While no host had answered any of my 15 requests, I was craving for a bed and a shower. With only a couple of hours on the train left, I was forced to book a bed.
I was curious to get an idea of the hostel life, because - believe it or not - I have never stayed in one before, except for empty ones.
Unfortunately, it was exactly how I had imagined it: a mix of stereotypes sharing a room, all very hungry to contribute to the social life within the hostel walls. We went out to an Irish Pub, got drunk and went home. Without the slightest contact with locals, culture or sporadic escapades. It was awful. Got to get out of here.
My former host in Irkutsk saved the day by giving me the telephone number of people willing to take me in. Hungover from the night before, they picked me up and I directly fell in love with them. The couple was about the same age as my parents, but they were lucky to already be retired. Both dressed in red and a smile from here until Ouagadougou, they took me under their wings and dropped me in an apartment. Contrary to my expectations, they just gave me the keys and left. The place was mine and I soon adapted to my new habitat.
I'm always surprised how fast I can feel at home somewhere.
Although it was empty, every room got his definition and the fridge soon got filled up with my favourite Russian delights.
Everyday, they would come and pick me up at eleven to show me around and be more of a tourist than I am. It was like they had never seen their own city before, knowing exactly how to look like a foreigner at home. Dressed in their casual training, walking shoes, belt bags and big ass camera around the neck, they forced me to pose in front of everything we saw. As a result, my computer is packed with over 200 photos of buildings, historical artefacts and me. I was enjoying the fact they were thrilled having me over, but after a while the click of that camera started annoying me untold.
We didn't say much, but their smiles were eternal and our motions endless.
Whilst I have been struggling with myself, wonderful things happened to me.
In contrast to the other cities I have visited so far, they offered me the chance to see everything inside and outside.
From the first stone, Buddhist temples, impressive mountains, to museums and even an opera play.
Also, we had a pick nick in a forest at a temperature of -10 degrees. My feet and hands were frozen, but the couple was happily scraping the pack of snow off the bench and opening boxes with food.
Trying not to think about the cold, I was eating ice lollies of vegetables and bread.
We walked and walked and walked, the three of us, arm in arm, so no one would fall on the slippery ground.
Then I met a Belarusian who worked and lived in the theatre.
By chance, there was a real Buryatian play that evening and I got invited. Another opportunity thrown at my head, not to be missed.
I'm not a pro in terms of theatre, but this piece was the best I had ever seen. The choreography, the singing, the décor, the magic. I didn't understand a word of it, but still I got dragged away by the story I assumed was told.
The day after I traditionally wanted to book my train ticket to Novosibirsk at the counter.
I could have done it on the internet, but I like to make it myself difficult.
After waiting for 45 minutes in line with the exact Russian sentences ready in my head, the counter assistant sent me away. The train I wanted to book was full, and I didn't calculate that in my vocabulary. She did not do the slightest effort to even try to understand me and the lady was lucky to have a window between us. I could have strangled her and hours later the whole station knew me as the crazy 'Americano' shouting and cursing through the building. Another day wasted in the station, but I didn't give up. Proudly I exited with the right ticket in my hand.
Don't stop, never give up.
Frustrated I met my Belarusian friend again, who had three crazy French guys over. They had been hitch hiking and camping through Siberia and were heading to Mongolia. I was a real attraction when they heard about my travel gear comparing to theirs. Equipped with sleeping bags going under 40 degrees and professional survival kits, they were listening full of disbelief to the fact I even didn't have a coat, and my sleeping bag would probably dismantle itself if the temperature was lower than 7.
We have had the most sober and cosy night ever, drinking tea, laughing with Russian children's drawings and sharing stories. We stayed up all night and I straightly embarked on my train direction West.
It feels like I'm going home, seeing these cities who were such a hassle to get to and leave from. The road of pain and suffering from Listvyanka to Ulan Ude for example, all for nothing. I have the feeling I am making the wrong decision, but those are mostly the best ones.
I am never alone, no one is a stranger, it are just all friends I haven't met yet.