Source: Eric Hill www.gowitheric.com
The early light of the Siberian sky lit the inside of the modified shipping container where we slept through the little cutout windows. When I opened my eyes, it took me a second to remember where I was. “Are you awake?” I croaked to my brother, Brett, on the bunk above me in a first-words-of-the-morning voice. When he responded, I kind of laughed as I asked, “How did we end up here?” Through a series of fortunate and unfortunate events, we had ended up in a gold miners camp in a remote part of Siberia four hundred kilometers outside of Krasnoyarsk, Russia.
The original plan for Russia was to spend a day in the Capital city, Moscow, then head to Irkutsk, four days journey away. I thought it would be a perfect time to get the pictures edited from the past countries and catch up on my journal, and all sort of other things that had stacked up a bit all while enjoying the countryside across Russia. I left the planning of this part of the trip in my brother’s hands. It was our deal, since he spoke Russian after living in St Petersburg for two years, that he would be my translator, cameraman and travel planner, and I would cover his trip with me to Russia, Mongolia and China. For both of us, it would be the first time truly around the world.
Brett got everything together surprisingly smoothly for a twenty-two year old novice traveler! There were a couple of bumps in the road though. We had some issue with our visas that luckily worked out in time and we had the train schedule a little misunderstood. We ended up leaving a day later than planned, but we figured we could still make it in time so he could get back without missing too much school. Also I hadn’t asked the right questions about the train. I assumed that the trains would be like the ones I’d taken throughout Europe. Not so much.
First of all, the train cars were stiflingly hot and humid, and there were only tiny slits at the top of a couple of the windows to ventilate the small space full of over fifty people! Good thing I had on my Dare Denim jeans, they breathe well in situations like these. Maybe it was because of my own odor, but, luckily, I didn’t find the smell too unbearable. Bonus. Second, and probably the most frustrating, was the only power on the train came from a plug at one end of the car next to the toilet and I wasn’t allowed to use it! The conductor saw me scrunched in a corner with my computer plugged in trying to get the media package to the team in NYC and told me it was the wrong voltage. Not charging my computer was not an option. I would constantly be sneaking power with my brother on lookout. When the conductor would walk down the aisle towards us, I’d quickly unplug everything and hide the evidence. “Oh nothing going on here Mr. Conductor man. Just enjoying the bathroom fumes without a seat.”
But the biggest and most devastating difference was the scheduling. Trains in Russia, apparently, can leave ahead of schedule! After not sleeping for nearly two days because of the crazy sauna conditions, I finally fell asleep. Two hours later, we had a thirty-minute stop my brother and I had planned to use to jump off and get groceries. We kind of moseyed off the train and took our time getting some unique Russian groceries then made it back to the train with over ten minutes to spare, only to find the train rolling off without us! And it had our passports, camera equipment and luggage in it. All we had were our wallets and two half-dead iPhones. Incredibly, after an eighteen-hour ordeal, we got all of our stuff back. I don’t know what we would have done if Brett didn’t speak Russian. I’m sure I could have communicated the problem eventually in a place where no one spoke English, but the fact that we were able to get it done right away was the only reason I’m typing this blog on my computer right now. It still put us back nearly an entire day though.
Since we were so behind schedule, we decided to scratch Irkutsk and instead stop in Krasnoyarsk to meet up with my friend Tamriko’s family. It turned out to be a better stop than I was even imagining. Her family ended up being such awesome hosts! They were so proud to show us the culture and surroundings of where they lived, and they read me well. They understood I wanted to get out of the city, so we did. Tamriko’s step dad, Andrey, his buddy Ivan (Imagine Arnold Schwarzenegger in his thirties) who worked in the gold mining industry and we two brothers headed out. We drove for hours away from the city through the Siberian Steppe and deep into the taiga forest.
Here we met up with a couple that lived year-round through the extreme conditions of the Siberian mountains in a modified shipping container. It was perfect. The hearty couple loved the fact that they had the area’s first non-Russian visitors. After helping chop some wood for cooking the food and keeping the little home warm, we feasted on wild mushrooms and other plants picked out of the forest along with some calorie-packed meats and breads. It was amazing what could come to the table in such a remote place. For years this was the life of the couple. In a little box-home full of books and surrounded by forest and mountains, the two lived happily. In a complex itinerary, the simplicity was refreshing. The fiasco on the train seemed ages in the past. It was hard to leave that place.
Source: Eric Hill www.gowitheric.com