January 13, 2009. My second day on the road from Moscow to Irkutsk. Around 7:30 AM I was woken up by some strange screams in the cabin of the van. It took me several minutes to realize that what I mistook for a quarrel was actually an audio version of the first part of “The Pirates of the Caribbean”. Fyodor, the driver, explained that when he’s bored he listens to the movies since watching distracts him from driving. Early morning was just a perfect time for it, I guess. Unlike yesterday, the weather was cold, snowy and windy. Fyodor offered me a cup of hot coffee, which was hard to refuse. While sipping the bitter drink, I noticed a small statue of Ganesha placed on the dashboard.
“Where did you get this?” I asked.
“Oh, I bought it at a shop in Moscow. This is Ganesha, the God of businessmen. I’m doing business, and he’s helping me,” said Fyodor and laughed.
Half an hour later he dropped me off at a rest area for truck drivers. Failing to get a ride, I walked to the tank truck that was parked nearby and talked to the driver about the weather and road conditions ahead. From what he said, I understood I can make it to the Ural mountains easily. I walked back to the road, but as no cars stopped, I decided to take a break and drink tea. As it often happens on the road, the moment I got my thermos out of my backpack, a cargo van pulled over right next to me. The driver, a young guy aged 20-22, said he’s driving to Yelabuga first, a 1000 and something years old small town in Tatarstan, but then, if I don’t mind waiting for him until he’s done with unloading the cargo, he’ll take me all the way to the city of Naberezhnye Chelny. It was cold and I was a little tired, so I accepted his offer. While the workers were unloading the cargo, I wandered around Yelabuga.
We reached Naberezhnye Chelny around noon. I thanked the driver and walked to the road to Ufa, and 15 minutes later I was already in an old Lada, listening to Volodya’s story about a policeman he once came across on the road. “I took my father’s motorcycle to go to a nearby town. But a policeman stopped me on the road to check my documents. So I gave him my driver’s license and the POA, because the motorcycle was registered under my dad’s name. The cop took a long look at the documents, and game me the shiniest smile I’ve ever seen. ‘Hey, this is not your motorcycle,’ he said. ‘You’re right,’ I said. ‘It’s not mine, it belongs to my father, it’s written in the POA.’ The policeman examined my papers closely and then smiled again. ‘Your father’s, you say? Really? Then how come you have different patronymics if he’s your father?’ said he. Can you believe that?”
I left Volodya near Menzelinsk. Several short rides, and by 3:00 PM I was already passing through the Republic of Bashkortostan. A driver named Alexey was telling jokes all the way to the city of Ufa. He took me to the end of the city, where I was dropped off at a bus stop. Alexey explained me how to get to the Chelyabinsk highway, wished me good luck and left.
While waiting for the bus, I decided to drink a cup of tea. I took out the thermos from my backpack, poured some tea into the cup and was about to take a sip when I suddenly heard a voice: “You lucky! You have tea.”
I turned back and saw a skinny girl shivering in the cold. It was -20 degrees outside.
“Here, drink a little, this is green tea,” I handed her the cup, she took a few sips.
“Where are you going?” she asked then.
“I’m hitchhiking to Irkutsk.”
“What? Are you crazy?”
I laughed and offered her more tea. She took the cup and held it in her hands for some time, then drank the tea.
“Here’s the bus you need,” she said, returning the cup.
“Thank you. Goodbye.”
“Have a nice and safe road,” said the girl.
I jumped into the bus number 71 and soon got out of Ufa to the Chelyabinsk highway. There was only one working lamppost on the road so I walked to it and stood there, waiting for cars. Around me was the captivating silence of the night. At 9:50 PM, a Volvo truck picked me up. The driver introduced himself as Mars. No kiddin’. Apparently, he desperately needed someone to talk to, and strangely enough all he was talking about were the women he had sex with. Feeling awkward and not quite understanding why he thought I needed to know all the details, I chose to stare at the road and not from time to time. It was past midnight when we bypassed the town of Sim and arrivaed to a parking lot near Kropachyovo. Mars said that he’ll drive to Yekaterinburg in the morning, and since that was a different direction, I thanked him and left, walking along the road. I was in the Ural mountains now.
Tea with Strangers
Part One: Siberian Adventures: Let’s Hitchhike to Lake Baikal
Part Three: Siberian Adventures: Night Accident