Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Krasnoyask to Irkutsk to Ulan-Ude

Waking up on the train, still hours outside of Irkutsk, the landscape finally resembled the Siberia of our preconceptions. The night before also, was full of stereotypes. We finally shared a compartment with a young drunk soldier and his comrades (we had braced ourselves for this to be a nightly occurrence . We think only one guy was actually ticketed in the cabin, but the friends had obviously been using it to drink, store their luggage and eat sunflower seeds for days. Getting on at 1am, we found our compartment stuffed with suitcases, even in the luggage space under our side (a train faux-pas). I huffed and sighed and shot withering looks at the lump on the other top bunk. A young drunk guy with a premature vodka belly stood in our doorway and tried to convince us (in Russian) to take the two bottom bunks. -- The way it works is that the top bunker has to share the bottom bunker's bed during the day, so we knew we wanted the same side. We also have a system where if the other passengers are two guys I get the top bunk for privacy (ish), two women, Matt gets the top bunk, and a couple, we match them.

Anyway, after waiting for the Provodnista to collect tickets and hand out linen, and listening to some "hey big man, sit down", "America!" and "Obama bad, Putin good!" an older lady appeared in the door of our compartment. She was so pleasantly flustered, and polite to the burly dude obviously sitting on her bed. She reminded me of Betty Gannon, and not just because she seemed to have a dozen kids all wearing matching herbalife jerseys. I rejoiced as she put her stuff away, and climbed into the lower bunk. She of course disappeared (likely to settle her brood) and the "big man" came back with his reinforcement, a guy who may have spoken 20 words in English, sober. We turned off our lights and pretended to sleep, while they sat on the lady's bed slurring random English words and laughing.  The older lady reappeared and retreated a couple times, until the provodnista marched into the compartment in her fabulous boots and chewed out the soldier. Big man and the drunk english speaker came back briefly to ask Matt "you will come communicate with us?", but he respectfully declined.

The battalion loaded out around 5am, and we got to spend a quiet day watching the frozen taiga fly by with Betti Gannonovna.

Our train cabin. Each train was a little different but the general idea was always the same.
Sadly, we arrived in Irkutsk after dark, and left before sunrise in the morning. Due to a series of misadventures, we found ourselves negotiating with a charming marshrutka driver to get on the 7hour mini bus ride to Ulan Ude. We skirted Lake Baikal and at least saw the "Pearl of Siberia". It is a big lake, but I think it's impressiveness will be better appreciated when we come back in summer and can actually swim and dive. It is the deepest, and one of the clearest lakes in the world with visibility up to 50m (164 ft), it also has 20% of the world's defrosted surface freshwater and flora and fauna not found anywhere else. So yeah, we wanted to visit, and will someday. 

So, who's up for a Korea -> Vladivostok -> St. Petersburg -> Scandinavia trip (summer) a few years from now?