Monday, October 27, 2014

4 AM, Middle of Siberia, Taxi Cold + Lost

My plane lands at 3:45 AM in the Siberian city of Irkutsk. The only person in town who speaks more than 5 words of English helps arrange a taxi; I'm paying a flat fee of 300 rubles ($9.)
I lug my bags from the small, dingy terminal. Outside it's cold and drizzling.
oddly beautiful statue in Irkutsk I feel
represents the feeling of the people, yet holding out hope
Faces here are hardened by the harsh winters and lack of opportunity, the Hangover of Communism, strong. I have no idea how old my driver is, but I'm betting he's aged more quickly than the candles on his cake.
He lights up as we leave, "No, no, no," I protest. He rolls down his window, I'm hit by a blast of chilled Siberian air. Taking a large drag, he holds the smoke in his lungs, then blows it out into the night, tossing his lit cigarette behind us as he winds up the rusty, manual window crank.
Oncoming headlights, rare to begin with, are now are non-existent. Pulling to the curb, my driver motions for me to leave. The area feels abandoned, the housing decrepit. Instinctively I feel something is amiss, and quickly decide I won't relinquish the relative safety of the cab for streets too dark to be called shadowy.
similar to the area he tried to drop me
"No, no. Call, call," I state several times pointing to the number on my screen. Finally understanding, he reluctantly pulls out his cellular and dials.
Turns out we're a scant ten miles from the correct address. Muttering to himself, he presses the accelerator and pulls away from the curb like a Formula One driver, tires screeching, performing a sharp U-Turn, anxious to make up lost time.
The old, worn down taxi weaves its way around potholes as rain slickens the roads. 15 minutes later we pull into a parking lot amidst several Soviet style apartment buildings.
With a grunt he indicates our transaction is complete. "Call, call," I repeat firmly again. He sighs, obviously frustrated, and pulls out his phone.
Imagine being in the middle of an ocean and the skipper telling his only passenger to jump off the boat into darkness- not until I'm positive there's land underneath my feet, especially considering last time the command was barked there were only sharks.
His eyes roll to the back of his head as he stares out the window,
Three minutes later my AirBnB host emerges. To both our surprise I tip my skipper 100 rubles; it earns me a half-smile. My host leads me into the hollowed out barren halls of the building, the walls scraped up, ancient lead paint chipping away.
Elevator, 8th floor, door opens, "Spaciva, spaciva, (thank you)" Throw down my bag. Lay down, Sheets uncomfortable, but much warmer than the Siberian street. Instincts- trusted. Grateful. Sleep quickly overtakes me.
Here's the area I stayed in. Buildings- not so nice

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