Thursday, 29 September 2011

Hell on wheels

Welcome to hell
The horror. The horror.

Sam and I have discussed it, and we're pretty sure we just lived through the worst 50 hours of our lives, bar nothing. For all the bad times we've ever experienced, we can't think of anything to match it in terms of sustained, visceral misery. So, yeah - not the best journey.

What happened? This:
I will remove all joy from your life
Meet the stomach flu virus. Looks horrible, is horrible. Incredibly contagious, wildly unpleasant - and an unwanted passenger on our journey through Siberia.

It started about 4 hours into the trip. We'd been so looking forward to relaxing on the train - we were still nursing colds from Yekaterinburg, so the thought of lying down in a cozy cabin for three days seemed utterly blissful. We'd' stocked up on Lemsip, pot-noodles and bottled water. We had movies to watch, books to read - we were going to learn some Chinese, maybe get some writing done.

We did none of those things.

Within hours of setting off from Yekaterinburg, Sam started feeling nauseous. An hour later she started throwing up. We hoped it was just a spot of motion-sickness, but it soon became obvious that it was something worse. We barely slept at all through a miserable night - and started planning to get off the train (at the first town with an airport and a hospital) if she didn't start getting better in the morning. Inevitably, a few hours later, I came down with it too.

Stomach flu is miserable at the best of times, but on a Soviet-era locomotive, in the middle of Siberia - it pretty much crosses over into 'unbearable'. The train's shock-absorbers seemed to be made out of pig-iron and cement - the thing shook in every direction, all the time, even on the smoothest sections of track. Imagine being nauseous on a bouncy-castle, and you get the idea. We yearned for the occasional stops, when everything stopped lurching up and down - until we discovered that the carriage attendants locked the toilets while the train was in station.

Speaking of the carriage attendants, they were every bit as kind and helpful as we've come to expect, which is to say not kind or helpful at all. They literally shouted at us, frequently. When Sam had to throw up while the train was stopped in a station, the attendant first refused to unlock the toilet for her, then stood behind her yelling 'NO FLUSH! NO FLUSH!' while she gagged. The same attendant yelled at me for using both the carriage's loos to throw up into, instead of sticking with just one (I'd tried, but it was in use). She waited for me outside, presumably listening to my gasping and retching - and then shouted abuse at me in Russian, pointing furiously at the other (locked) loo. When you haven't eaten or slept for 30 hours, this is pretty disorientating to say the least.

Finally, there were the other passengers. The cabin next to ours contained a family with a young (frequently crying) child, and a CD player which they used to blast out Russian pop music long into the night. Lying in bed at 3am, fevered and squirming with gut-wrenching nausea, it was the sound of a little boy bawling his eyes out, competing for volume with a Russian cover version of 'The Fast Food Song,' that took everything to a truly perfect pitch of hellishness.

We did our best to look after each other. Whoever was feeling less sick at the time would take charge of mixing oral rehydration salts, and stroking the other person's hair. Sam finally stopped throwing up after about 24 hours, and I settled down a few hours later. We slipped in and out of uncomfortable sleep, praying for the journey to end. It was tough to comfort Sammy when all I could say was 'There there, only another 26 hours to go.' It just went on, and on, and on.

Beautiful Siberian taiga passed us by, we crossed the kilometre-long Krasnoyarsk Bridge, we chuntered through mining towns, logging villages, tiny fishing settlements - and we missed pretty much all of it. Because we were lying as still as possible, hoping for it all to come to an end.
File:Zheleznodorozhnyjj most, the railway bridge over the Yenisei in Krasnoyarsk, Russia, view from the left bank.jpg
Didn't see this...
The good news, then, is that we've finally reached Irkutsk. We've checked into a lovely little hostel, with an incredibly kind and friendly manager. We've eaten our first meal in 4 days. And we're about to go to sleep in beds which aren't bouncing up and down.

We're both getting back up to full strength, but between you and me - I bet Sam would love a 'Get Well Soon' e-mail or two from some of her friends. So please do drop her a line, if you have a moment.

Love to you all, from a thoroughly stationary
Ali x


  1. Oh no! You poor things. How awful.
    We are all thinking of you both of course.

    love Kath/Mom

  2. Yikes, remind me to never get stomach flu aboard the Trans-Siberian Railway. I hope you've both been able to get plenty of rest (and nutrients) since then. Bon courage!

  3. Sorry - I meant to post the other day but was post challenged. Really worried about ou and told you to get some Gatorade or whatever the equivalent is over there. You need electrolites.

    Really relieved you are getting better.