Day 4 – TSR… Huh??

22 Sep

Trans-Siberian. Last night.

My last night on the Trans-Siberian from Moscow to Irkust was from hell. I really thought the train was going to tip over. Winds were ripping. Train was gunning. Our compartment was jumping. The train took corners so fast that luggage, vodka bottles and lonely planet books rolled back and forth like they’re gliding on ice. Everyone in my train car was asleep. Zonked. Snoring. How can they sleep through this. The conductor is on crack. He’s about to flip this thing. Any moment. They need to get ready…to bolt.

I’m getting sick. Fever sick. Stomach sick. Four days of recycled air. What do you expect. Mom – just skip this blog – I’m talking about those things unbecoming of a young, classy woman. Yes, I’ve gotten an email from her telling me tone down my bathroom talk. So, Mom, jump over this blog. It’s all about the trials and tribulations of traveling… Digesting and disseminating bacteria is part of the ride.

I believe my bacteria born stomach illness is due to an over indulgence in pancakes. Not our I-Hop pancakes, but Russian pancakes. What I’ve found in Russia is any piece of bread that is fried in oil or butter is considered a pancake. They fry a lot of bread here. The bigger cities have a fast food joint serving just pancakes. Though, fast food pancake is equivalent to a crepe in my world. Thin dough is fried and you have options of cheese, pork, mushrooms, gravy, chocolate, bananas – whatever you want – to stuff in the middle. AWESOME! And, it’s cheap.

On the train platforms in Siberia, there’s no crepe pancake option. You only have the thick dough fried pancake option. Think Pizza Hut pan pizza but with fluffier flour. Outside is a thick dough. Inside, you may have minced meat, cabbage, potatoes or eggs. The first ten pancakes rock. The second ten, rocked my stomach.

So, it’s in the middle of the night. It’s the last night on this portion of the Trans-Siberian. We’re stopping in Iskurk and heading to Lake Baikal after this. Can’t wait to stop rocking. Can’t wait for a bed. Can’t wait for a shower. After disinfecting and enjoying the lake, we’re back on the train for two nights in route to Mongolia. Thinking of getting back on a train, when I’m still on the train, makes me want to hurl. Damn, this train is rocking.

Crack conductor is taking a corner at high speed. I hear the wind. Thank God I can’t see outside. I envision cliffs and nothingness. Why not do something productive with my insomnia. I’m going to work on an escape plan for when he flips the train. What’s the hardest thing I have. My lap top. I’ll use it to bash the window. I’m seriously concerned here. It’s like trying to sleep on the Hulk or Spider-man at Universal. Unless you’ve consumed kegs of vodka, there’s no rest for the sober. I’m up for the night.

I find my flip flops and flip to the toilet. It’s not as bad as you think. The smell doesn’t make you dry heave. There seems to be toilet paper. And, train lady seems to empty the trash occasionally. It’s all a a positive in my book. I go inside. Lock the door. The train slows down. Shit. No pun intended. When the train stops, it means that the bathrooms shut down. Why? Because they have police checking under the cars for smugglers. They have a man using a pipe to bash all the metal under the train, checking for leaks. The bathroom crap-ola flushes on to the tracks. So, the police or pipe man does not want shit on their head when their trying to do their job. I hear her. It’s too late. Train lady locks me into the bathroom. It’s 4:00 am. Great. I have to go – can’t – have to wait for the train to move. I’m just praying to the Temples of Relief that this train stop is minutes not hours. I wait. I need to move. I start doing squats. I stretch. I look in the mirror and count new wrinkles. I look deep into my eyes and read them – tired, tired, sick, tired, get me out of here. That’s what they’re saying. About 5 minutes go by. We are standing still.

I hear banging on the underbelly of the train. They are using a pipe or something. I hear them banging under this bathroom. I don’t move. I don’t want them to know I’m in there. Don’t know why – but feel like I’ll get in trouble. I mean, I’m locked in the bathroom in Siberia. Now, I start to laugh. I have to laugh to buy time. Why didn’t I bring reading material. You can only look at a toilet for so long. What feels like hours, but maybe another 5 minutes goes by, the train starts to move. Slowly. Now, the conductor is moving like a snail. I have to dump and he’s just ruising. We start to gain speed. I hear train lady unlock my door from the outside. OK. I can use the bathroom. Nice. And, let’s celebrate that I brought my own toilet paper too. Thank you Temples of Relief.

We pulled up at the station in Istruk around 5:30 AM. The Young Bucks slumbered out. We’re in a haze. No one slept. But, I was the lucky one that pulled the all nighter. Off the train, straight to the bathroom and dry-heaved. My body was pushing out the contaminated air and straining for the clean stuff. We loaded a bus to Lake Baikal. Anna met us. She’s our Russian tour leader. The Young Bucks resemble zombies – out of it.

At 6:30 am, Anna kicks the tour into full force. She plugs in the bus microphone. Turns the volume up. And, begins to tell us how wonderful life is in Siberia. How her town is having their 300 year celebration next year and we are all invited. How the recent president gave all WWII vets a free apartment for their bravery and for ensuring freedom for her country. PAUSE. I’m sick. Tired. And, train-hung over. But, freedom? Please define freedom. Her statement goes back to Russian’s revisionist history. Stalin built one of the largest Siberian work camps (Gualegs) a few miles from here and took out another 30 or so million after WWII. Is this freedom? I looked around the bus. Does anyone I’m traveling with listening? No. Young Bucks are tired. And, Anna is talking so fast it sounds like one big, fat run on sentence to them. They’ve tuned her out. Revisionist history marches on.

Driving to Lake Baikal reminded me a lot of Lake Placid and Maine. The leaves are changing from green to yellow. The roads are curvy. Desolate. The lake is the size of our 5 Great Lakes combined. Let’s just say it is HUGE. And, its deep. (insert)

The older houses – or shacks – are all made out of wood. I love the architecture. The windows are orange and colorful . And, they all have mounds of firewood stacked outside. If there is a fire, then they are screwed. No fire insurance in these parts. I bet it is so cold in the winter.

We arrive to the Russian home of – I can’t remember their names… They greet us. They have a two story home built for travelers like us. Passing through and wanting a home cooked meal. We were so excited for heat, shower and breakfast. First thing, we ate breakfast – yogurt, crusty bread, stale cheese, salami and water melon. I ate 3 yogurts, then ran upstairs to dry heave again. I showered. It felt so good.

My hair had not seen suds in 4 days. Body either. The water turned the color of my hair – diswater, dirty brown. Glorious! I disinfected and willed myself downstairs. So tired. So sick. Already popped a Cipro. I had to stop the growth of bacteria in my stomach.

We all head out to the Lake. It’s cold. Like 40 or so. It felt good. Fresh air. We walked along a dirt path, passing mini-farms, wooden homes and ferrel dogs. Once at the lake, we decided to rent a boat for an hour or so cruise. We were in search of seals. My word, we’re near the arctic. So, it’s time for some seals. The boat was old. Big. And, the skipper slept on it. I was cold, so I hung out on his bed as I watched him steer the ship. Cig out of his mouth. I don’t think he’s bathed in a while either. I was become so drowsy, I was about the fall asleep in his wool, smelly blanket.

Boat ride over. The Lake tour reminded of me of Maine and Lake Placid without large houses. I bet in 3 to 5 years from now this place will be teaming with tourists and large homes. It’s prime. It’s ready. It’s the soon to be Siberian summer get away.

We were hungry. Again. There is NO way we’re paying more than $5 for lunch, so we end up at a pancake/pastry shop. More fried bred. I think this was more like fried bread donuts for this bread was very, very thick. The last thing my stomach wanted was fried bread. Well, whatever. I ordered fried bred with rice and eggs.

I ate it. Looked up and saw two men carrying WSJ bags speaking Russian. I wonder if they are reporters or just killed a reporter. I’m kidding. It got me thinking. Traveling reporter? I’m not sure if Lake Baikal is their market – yet. There is not much here yet. Americans are so demanding. We expect people to understand the word for toilet – and Russians – they are not there yet. No joke. You should see us trying to mime toilet to waitresses. Or, they could be reporting on Lake Baikal’s Siberian rich. Or, the bag could have been a present. I had fun fantasizing.

After lunch, Fredrick from Sweden and I headed back to our home to nap. My body was dead. I slept for 4 hours, woke at 8 for dinner – smoked fish and mash potatoes – and went back to bed. My body was like THANK YOU!

Today, we walked around Isturk. I could live here – well, let me put it in context. If I had to live in Siberia, I could live here. Cute town. Fresh air. Great markets. The people here have a strong Asian look. Beautiful. Because it is mixture of the ice blue Russian eyes, black hair and round faces. I could not stop starring at them. The men are not as cute – for they’ve been into the vodka for many years and they are carrying the more bloated look. Someone said their life expectancy is closer to 60 because of the drinking. I certainly saw the Russian drinking on the train.

Now, I’m sitting on another train. It’s late. We’ve stopped someplace. Everyone in my compartment is asleep. The train is running slower – thank goodness. Tomorrow around 11 am or so, we hit the Russian border. They lock all the bathrooms and make you stay in the train. It could take 3 hours or 9 hours – it’s up to the police. They call this border day. After we cruise through Russia, we hit Mongolia. Mongolia is the same for border. Mongolia recently changed and said that US does not need VISA. I hope they got the memo for that is not what they’ve heard on the street. My thought is – If US VISA does not work, then plastic VISA will. One way or the other, it will be an adventure.

MASH – our fearless tour leader who is from Mongolia – does not know. Nice. I don’t trust he could get me out of a Mongolian prison.

They say a snow storm is approaching and they just turned on the air condition. Looks like I’m getting sick for sure.

More to come tomorrow. Need to get my rest….

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