Finally an entry about a train…: 02 July 2006 (Sunday)


It’s amazing! I’ve been on this train for two days straight and I have yet to read a word of my books or even write a proper entry in my journal. Is this because I’ve been so bored I’ve fallen into a Rip-Van-Winkle-like stupor? Not at all. As Nils and Anne-Marie, the Danish couple next door said, life has evolved on the train and it has become a bubble, almost a community. There was a pattern to each morning now and the landscape flies past. Occasionally we pull into stations where we get out. It is like a ship pulling into port. The babuschkas run up with goods and wares, food and drinks, we run out with money and curiousity. Then with a with a whistle and little else as warning, our land ship pulls out and, like elves, the babuschkas and their relatively lighter bags vanish from sight only to be replaced with the now familiar scrolling green landscape.

So first, I wish dearly that I could have been somewhere in Canada for Canada Day. Yesterday was the most homesick I’ve been so far on this trip. However, I have now slowly begun to make myself understood in Russian and English and also to understand the people around me. Dasha (Natasha’s daughter), for example, is actually 13 not 14 or 15 as I had thought. She spent some of last night speaking and practicing English with me.

Elena, or Lena, the Providentsia, spent some time teaching me Russian yesterday much to the amusement of several travellers and Elena’s male counterpart on the carriage, Roman. I had Elena and Roman pose for a photo with the Canadian flag! As I suspected Elena is quite young – she is 20 years old and Roman is not much older. I suspect Elena will have quite the future ahead of her, she’s smart and not shy to speak and that will take her far.

I also met the people on the opposite side of our carriage though I suspect they left the train at the major stop during the night. The father is Alexander (Sasha) and is an avionics engineer in the military. His wife is Luba, the oldest son is named Arkady and the youngest, Nikita. Nikita is a 2 year-old I’ve been playing with in the narrow carriage hallway, boy is he ever cute! All these conversations were done with very little language in common. What an amazing thing human social interaction is. Even with a language barrier we have so much in common.

Nils and I had a few beer in the dining car (yes this train, the Baikal Express, has a dining car). When Nils left I turned to the table of Russians next to me who turned out to be programmers and company “commanders” from the town of Perm going to Irkutsk on business. They were all young entrepreneurs: Sergey, Elena, Lena and Albert and will be launching their product in Cannes, France in a year. I wish them much success. We all bought each other beer and shared our music. I’ve found Americans from San Diego and a few Australians but as far as I can tell, there are no Canadians on this train.

So how can I possibly be bored on this train filled with humanity; so much to learn, so many people to talk to. I believe I’m starting to get the reputation of being that “funny Canadian.”

A bit more about the train: My compartment has four bunk beds. It is double the size of the compartment I had from Berlin to Moscow. The upper beds on the Berlin-Moscow train were claustrophobic boxes but this one is quite roomy and comfy and I haven’t fallen out yet! The train (Baikal) seems quite new and well maintained. While the Berlin-Moscow train was of former East German origin, this is a soundly-made Russian train. There is a table in the compartment that we’ve stored all our food in and there is space at the bottom of the bunks and above the door for storage,

The Providentsias, Elena and Roman take very good care of the facilities. Elena takes the morning shift and her duties include cleaning the bathrooms, vacuuming each compartment and hallway. There are ladies walking through with food and snacks. The bathrooms are not perfect but quite clean. They also lock the bathroom as we approach a major city or town as they are not meant to be used in urban areas, so check the schedule against your beer drinking! The dining car is fairly good. I’ve had their fried fish dinner and, while somewhat basic, it is actually tasty. Of course my companions Natasha, Mila and Dasha have also shared their food with me.

I’ve stood watching the landscape roll past for countless hours. I could be in the middle of Canada not Russia. Siberia and Alberta share many things in common. Both are fairly flat with incredibly large vistas of birch tree forests, scrub and grassland. There are snapshots of life as we roll by: a person picking berries; small farm houses of collapsible wood which make me wonder how they survive the -40C temperatures of a Siberian winter; a railway crossing with cars lined up, our lives so briefly intersecting that we are but a moment in each others’ lives. Unlike the Nissan’s and other foreign makes in Moscow, on these small byways I can only see Lada’s of indeterminate age, sometimes fairly rusted and likely running on rubberband engines.

Oddly my journey is almost over. As I write this Natasha and Dasha will leave be leaving the train tonight at Tayshet. A few hours later we will arrive in Irkutsk. Unbelievable, three days on a train and not a page read from my books. Train travel is anything but boring.

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