bit like animals in a cage with everyone who came by to say hello and get a look at “the foreigners”). They knocked on the window (it must have been 2 in the morning) to wave goodbye. good riddance!
After that, it was just Alexei and Sal and I drinking (yes, still drinking), and after Sal got lost on his mission to find a 4th bottle of vodka, it was just Alexei and I (Sal eventually returned with a mystery stain on his leg and tales of a long train afoot). Alexei and I switched to drinking tea and chatting while Sal snoozed across from us.
The vodka eventually put us all to sleep. Thanks to the stifling heat and hot, stagnant air inside the cabin, we collapsed like drunken babies. I don’t know if it was night time, or morning time, or lunch time or afternoon time. All I know is, for us, it was bed time.
Hours later, Alexei informed me that I sat bolt upright on my bunk in the middle of my sleep, facemask on and everything, yelled something frantic in “quick English” and promptly fell back down onto my pillow and resumed sleeping. Of course there’s not a word of truth in that. ;)
How many more days until we get to Moscow? This train is only 5 days long but I’m pretty certain I’ve completed the cycle of drunk and hungover at least a dozen times already.