Bundles of Russians and an English touristka trundling across industrial city sprawls that churn smoke to the skies and spew cars along straight roads that cut through the vast swathes of taiga. And we go silently through the night except for the clickety-clack of steel wheels on the rail tracks or whistle of wind as two trains pass side-by-side and then we slow into town and grind to a stop. And we wait. And I stare out of the window at the Russians that climb down off the train and stand on the platform. No vodka here, only cigarettes to smoke.
Then the whistle blows and they clamber aboard for more hours of sitting. And talking and listening. And when we’re hungry we buy noodles from the provodnik and add water from the samovar that is always at the wagon end to churn hot water for tea or coffee. And although alcohol may be illegal the youth connive and imbibe a vodka or cognac. But they are young and dislike the taste so they tear at a chocolate bar to take away the foul flavour and then down another shot because they think they’ll live forever.
And when the sun sets over the broad sky and darkness falls upon all then the lights are dimmed and I crawl onto my narrow bed that hypnotically rocks to and fro and shudders and jolts as wagons contract and collide and sleep comes easily until daylight arrives once more. And it always comes fast, travelling east as I am.
Now I’m in Irkutsk and am back with my bike which made this journey across Russia much faster than I. It went by cargo train for a fraction of the price. And soon I’ll ride west towards the flaming sunsets with the wind in my hair and shadows trailing behind.