Monday, June 24, 2013

June 15, 2013

The bed was relatively comfortable, but we had left the upper window open and it got really cold in the middle of the night. I had to get up to secure a blanket and use the bathroom, which resembled the lavatory in any airplane. The train made many stops and then two men came into our compartments and occupied the upper berths.

When I woke up before six, Willoughby was already up reading from her Kindle. I went to brush my teeth and brought hot water for our coffee. Water is kept hot by burning coal all the time. In fact, the train locomotive ran on coal the entire time and when the wind blew our way, the fumes were unbearable.

I made my way back to the dining car to place our order for breakfast running a gauntlet of smokers at every junction between cars. Once at the dining car, I found that except for one, the other five women were asleep on what seemed like tables turned into beds. Elvira apologized for not remembering we wanted to eat breakfast and promised to come by shortly.

We ordered eggs, fried for me and scrambled for Willoughby, and they came with fried slices of salami,  sliced white onions and green onions for garnish. I accompanied mine with the flat bread and made more coffee for the two of us. Elvira had agreed to bring the food to us instead of having us trek to the dining car.

The second border crossing into Kazakhstan took place in the morning and this time we were told to stay put while the border officers came into the compartment with dogs, mirrors and other devices to look for drugs or other forms of contraband. A young woman brought a laptop that sat upon a scanner and quickly scanned our passports into it.

Our compartment attendant apparently wanted to get some money out of us and kept coming back with large bills wanting us to break it into smaller ones. I claimed to have no money on me since I was carrying all my money in my money belt and wasn't about to show it him, but Willoughby did change some money. When he asked for our passports this morning, he signaled we each owed him two hundred rubles. We asked why and since he couldn't explain it in English apparently gave up in frustration.

The officer asked both of us to look at him directly in the eye as he examined the photos on our passports. I almost broke out in laughter thinking of how ridiculous they looked in their fatigue uniforms and how I failed to be intimidated by their actions. We got the usual stares and questions about traveling alone while not speaking Russian.

There was nothing to look at from our window except for the occasional camel or cemeteries stuck in the middle of nowhere. Two women had come in the middle of the night and were occupying the berths next to the window opposite us. The younger one talked on her cell phone almost nonstop even though I kept glaring in her direction in clear annoyance.

The older woman had brought a veritable store with her and when not sleeping, which she did most of the trip; she served herself many dishes and copious amounts of tea. The two young guys on the upper berths were from Uzbekistan and were apparently traveling with little money and no food. The woman seemed not to mind sharing her supplies with the guys, which was a nice touch to observe.

By mid-afternoon, I was dying to have a nap, but the sun was beating on my side of the compartment and it was a hot as furnace in the compartment.  The air was still with no breeze coming in at all. Clouds moved in and then finally a short shower fell causing the guys on the upper berths to close the window immediately.

Elvira came by to take our order for dinner and only lagman appealed to me. Willoughby had her cheese and apple dinner and we share the last of the baklava for dessert. I read my "Lacuna" book and Willoughby her Anna Karenina while trying to fend the heat building up in the small space.

 The sun didn’t go down until nine and then when I tried to go to sleep, three children under ten decided it was time to play cops and robbers with a plastic gun. None of them were assigned to our compartment, but their parents allowed them to roam the length of the car.

I tried to signal for them not to come into our berth, but to no avail. When 10:25 came around and they were still running up and down, I picked up one of my Teva sandals and threatened to strike their behinds with it. One of the mothers immediately got up and restrained her child. Peace and quiet followed and then I was able to go to sleep.

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