The night in the Ural mountains was peaceful. There were no cars on the road, and after walking for 10-15 minutes I just sat on the snow to drink a cup of tea. Somewhere far ahead I could hear dogs barking loudly. The snow was slowly falling down from the dark sky, and I had this strange feeling that I was the only one on the Earth now. It didn’t last long though, since only a few minutes later I noticed the light from the headlamps of a car coming my way. I put the thermos back in the backpack and stretched out my hand. The car stopped.
“Where are you going?” asked the driver.
“Irkutsk,” I answered.
“Well, you’re lucky. I’m going all the way to Tomsk, so you have a ride for the next 2000 km. My name is Andrey,” he introduced himself and invited me in. Turned out, a week earlier Andrey drove his friends who had a flight to India from Tomsk to Moscow and he was now returning back home.
Around 4 o’clock in the morning we arrived in the city of Chelyabinsk and drove straight to the train station where Andrey wanted to spend the night and take some rest. We agreed to meet in the morning when he’ll be ready to leave, and as we parted, I walked tho the common waiting hall and sat on the bench to rest. The train station was cold, there weren’t many people around. My thermos was empty by now, so I went to the nearby grocery store and asked the lady who worked there to boil water for me, which she did, and while the teapot was boiling, we chatted a little. She became interested in my journey and upon learning that I am hitchhiking to Irkutsk she offered me a pack of chocolate. It was then that I realized I was now on the Asian side of Russia, and it’s a different world here.
I had a friend living in Chelyabinsk who was going to meet me around 9 o’clock in the morning, and since I had nothing else to do, I decided to take a nap. I fell asleep immediately and was only woken up around 8:00 AM by a little girl with curly hair who was laughing loudly and her laughter was echoing all around the train station. My friend arrived not long after and we went to walk in the city center. But first, we had breakfast in a Soviet style café where the most expensive dishes costed around $1. It was my first visit to Chelyabinsk, and although it’s an industrial city, I found the city center very nice, especially the old 2-storey buildings located on the old street of Kirovka. We walked around for some time, and since none of us wanted to freeze to death, we visited an esoteric café (that’s how it was called) and drunk some Chinese white tea.
The relaxing atmosphere at the cafe made me forget about the road ahead and only the call from Andrey brought me back to reality. We took a bus to the train station where I parted with my friend, and we left. The weather conditions began to worsen soon as we left Chelyabinsk. The heavy snowfall badly affected the visibility on the road, so Andrey had to drive carefully. We were talking about religions and philosophy when around 9:00 PM we passed the city of Kurgan. It was past midnight when we stopped by a restaurant called “Stranger” in the town called Berdyuzhie to eat something. “Oh, look, this is exactly about you, my friend,” said Andrey referring to the name of the restaurant. We laughed. For our late supper we had vegetarian soup with beans and potato pies and lemonade. I told Andrey that I will pay for our meals this time, because he was paying for everything from the moment he picked me up in the Urals. He refused, but I insisted. He eventually agreed, but warned me that if I do this again he’ll drop me off right away. We had a deal.
At 2:20 AM (I remembered it very well, because I checked the time right before the accident) the rear-wheel drive of the car unexpectedly refused to act, the vehicle skidded on ice, the driver lost the control, and on the speed of 100 km/h we flew off the road straight into the bushes in the ditch. Then there was silence. We weren’t able to speak a word, trying to fully realize what has happened and if we are still alive or not anymore. Fortunately, nobody was hurt. Andrey got off the car and I followed him. Now we were stuck in deep snow in the middle of hell knows where. We tried to dig the vehicle out but immediately understood it was a waste of time. “Alright. You stay in the car, lock the doors and wait for me. I’ll try to hitchhike to the nearest village to find a wheeled tractor to pull the car out,” said Andrey and left.
I was left to guard the car and our belongings. It took him half an hour to find a tractor. When they arrived, we tied the ropes and pulled the car back to the road. “Phew! What a night!” exclaimed Andrey in excitement as we left the site. But after an hour of driving he decided that we had enough of adventures for the night. At around 5:00 AM we parked by a roadside hotel. I wanted to continue my road, but Andrey told me he paid for two rooms. We said goodnight to each other and went to sleep.
Tea with Strangers