Before we hop onto the Trans-Siberian I must share an interesting encounter that I had in the Moscow train station. Our group gathers in the station’s waiting area and while some people have wandered off for various reasons, I am watching our luggage while Scott (from Canada) and Leah (from Australia) are nearby killing time. Scott is sitting on a row of chairs and motions for me to have a seat next to him. As soon as I do a beautiful Russian woman seated on the other side of me starts talking excitedly. She doesn’t seem happy. After a minute of what I assume are unpleasantries I stand up – maybe she’s saving that seat for someone? I go back to hovering a few steps away amongst our bags. The woman persists. Finally, she stands up and walks over to me. She keeps yelling at me, she touches my stomach (did she just call me fat?), she gestures to Leah who is sitting on the ground amongst our trekking packs…. Completely exasperated by my cluelessness, the beautiful woman sits back down and mutters angrily to herself.
Thankfully, our guide Olga returns a few moments later and I ask her to translate for this very attractive, very upset Russian woman. After an intense exchange, Olga explains that in Russia many people believe if a woman sits on the cold ground she will get an infection and, if left untreated, the infection can lead to infertility. The Russian woman was trying to convince me to tell Leah to stop sitting on the ground. Olga is serious as she explains the affliction affects a woman’s lady parts and can cause an infection of the kidneys – often a woman will have symptoms similar to pneumonia.
I’m no medical professional but this mystery illness seems highly suspicious. Scott and I decide it is far more likely some wayward Russian girl got an infection the old fashioned way and managed to convince her parents it was a result of “sitting on the cold ground.” We snicker and Olga laughs along with us but insists it is true – they even make strap-on ass mats to protect against such things! Realizing the Russian woman only wanted to save us from becoming barren, I smile and thank her. She smiles back. You learn something new every day.
The Trans-Siberian railway stretches almost 5,800 miles from Moscow to Vladivostok making it the longest railway in the world. As you can imagine, this railway was especially impactful in Russia – a country that’s size is both advantageous and burdensome. Making this endeavor even more impressive is the fact that the rail was being laid in scarcely populated areas subject to harsh weather conditions.
To ride the rail the entire way across Siberia takes eight days. Our group is getting off in Irkutsk which means we will be on the train for four nights and four days straight. To make matters even cozier, we will be sharing 4-bed compartments and a (showerless) bathroom for the length of our journey. Holy quality together time, Batman!
With a great deal of fumbling around the tiny space, Ashley, Sarah, Sabrina, and I finally settle into our cabin. Seated on the lower bunks we watch the scenery roll by and soak in the beginnings of our journey. The entire carriage is quiet – perhaps moved to silence by the promise of adventure further down the track. We look around at each other.
“So…” someone says. “I guess…. This is… it?”
Yeah. This is pretty much it. Just us. Staring at each other. For four days.
In preparation for my trip I watched every movie about the Trans-Siberian that I could get my hands on – most of them were stories of murder and intrigue on a train traveling through a frozen, unending land. I find myself slightly disappointed that no one seems to be plotting my demise… not that I know of anyway. Also, considering I dreamed of making this trip for most of my life, I expected to feel… you know, something. I wait. No profound moment of greater consciousness washes over me.
In so many ways travel illuminates the most important of life’s lessons – in an accelerated crash course style. I smile to myself in this moment knowing I’ve struggled with this lesson on other journeys, both physical and emotional, many times before: have no expectations. I know, it’s a tough one. But I find that much like the unlikely romances that sweep you off of your feet, the great job you haphazardly stumble into, or the improbable friend who changes your life, these overwhelming waves of clarity or soul-stirring moments seldom come when you think they will.
For now, I embrace my mediocre thoughts and settle into my upper bunk with a good book.