Before we left home, as we planned this trip, we researched quite a bit about train travel. Trains are generally good but we decided we’d not travel less than 2nd class. We read enough and looked at enough horror-show pictures to know less than second class might not suit our refined tastes.
So, when we bought our tickets from Turkistan to Tashkent, the ticket selling lady told us we’d all be in separate 2nd class cupes. Well, we wanted to sit together so we bought tickets for a different wagon with no cupes. It was a short six hour day-trip. We’d just be sitting in seats. No problem.
You know where this is going already don’t you?
The Uzbekistan train pulled into the station and we knew from the outside that we were in for a treat. Upon boarding we were met with a scene of chaos. The car was overflowing with bedding, signet-shirted men were either snoring or filling the narrow isle. Some were eating, the smell wasn’t pleasant. Even the isle had a row of bunk beds. We clambered along to our designated seats. Pat and I sat on a hard bench – no bedding on it although there was a made-up bed above. Helen’s seat had a bunch of used bedding across it. She folded it in half and sat down on the isle side, facing Pat and me. Pat was also sitting on an isle side seat. The window side had two tires stacked up between the seats so I was sitting with my knees jammed to my chin with my feet on the tires. Six hours of this was going to be pretty bad.
Then along came a fellow who had been sleeping on Helen’s seat. He indicated she should move, so she hopped up and shoved his bedding to the isle side. We both indicated he need to move the tires. This he did. Then we got him to move his suitcase that was protruding from under the seat. Helen then settled into the window seat opposite me.
Pandemonium broke out. She was supposed to climb into the bunk above the guy. It was after 10am. “No,” we indicated, “It’s daytime.” More discussion amongst the men. Lots of gestures to indicate Helen must climb up. We shook our heads. Then the car supervisor arrived brandishing our tickets and pointing to Helen to get up top.
Pat exploded, “She’s 70 years old. She’s not climbing up there.” The men all stopped talking. stared at Pat, shrugged at the guy who had been kicked out of his bed, and went to their own seats and beds. I don’t think anyone understood Pat’s words but they sure got the “Mum” tone.
Not long afterwards the guy climbed into Helen’s bunk and had a snooze. When he came down and we exchanged family photo moments. He had been working in Moscow for the past five months in construction.
By the time,we were crossing the border between Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, the men were our champions. “They are scary ladies from Canada.” They warned the border guards. “Best not mess with their luggage.” I don’t think that’s exactly what was said, but during the two stops – one on either side of the border, each for about two hours, the other passengers had their baggage torn apart and searched. Ours was barely touched.
With the exception of the first few moments involved with claiming territory – even though all of it was not rightfully ours to claim, our self-imposed dehydration – because there was no way we were going to brave the disgusting toilet, and the train’s late arrival in Tashkent – by an hour, we enjoyed the journey.
The scenery outside the window was the same brown, flat, dusty, poor looking countryside we’d seen for the past week, but the action within the car was constantly interesting. We nearly cooked during the long border stops. Soldiers, dogs – 5 of them, customs police, broiling sun, many unwashed bodies – it was no picnic – but it makes for a wonderful story….
Don’t you think?