My first thought upon seeing my cabin/home for 4 days was ‘oh shit’. Not only was it smaller than I thought, and I wasn’t expecting much mind you, but it was 50 degrees degrees Celsius. I quickly marked my territory in the room, not like a dog, but in terms of space, as I read that to do this is recommended, otherwise you’ll potentially be isolated once the Russians enter. After 3 minutes I was sweating like a pig and trying to force the window open when my cabin mates entered, 2 middle aged women. ‘Does this fucking thing open?’ i asked, ‘It’s like a bloody sauna in here!’ (Note, swear words added retrospectively for effect). They looked at me, said something to each other in Russian, and giggled. That would be one of the themes of my cabin mates over the 4 days, they all laughed at me when I spoke for the first time. I said, ‘yeah, yeah, I’m Anglo, ha ha, but we’ve gotta spend 4 days in this den, if we don’t open the window we’ll die!’ That was the extent of our dialogue for the day they bunked with me, except when once they asked me to leave, in english, so they could get changed. That made me think they had selective English Amnesia, I.e. not understanding English when I needed something, but suddenly grasping the basics when they needed something. ‘I think I know what you’re playing at’, I said, and then pretended I couldn’t understand their question, ‘I speak Mexican’. They had no choice but to undress in front of me while I sat on the bed and made myself comfortable, telling them to relax, and to take their clothes off s-l-o-w-l-y, in Mexican of course.
Im getting sidetracked, back to the first moments of the journey… it seemed the thing to do for the guys was to gather around the windows in the hallway, to watch the train depart. Many had cracked open their first beers, all sweating like pigs. I looked at the beer and started to salivate, ‘ooh, that looks good’. The little voice saying ‘easy tiger, you know how beer and transit mix, remember the ferry in Thailand and the throwing-up-into-the-bin-incident. Keep it together’. ‘I don’t want to keep it together, I want beer!’ I yelled (the Russians wondering who i was arguing with) and went in search of the dining cart. This landed me in trouble with the attendant, yelling ‘blah, blah, blah..’ in Russian. ‘where is the food and beer?!’ ‘blah, blah, blah… ‘. Sod it, I thought, and trundled back to the den with the Russians. Which got me thinking, where are all the westerners? This journey is supposed to be rife with them. I wouldn’t mind having at least one conversation over the next 4 days, seeing as though I haven’t had one in the past 4, apart from the solo arguments, which were increasing by the day. Eventually I made it to the dining cart, and found English, Canadians, Swiss, Swedes, Australians, all having different motives for being on the train. Some were doing a promo for Louis Veton (who made me feel like i was at work, which I didn’t appreciate), some were documentary makers, others were just going for the ride, like me. I had 2 warm beers and called it a night.
The rest of the journey is easy to summarise. The first morning I was a bit like a cat in a new environment, curiously exploring all the nooks and crannies (didn’t find any crannies, what is a cranny anyway?) Thereafter, it was all about practising the art of relaxation. This may sound strange, but I don’t think I’ve ever been as relaxed as I was over those 4 days. The idea of waking up, knowing that there is absolutely no reason to actually get up, so going straight back to sleep again, a deep sleep, with not an ounce of guilt that time is being wasted or there is somewhere i need to be, is something I’ve never experienced. The sounds of the train, my cabin mates coming and going, the platform announcements, all added to the experience. Then, once you decide it’s time to get up, you look out the window and see how the scenery had changed, head to the dining cart for coffee, pancakes and reading your saved newspapers. And that’s roughly the cycle for each day with a few deviations.. go back to the cabin and lie down for a bit more, head to the hallway to stick your head out the window, have a random conversation with someone, head back to the dining cart for another coffee and another random conversation, back to your cabin for some sleep. I’m not a deep sleeper, or someone who can sleep at will, so to be able to regularly go to my cabin and just doze, with ease, was something to cherish. Adding to the experience was the fact I didn’t have a phone or Internet, so there was no feeling that I needed to respond to anything, call someone or do anything. I’ve had beach holidays, I often spend afternoons in London drinking coffee and reading the paper, but nothing like this. This is forced relaxation, and once you unwind and accept that you’re not going to miss a connecting train, announcement, phone call etc, it’s a sweet ride. Not showering, not having anything to do or feeling confined didn’t come into the equation, nor did the language barrier, I found myself wanting to stay on beyond my 4 days.
One of the interesting sideshows, apart from the changing scenery and the conversations with westerners, was my ever changing cabin mates. After 24 hours, the first 2 departed, and 3 entered. One of the guys can best be described as looking like the Russian who fought Rocky in one of the Rocky movies. I walked in after they’d unpacked, he looked at me and said ‘sit’. He turned out to be amiable, offering me food and tea as best as one can with broken English. He wanted my email and URL and promised he’d stay in touch. Then a single middle aged woman came, who prayed a lot, then a younger woman, who bought food and chocolate to share with me, and laughed whenever I spoke. Then I had it all to myself for 2 nights, which was complete luxury.
Ps, I’ve just uploaded a batch of pics to my Flickr page, see the link on menu to the left.