A Siberian Explosion
November 7th, 2018
Written by George Balarezo, Intrepid Global Citizen
The Trans Siberian Railroad is legendary. It is the Jimi Hendrix of railroads. Connecting Vladivostok and Moscow over a distance that seems farther than it would take to fly to the moon, you could ride it for one week straight and be on the other side of the world’s most massive country. Riding on the Russian train is an experience not to be missed and mine was a mere 32 hours.
My goal was to cycle from Tomsk to the Mongolian border while going through the Altai Mountains. Before arriving at Tomsk I would need to travel 2,000 kilometers- a feat that was impossible to carry out by bicycle given the one month time frame imposed on my visa by the Russian authorities in Seoul.
Irkutsk was a grand adventure but now it was time to move on. I road my bike to the train station with butterflies in my stomach the size of Siberian eagles. I had just said goodbye to the friends that had helped me out in Irkutsk. Indeed the city of Irkutsk and its residents holds a special place in my heart. I felt like a high school kid again on the way to the big school dance. Instead of my full suit, I strapped on my quick dry shirt and hiking boots. The road was calling and my Russian sized wanderlust always answers. It was time to move on and ride in the Siberian countryside away from it all. First, I needed to take what locals referred to as “a short 32 hour” train ride.
My bicycle made its way onto the train with the help of the attendant. There was only one problem. The train car corridor was the size of a Vietnamese underground tunnel. How in the name of Mother Russia was I supposed to load my bike onto this car that was more narrow than Ghandi’s midsection after weeks of fasting? The last thing I wanted was to be the inconsiderate guy from across the world. At least most people so far took me for a local Russian as long as I kept my mouth shut. The attendant just pointed nonchalantly down the narrow corridor and waited for me to load my bike on. My bike banged against the railings and into the door of the other passengers’ dormitory. I regretted not having learned the Russian phrase for “excuse me” or “I am sorry” yet. This was not a good showing by the self proclaimed “global citizen.”
I finally loaded my bike on the car and found my dormitory room. A smiling middle aged women greeted me with unbridled enthusiasm and kindness. A younger blond haired woman with bright sky blue eyes looked at me with curiosity upon finding out I could not speak her language. These two women would become my travel companions for the next 32 hours, so I was delighted by their warm attitudes. I claimed the top bunk as I wanted to be the gentleman and offer the ladies the more convenient bottom bunks first.
It was already close to midnight when I settled in to my bunk bed. There was nothing left to do but crash for the night. The clanking noise of the rail car wheels hitting the track and the slight vibrations that accompanied it did not phase me at all. I blacked out for several hours and was awoken at 3AM by a bodily sensation much more intense than anything I had felt in a long time. All the water I drank before boarding the train caught up with me. Now I was about to explode and I could feel me face turning green with envy at everyone else who had emptied their bladders before boarding the train. The sounds of Russians snoring roared through the train car as I leaped off the top bunk and sprinted up and down the corridor looking for a place to take a leak.
The train car worker was the only one awake and my mission was to find him before warm yellow liquid made the train corridor a slippery, stank place for all. The man was in the back of the train eating a snack. The pain on my face spoke louder than any Russian words ever could. “Twalet?” I said. The Russian word for toilet came in so handy and had been a lifesaver until now. The man just looked at me stone faced and replied in a demeaning tone. “Twalet niet,” he said. The literal translation being- “toilet no.” He then walked me over to the train schedule and mentioned the Russian number for 35 minutes. I took this to mean that there was thirty five minutes left before the next stop. Thirty five minutes would be an eternity. I would be lucky to last another five minutes. My time bomb of a bladder was about to let loose right on the floor. I ran frantically up and down the train car corridor. This was a thirty two hour ride. Surely there had to be a bathroom on the train somewhere. How could people ride on this train for one week straight across the world’s largest country without using a bathroom? The thought of this train having no place to urinate was ludicrous.
A door appeared as I ran up the aisle looking for a bottle or plastic bag that would hold the liquid I was ready to spray out. What a predicament I found myself in. I grabbed the doorknob and tugged at it with all of my might. I felt like a police officer breaking into a home looking for a serial killer on the loose. I was about to go mad in a few minutes. My craziness would have landed me on the nightly news. I pictured a headline story of a man who terrorized a train by dousing everyone with smelly liquid. The door was locked and just as I was about to use brute force to bust in, the train started to slow down.
This was my big chance to relieve myself. I walked up and down the platform looking for a place to let myself rip. The train worker was a few meters away on the platform standing with his arms crossed while joking with another man. Once again I pleaded for help. “Twalet?” I asked while pointing in all different directions. Hopefully he could at least point to the correct direction and I could bolt into the bathroom before the train left again. He slowly glanced at me and did not answer. I repeated what I was looking for one more time as my face was now gleaming from sweat due to all of the pain that had overcome my body. This time the man started to speak. The words that came out of his mouth were like razor blades digging deeper into my wounds. “Twalet niet,” he said with no expression. This guy was messing with me the whole time and probably enjoyed watching me suffer.
The man next to him wreaked of vodka and smiled with concern. The stench of booze from his breath was overwhelming to my nostrils but his smile indicated that he was ready to give me a helping hand. The drunk passenger grabbed my arm and stumbled along while pointing at the staircase located right in front of us. All of a sudden I transformed myself into a cheetah and sprinted past the drunk man. The intensity of the raw pain gave me superhuman explosiveness. Moans of relief flew out of my mouth at decibel levels higher than the noise of a Trans Siberian rail car flying by at full speed. I felt more relief than a pregnant woman just after giving birth to triplets as I let all of the liquid fly. Several hours of built up tension were released at once. This indeed was utter bliss.
After letting myself go, I went back to my bed and slept like a baby Siberian tiger who gulped down several liters of mother’s milk. In the morning my bunk bed mates were ready to eat breakfast and motioned for me to join them. We spoke to each other for several hours using body language. One lady taught me the Russian alphabet with more patience than the Dali Lama. She smiled and laughed as she corrected my pronunciation. Before I knew it, my notebook was filled up with Russian numbers and phrases. She was the greatest companion one could ever meet on a 32 hour train ride. This lady was so optimistic and friendly that I completely forgot about the experience from that morning.
Nature came calling once again. “Here we go again,” I thought. Before stomping up and down the aisles creating chaos, I decided to try a different approach. Perhaps my new friend would be able to help me out. She led me to the same door that was locked early that morning and motioned for me to take care of business. This time the door opened into a full fledged bathroom! The man from last night was messing with me! There was a bathroom on the train all along. Early that morning, whoever was using the bathroom locked the door. The train employee just wanted to make my life miserable. If I would have waited a few minutes, I would have had instant relief. But no. My state of mind led me to the edge of sanity.
People are a mixed bag. The Russian railway worker was probably angry at the world and decided to take it out on me. I felt sorry for him. Anyone that treats their fellow global citizens the way he did is sure to have plenty of anger and hatred in their lives. Despite his passive aggressive behavior, I wish nothing but the best to him and hope he learns to deal with his problems in a more productive way. On the other hand, the woman I shared a bunk room with was marvelous. Through nonverbal communication we were able to enjoy each other’s company. People all have their issues and everyone resolves them in different ways. I was not going to let one guy sour my trip. There was a nice person waiting for me by my bunk bed ready to share her positive energy with me. Just having that 32 hour friendship was worth all of the pain I endured my first few hours on the train.