Warning: Do not try this at home! A trained eXile professional tells all about his gruesome 5-day Trans-Siberian ride to Tynda so that you'll never have to do it yourself.
A few hours after I got to Tynda, I saw my first live Death Porn story. It happened right in front of me. I'd stepped off train right into a drunken party for the local militsia. I went outside for a smoke (Tynda doesn't allow smoking in restaurants, due to an obscure presidential ukaz banning it) and started talking to Zhenya, a Russian Korean from Tajikistan, and a couple of his friends. They were even drunker than me, but we chatted for a while. Then they took off.
Half an hour later, while I was out for another smoke, Zhenya stumbled back. I greeted him, but he didn't notice and pushed past me into the club. I followed. He was standing there with blood coming out of his mouth. He smeared the blood across the lower half of his face. Someone lifted his shirt. I saw two puncture wounds on his right side, a small one at just under his rib cage and a big, serious-looking one just below it. It didn't look fatal, but Zhenya wasn't looking too good.
I'd gotten some of his blood on me when he pushed by me, so I rushed to the bathroom to clean it off. There I found one of Zhenya's friends, holding his right hand up with huge gouts of blood pouring down his sleeve. I figured skinheads must have attacked them.
But the truth was much more bizarre: the two had gotten in a drunken argument, ending when Zhenya's friend stabbed him. Then, in a classic Death Porn twist, the friend rushed into the bathroom and slashed himself in the arm, thinking it would make for a better story. With the wound, his drunken logic went, he could claim self-defense.
But he'd slashed across an artery, and he was bleeding way too fast, spraying himself and the whole bathroom.
When I backed out into the club, there was Zhenya, passed out on the floor. Thirty drunken cops were standing around him, screaming for someone to call skoraya. Meanwhile, Zhenya's ex-friend had stumbled out of the bathroom and was now spraying blood all over militsionerii and their spouses, all dressed to the nines.
One of the big women I'd met on the train pushed in front of me, trying to shield me from this unedifying spectacle. She seemed to think it would give me a bad impression of Tynda. On the contrary: it was then I knew I'd come to the right place.
If I hadn't been so late getting to the vokzal, I might have paused to look over the train I was boarding. On what was a sunny day above freezing in a still snowless Moscow, the cars were covered in drooling ice, their wheels plastered in snow. The train radiated cold.
But I was too worried about making the train to worry about its looks. By the time I handed my ticket to the provodnik, I was panting and pouring sweat. I was definitely beginning this five-day showerless odyssey on the wrong foot.
Missing a train in Russia isn't a big deal: they refund most of the ticket cost and you can usually be on your way within 24 hours. But the #76 Moscow-Tynda Express leaves Kazansky Voksal on odd days only and the following one was already sold out. That meant if I missed this one, I would be stuck in Moscow for four days. And I needed to get to Tynda.
Tynda, a small town on the opposite end of Russia, was once the capital of the defunct Baikal-Amur Main Line (BAM). The BAM was a massive project, born under Stalin, that came to fruition during Brezhnev's reign. The first BAM was built by thousands of gulag inmates from the BAM Lager from '33 to '37, and stretched from Taishet to Tynda, which at the time was little more than a puddle along the Amur-Yakutsk road. All that work, suffering and death went for nothing: all the laid rail was pulled in '42 and sent to the Leningrad oblast to help the war effort.