Friday 18th October – DAY THREE – Krasnoyarsk at 12:37
Our new landscape had hills!
Woke up to a dusting of snow over slight rises and dips. Forest lands. The trees had been sprinkled with icing snow overnight, icing their extremities. Us tourists gabbled excitedly about snow in Siberia. Anton merely shook his head and smiled. ‘Snow for eight months in Russia. This is nothing.’
The world rolled by and the hills rolled on their own tree-covered ways. Everything looked prepared for winter. The grasses were ribbons in tones of mud-brown to sand. Those trees that could de-leaf were entirely bare while the scattered conifers provided flashes of evergreen. The white tree skeletons made stark contrast with the deep green patchwork. Even though they were evergreen there was still variety in their dress, their tips of pale, greeny-gold seemed to give each tree an inner illumination.
We travelled through small towns featuring wooden houses; sometimes painted with vibrant aqua or red to contrast with their neighbours more natural wood. Sometimes the builders had built in diagonal or criss-cross patterns in the wooden structure, perhaps an elegant veranda or a bright yellow shed stood next door. Many houses featured vegetable plots, mostly empty, and ploughed for their winter rest. Still the odd cabbages persisted like pale green skulls and one garden wore a line of weeping brown sunflowers, turning their gnarled forgotten faces to the ground.
Lifestock was rare. There were a few cows, a donkey and some wild dogs. Saw some horses the day before, wandering in a kind of swamp. We passed a populous cow paddock, fenced with sturdy grey wooden beams half-way up a hill above a small village. The lands would soon be covered in snow until March or even April. Most animals would be headed indoors. Siberia would probably be glad of global warming.
The basic cleaning in the morning got more difficult as the toilet increased in stench value. I was still uncertain if we took our droppings with us or dropped them on the track as we moved along and too scared to look. I tried to have a little bird bath but with general agreement we must clean our teeth in drinking water it all got rather difficult knowing where to put things down on which surface. Luckily there were hooks upon which to hang one’s clothes and toiletry bag. I dreamed briefly of a hot shower but we still had three days to go so returned to my zen camping mind. I thought I should have worn shirt one for three days. It was shirt two’s second day and I hoped it didn’t smell too bad. Everyone else was in the same boat. Sorry, train. First-class could at least rinse their smalls but it would be impossible to hang out washing here. Especially if there were four peeps in the same compartment! I did wash one pair of knickers and hung them quietly in the corner with my wash bag, disguised as a wash cloth. Anton seemed so relaxed and calm I don’t think anything would bother him.
Yesterday, Anton ordered my bottled water from the Russian saleswoman in the platform kiosk, a little room at the station. They were small rectangular buildings, about the size of a small container, the windows completely filled with the goods on display. The salesperson was just visible through a tiny window and offered you a tray to leave your money which she then draws into her brightly lit world and returns littered with your change. She passed through your water or whatever treat you chose. The Kiwi boys were very impressed with their Choco-pies.
I jumped on the train at the nearest carriage where there was an open door and chatted with various folk on the way through, lingering with Marie and Sauli before meandering back to my compartment. There were surly Captain and Anton, looking at me like anxious parents. Where had I been? They were worried I’d been left on the platform!
I said, ‘Duibūqī’ (‘I’m sorry’, sounds like ‘do bu see’) to the Captain and he even smiled.
Looked out on the different lines of fir tree leaves with the newer leaves lit up made me think of candles. That probably gave the Victorians the idea of decorating their trees for Christmas. Russia. Vast. Cold. And I hadn’t even read Gorky Park yet.
I stood in the corridor charging my phone and replayed Monument Valley while I stood there. In the light of my visits to Hamburg and Warsaw the game took on a layer of poignancy. Work toward peace for all, my friends.
This day was a day of quiet contemplation. There was less cheery greeting. More acceptance and perhaps a little weariness. There was a similarity to a multi-day bush walk. The smelly, long-drop toilet and the endurance of time. But out in the bush, or even on the Camino, there was clean air and the capacity to wash your clothes!
Maria and Sauli passed through after a chat with Father Will, full of amazement at his plans. Maria said, ‘I respect him. Like climbing a mountain.’ We seemed to agree his plan seemed antiquated, like our train’s coal fire. Sauli pointed out that one hundred years ago, going to Africa to teach hygiene and literacy made some sense. Now … ? A fellow musician, Sauli had learned Will played violin, so perhaps he will make music with the Cambodians and rise above dogma and the need to save their souls.
More cows in this tussocky brown grass landscape! Not sure if coal smoke is my favourite aroma. Getting a bit clogged in the pipes. Vitamins! Supplement! Anton said, ‘Do not get sick.’ I didn’t.
18:00 – Almost directly East at 360 metres elevation. Dark. Confused about time. The restaurant car operated on Moscow time which had upset the Kiwis looking for morning coffee on Day Two.
The TransSiberian/Mongolian Railway is one of the great journeys of the world. The longest train track. Six days, one hour and four minutes. A journey many people, Kiwi Mark and Finnish Maria among them, have dreamed of completing for years. Not me. Never contemplated it even for a moment. I never dreamed I’d be on this train, heading to Beijing. Living the camping dream in a classic Chinese carriage drawn by an enormous Russian engine through grasslands, forests and hotbeds of industry where momentous history of mankind has played out. With a clatter and a bang and an ongoing drone of effort, ‘I think I can, I think I can’.
What’s the worst thing? I dreaded going to use the dunny because it smelled. But, we all survived. This far! Two and a bit more days … Could we last that long?