TRANS-SIBERIAN TRAIN #10
Trip Start Apr 01, 2001
89Trip End Ongoing
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Life on the Trans-Siberian train #10 from Moscow to Irkutsk is a timewarp. Four nights and three full days on board, with a 5 hour time difference between Moscow and Irkutsk. 5152km of countryside with very few villages or towns. The train is much like any other, and there are loads of tourists onboard. There are eight of us who booked through Russian Experience:- Peta and Bas (Aussies); Bubbles and his footy ball (rugby ball) from New Zealand; Funky another Aussie; and Lucy and Henry from West London who are travelling in 1st Class. We are sharing a compartment with Peta & Bas, so our compartment is the "Party Room". Half a litre bottles of "Baltika" beer from the restaurant car cost 22 roubles (75 cents), and someone also thought to bring along a few bottles of vodka.
One evening the six of us in 2nd Class were partying away. We were soon joined by James, an 18 year old South African kid who was travelling with his parents, and "GI Joe" a Russian Soldier on his way to a posting in Siberia. After a few rounds of beers the vodka came out. One of the Aussies got out an empty film cannister to use as a shot glass, but GI Joe dispensed with this and instructed us all in the Russian art of vodka drinking. He swirled the bottle around in a violent circular motion, then took four long hard "syphonous" sips... straight from the bottle and reached for a slice of tomato or cucumber loaded with salt. Several tomatoes, cucumbers, loaves of black bread and sausages later, the vodka had been drained and everybody crashed.
Next day we surfaced at 11am to see James's father walking along the corridoor towards their compartment with a bottle of beer. Drinking before midday? Or was this a gift for James... Breakfast perhaps?!
We ate one meal in the restuarant car. The food was OK (coleslaw with crab sticks, steak fried in egg with potato, and vodka to drink), but the portions were tiny and it cost 190 roubles ($7) damn expensive! We will be buying our meals from platform vendors in future.
It appears that everyone in Siberia is called Sasha...
We were met at Irkutsk station by a bloke with long hair pulled back into a pigtail. This was Sasha #1, who we thought was going to be our "Buddy", but alas, he only handed us a map, scrawled our departure time on the back and packed us off to our host's apartment. Peta, Bas and ourselves all stayed with a woman, who, by coincidence, was also called Sasha (#2). Sasha #2 didn't seem at all phased by having 4 smelly-backpackers invade her home. She slept on the sofa, so that we could have her bedroom, and spent all her time watching poorly dubbed daytime soap operas. She gave us some food, and keys to the apartment, then got straight back to her Soaps.
The four of us walked into Irkutsk town and met up with Funky, Bubbles and a guy called Tom who was on his way to Vladivostok. We ambled around Irutsk feeling uninspired. It was a real shame that Russian Experience didn't arrange a "Buddy" to show us around. Irkutsk was the capital of Eastern Siberia and has a lot of interesting history - but without someone to tell us some of this history, buildings such as "The White House" were just buildings. The old wooden houses which had sunk into the ground to such an extent that their windows were underground made for some good photographs, but again, it would have been interesting to hear the stories behind them.
LISTVYANKA & LAKE BAIKAL
At Irkutsk bus station we met our trekking guide - Sasha #3. By this time we were wondering if all these Sashas were just taking the piss! We learn't from Sasha, who hardly spoke any English, that there was a "difficult situation"...There were no tickets left for the bus we needed to take. Sasha dashed off, leaving us to wonder if we would be spending all day at the bus station, but thankfully this was not to be so. Sasha managed to persuade 2 cars drivers to take us to Listvyanka.
Sasha lead our hike into the cedar foreseted hills. He didn't speak, just hiked up hill at a painfully slow pace and careered downhill at ankle twisting speed. Needless to say Tonya was not happy... in her books there is nothing worse than going up hill slowly... it only prolongs the agony! After 2 hours we stopped for lunch. Sasha lit a fire and boiled up some soup; water, rice, diced potatoes and tinned sardines. We continued hiking for another 2 hours through forests - no views of Lake Baikal. The weather was good, so it would have been better to take a lakeside route. This hike might just as well have been in a forest in England... or anywhere else, for that matter. Because Sasha didn't speak enough English to tell us about the area, we just put one foot infront of another and saw only trees.
Eventualy we reached the lake and found a beach to camp on. The beach is obviously where Sasha camps with all his treks... It was filthy - plastic water bottles, tin cans, beer bottles etc strewn all over it. So much for the "self purifying Lake Baikal". We made camp and Sasha lit a fire to cook supper. After supper we were allocated our tent... the one that the Aussies had built.
During the night the wind came up and at 3:00am our tent collapsed. Shoddy Australian workmanship! Paul went outside with his torch to see if he could repair the damage, while Tonya stayed inside trying to hold the canvas up. We woke everyone up with our torches and talking to each other through the tent. Sasha got up to help Paul, and asked if we wanted to swap tents with him, but we declined. The next morning we awoke to raindrops - Good job the rain didn't come any earlier, or we would have got very wet last night.
Due to the wind and rain we had to forgo our porridge breakfast (Shame!) and make do with coffee, salami and cucumber. Sasha wanted us to break down the camp quickly and get hiking before the weather got even worse. Sasha was worried that the lakeside trail would be slippery and dangerous in the wind and rain, so we hiked back through the hills. Sasha was keen to get home and he picked up the pace - which pleased Tonya, but almost killed Bas. Bas is a big bloke... a rugby player... 116 kilos... and too tall to fit on any Trans-Siberian train beds, so he had a lot more bulk to heave up the hill than Tonya did. We got filthy. It was realy muddy, we sprayed 100% DEET all over our clothes in an attempt to repel the Siberian mosquitoes, but it had little effect. By the time we reached Listvyanka we were soaked to the skin, partly from the rain, and partly from sweat. Our boots were squelching and our feet had turned into white wrinkled prunes. We also had blisters and a fair helping of mosquito bites.
Our priority on our last day in Irkutsk was to get our filthy hiking clothes washed. We walked into town with our backpacks full of washing, searching for the laudrette which our host insisted was in the middle of town. We walked around looking for it... Not an easy task since, in Russia, all shops, offices, laundrettes etc look the same from the outside. They don't have the big shop windows that we are used to in the West. Finally we found the laudrette and mimed that we wanted to get our washing done. Paul started to unload the washing into a plastic bag the woman had supplied and we asked what time we could collect it all. The woman held up three fingers, two on one hand and one on the other... "Three hours" we thought... "that's OK". Then, another lady emerged with a calendar and pointed to August 21st. Jeez! They need five days to wash a few T-shirts! It only took us an hour to do it by hand in Sasha's bathtub.
TRAIN # 264
Local train #264 hardly moves. We were stationary for more time than we were moving! We went to bed late on Thursday night and didn't wake up until 11:00am on Friday... just as the train pulled into a station. The toilets are locked at all stations and we ended up staying at this station for 6 hours! By the time we left everyone was bursting for the loo and there was practically a riot to get the woman with the key to open the door. Luckily, Paul had his leatherman and Bubbles worked out how to use it to unlock the toilet door, so this was never a problem again.
Bubbles almost lost his rugby ball at the last station in Russia, when an over-exuberant American tried to score a field goal... sending the ball onto the roof of the station. A workman had to be bribed with a bottle of vodka to retrive it.
Onward to Mongolia...