Irkutsk bound. Hordes of people boarded the train en route to rural towns with limited transportation. Not a tourist in sight. We loaded our luggage into our four berth cabin in the second class and noticed someone lurking in the background. We were three. Each cabin fit four. So, do the math. By the time we realized (few days before travel), it was too late to buy out the fourth berths on all our rides. Even when we tried, it was fully booked! The Russian railway system is extensive and complex. BUT! It is one of the most efficient and well-run train systems in the world. My advice: Hold on to your tickets and stick to the original plan.
So, obviously, we shared with a gentleman, Wadim, who was already on the train for 2 days. He jumped up to the Upper Berth, got comfortable, blurted out “Chita” and snored up a freaking thunderstorm. I’d lie if I told you we weren’t terrified by his attitude. He was en route to his hometown, Chita. Another 5 days of extensive travel.
55 hours of gentle train rock across the endless land of Siberia as thousands of Siberian Cedars flashed by us. I never thought I’d spend my birthday looking out a train window at the sleeping land. A land once cursed by the system of forced labor camp, Gulag. Even Colin Thubron put me off after the fourth page of “Siberia” a couple of years ago because it was at the level of gloom. And now I was here, actually here. SO surreal.
We ate, drank, slept, and socialized in sign language and head nods. People told stories through their facial expressions. I’ve never cracked so many sunflower seeds over tea in my life. Whether it was night or day, it didn’t really matter! As part of our exercise routine, we’d hop down for a breath of frozen fresh air (15 below zero on average) in our slippers whenever the train would pull over (up to 20 minutes) at stations or walk down a couple of carriages to the dining car for some Russian treats.
We were living in another life.