Kazakhstan to Russia - What an ordeal

Trip Start Jun 11, 2011
Trip End Sep 21, 2011

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Flag of Russia  , Samara,
Saturday, July 2, 2011

We woke up still in Kazakhstan with an extra passenger in the top bunk, Halida, 33. I think she was shifted along when new passengers boarded the train in the middle of the night. Halida is Uighur and from Tashkent. Both she and Farida are going to Moscow to work.

How wonderful to be in a fertile and green area again. Desert and arid steppe can be draining, especially when trapped in a 40 degrees+ cage with the air-conditioning broken. Actually it is 'broken' in all carriages, I think, except 1st class. Why am I not there? It costs nearly double but most importantly, with just 2 people per compartment, you might not end up having much fun and conversation.

At 8am we reached the Kazakhstan border town of Yaysan at 1680km. Passport processing took over two hours. We then travel to the Russian border at Sol-Iletsk at 1776km. Border is gra-nit-sa.

The Russian vocabulary is getting a fair practice as we try to talk. Farida's husband is dead and she has four grown-up children. She has an Uzbek boyfriend in Moscow. Farida is sweet and smart and has the most beautiful pronunciation of Russian.

Halida is married to a farmer outside Tashkent and they have a son of 6. She is on her 4th stint to Moscow to work to try to make ends meet and perhaps one day be able to have a house of their own. She is critical of the Uzbek president as many Uzbeks remain trapped in poverty and have to take such measures as seek work in Moscow. Farida, on the other hand, thinks president Karimov a very good president. We have talked a little about the lack of democracy, the ubiquitous police and nepotism, which they agree are issues.

Interestingly, when a new person is introduced into the mix, they get the received information about the me. It is true, as claimed in the small Russian phrase book, that without making an effort to communicate you will be isolated. It transpires that Halida is a real chatterbox. She never tires of making me try to understand and calls me Anja, which I think is cute. If just we shared more of the same language. She is great!

Yet another person has joined us in the remaining top bunk, Sardor, a 29-year-old confident male, who speaks a few words of English. Well, I complained a little about the many bodies in our small compartment, what with the sexually tense Mongolian-looking Uzbek, who paid us visits all day long. The result was that Sandor has been sent to some other bed and I have made the big Uzbek persona non grata. It could all be my age, too! The men flock to Farida especially, and I get a little sick of all the simplistic flirtation around me. Some of them are good fun, though, and it's interesting how getting on here is all about relationships - with neighbours, the provodniks (who brought us bowls of macaroni soup tonight) and now a group of young women, who have descended on us.

I felt a little like Santa Claus when going through my stuff for anything I could get rid off: packets of tissues, some sleeping tablets (yes, horror - I only used one last year on a 13-hour long distance flights and one this year so far and I had 30), a bottle of eye drops etc. In return I have received on hair clip, which Halida thought would improve my appearance, and now a pair of cute socks from one of the young women.

This morning I was in luck when the bathroom was free just before our first long stop, during which the doors are locked. I had a "shower" and washed my hair. A plastic bottle cut in half is used as a scoop. I also have a universal plug for the basin, which I clean first. The floor has a draining hole, so everything works well. Except, the provodnik told me off for the water on the floor, but this toilet is actually so much cleaner for it that the disgusting one I visited overnight. Yuk!

Breakfast was a shared affair with various breads, sausage and hard boiled eggs.

At the second granitsa the train got the once over: every train cavity searched, passport photos scrutinised… Meanwhile, the sun is beaming on our window, superheating the small compartment with several friends visiting. The border crossing took some five hours, I think and we were close to desperation as we just sat there with no ventilation, sun streaming in the windows and everyone barely able to cope.

When we finally got away, we first stopped at a bridge over the Ural River at Orenburg, 1853km, guarded by an armed soldier and a Gt Dane on a long wire. Out the other side we saw people enjoy the local bathing spots on this hot summer's day.

The rest of the day was spent traveling through green agricultural landscapes that reminded me a lot of Denmark and such a contrast to Kazakhstan. Many small villages and towns went by. I decided to have dinner at the restaurant paid for in some strange transaction of Kyrgyzstan som directly to the waiter. I think I got a good bargain - after all, what was I going to do with that money? I had, predictably, plov (fried rive) with yellow carrots, which are common here. I will grow some this coming New Zealand summer.

The long anticipated Samara station, a major stop, did not disappoint. The whole station is in the shape of a space station, air-conditioned, sparkling with blue lights and quite unbelievable. It is air-conditioned - oh, what luxury for the moments it lasted. Interesting how we just wandered all over the tracks to get to the closer platforms.

I am now told I look tired and time to close the computer. I suppose they are right!
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