Fun Russian Girl

I was always fascinated by the writings of Bryson, Theroux, and the many other fantastic travel writers. It wasn’t just the way in which their words so intricately painted a picture of exotic locations. I was always fascinated at how they could recollect the details so well. The more I travel, the more I’ve come to realize that the real secret to truly experiencing the world is to write a journal. Journaling captures the minor details: interactions with people, and impressions of places, that vanish from your mind when the next experience consumes you. Journaling takes practice until it becomes a habit, but it is well worth it, especially if you want to write travel books.

I’ve been going through my journal and notes from my overland journey across the Asia, Russia, and Europe. These will form the basis of my next book The Long Way West. This morning I sat at Philz, my local coffee shop on 24th St in the Mission District here in San Francisco, to write the prelude. Between sips of my coffee, I wrote the prelude, titled Fun Russian Girl:

Alexei typed something into Google Translate and handed back my phone. I tapped the translate button, Cyrillic magically transforming into English. “Fun Russian girl.” I looked up at Alexei, sitting beside in the small, cramped train carriage. He shrugged his shoulders, lifted his glass of vodka and smiled. What happens in Siberia stays in Siberia, right?

I tapped a reply handing back the phone, raising my own glass, “She scares me.” Alexei burst out laughing.

I met Alexei in Irkutsk, where we both boarded the #69 train bound for Moscow. Like most Siberian men I had spoken with since crossing the border, they all looked either drunk, angry, or just having woken up. Once you get passed the rough exterior though, Russian men are incredibly friendly. Apparently the woman are too.

“za lyoo-bóf” (to love!), the Russian woman slurred, her eyes appraising me like a piece of meat at a livestock auction. She downed the shot of Vodka in a single, well-practiced flick of her wrist. According to Alexei, who had become our cabin’s official translator, this woman ran a large concrete business and was used to getting her way. She had decided that she wanted to sleep with someone. Apparently I was the prized bull, the mixer in her cement truck, you could say.

The sun rarely sets this far north. It’s always a pale pastel glow in the sky. Time has a way of slipping away from you here, like the scenery blurring passed the windows of the trans-Siberian railway. It can’t be much later than 10:00. I’m already buzzed after two shots. It’s hard to say no to Vodka in Russia. Alexei could handle his better than me. The woman poured another glass. She was drinking us both under the table. It’s going to be a long, long way west.