The second part of our Trans Siberian journey started pretty colorful and funny although if we think about it, this whole story could have ended much worse.
Our train from Chelyabinsk to Irkutsk was leaving at 12.55 am so around midnight we left our awesome host, got a cab and drove to the train station with about 20 min to spare. When we got to the train station it turned out that the cab driver didn’t have the change so really quickly I had to find a place where I could get some smaller bills. Following the Murphy’s Law ( “Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong”) I was stopped at the train station ( for the first time while we were in Russia) by the local Police that none of them could speak English-not even “Hello”.
“Do you have passport? Where are you from? Where are you going? Where exactly did you come from? What did you do in Chelyabinsk? Your last name? What country are you from?” etc etc….you might think there is nothing easier- just answer the questions and then go and continue to look for someone who could give you the change. First of all I could not understand what they were asking, and then how in the world can I answer all those questions in the language that I’ve been around maybe for a week- the most! Cutting to the chase somehow after a while I passed the police interrogation and ran to the first little store with souvenirs to get the change thinking nothing worse can happen and from this point on everything is going to go smoothly- I’ll pay for the cab and we will have some time to smoke a cigarette before getting on the train.
“Do you want to buy a souvenir magnet?” asked a guy at the first souvenir shop. I explained to him that i just wanted to get some change. I’m thinking “screw that guy” and went to another shop and then another and another…….nobody wanted to give me smaller bills. The magnet dude saw that and waved at me so I ran to him thinking he will give me the change-
“Do you want to buy a souvenir magnet?”- and I’m thinking……..are you fucking kidding me I don’t want your fuckin souvenir magnet all i want right now is to hit you in mother fuck’n face.
Finally one of the police officers seeing me struggle told me to go to the lady who was charging for using the restrooms and that worked perfectly as I got my change and ran back to the cab.
We still had a couple of minutes before the train was supposed to leave so we weren’t in the worst situation, but with the clock ticking we decided to head to the platform and……..of course it wasn’t enough that I went through Police control and that we both had backpacks and hats on, and we both had our guitars with us -it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that we are traveling together- well apparently it does as Lukasz had to go through the exact same questioning- “Do you have passport? Where are you from? etc….etc…..here we go again…
“Where is your other stamp?- asks one of the police officers pointing to the passport ( it must have been higher rank police officer or undercover because he didn’t have his uniform on). Both me and Lukasz looked at each other- what now? What other stamp? And again trying to explain in the language that we don’t speak that we have no idea what they are talking about, not even mentioning that minutes are passing by, and we are closer to our train departure. We started to stress out, but thankfully the officers let us go and we sprinted with our backpacks to the train platform to only find out………. that there is no train! According to the time we had 2-3 minutes before the train should have left, but there was no train and absolutely no people. Puzzled and really nervous we started to look for someone who could help us and you can only imagine our faces when they told us that the times of departures are given in Moscow time which is 2 hours behind from the Chelyabinsk time. We were very lucky that we didn’t go other way- coming back from Moscow and as some say- Carpe Dream team is always lucky. 😉
Although we had a stressful start of that adventure it was a very interesting experience. Especially at the platform while waiting for the train. This time we had a totally different view- this time they weren’t soldiers coming home, but young soldiers leaving to join the army. As you can only imagine the atmosphere differ from the previous one when we came to Chelyabinsk. There were families that shared tears but they were tears of sadness, not happiness like we witnessed couple of days ago.
You could also see the difference in their behaviors while traveling. They were young, shy, quiet soldiers and very respectful towards each other. Im not saying that our previous interaction with soldiers was disrespectful but there was something different about them. You could see the unknown that they were facing for the next year and to be honest with you there was no excitement on their part. The biggest difference that i notice with other soldiers was the fact that they were smoking a lot- cigarette after cigarette non stop. This time i haven’t seen any of them smoking. I heard that in Russia 80% of adult men are smoking, and I’m not surprised as the military service in Russia is mandatory and alcohol consumption is prohibited while serving , but smoking is allowed and they have very easy and cheap access to it. Considering that I was thinking that maybe Russian military should be sponsored by Chesterfield brand.
The actual train ride was much more peaceful than the one couple of days ago but the ending of the trip was very surprising to us. You have to realize that we are a pretty big attraction to the locals and people are curious when they see 2 dudes with their hats on, carrying their guitars, loaded with GoPro, cameras and a solid laptop, and even if we don’t look for any company many times people come up to us and ask us questions. When they hear that we are traveling to Australia not really knowing what kind of transportation we will use next, and that we are writing this blog that you can read it even in Russia-giving them our business cards- they get very interested and you can see that curious look on their faces. Very quickly we become the attraction and for a moment we have that “movie star” feeling. When they found out that the pictures that we are taking are going to be shown in our blog that is written in 4 different languages they got very proud and willingly were posing for other pictures.
The fact that for most people; our journey looks very professional it develops that trust that helps them open up a little more, and because of that we can do much more than just regular travelers without cameras or recordings.
That was the case when comes to our young soldiers. When the train stopped at different cities they allowed us to take pictures with them, and right before we got to the final destination they gave us so much food that we don’t have to buy anything else for our trip to Mongolia-that is on our next agenda. Every new soldier who goes to the military service gets a little package with Russian Army logo that contains cans of spam ham and other canned goodies, jars of fruit preserves, coffee, tea spices etc. Considering that trip like that for some soldiers can take couple of days it definitely comes in handy. Our military companion didn’t even traveled one day and they were thoughtful and kind enough to share with us their leftovers. Before you knew it we had probably 10 little packages that they gave us. When Lukasz woke up he couldn’t believe his eyes 🙂