In the morning we walked to the main station. We found the freight office just like it was described with photos in this horizons unlimited forum post. We even found Rostislav, just as described. We communicated over google translate, and he told us that there was a train going to Chelyabinsk on Sunday; however, because of the recent flooding in the east of the country, a lot of the freight wagons were stuck there, so the logistics company is operating with a fraction of its normal capacity. They could not guarantee us space on the train. They would only know by Saturday if our bikes will fit.
This news caused quite some consternation. We thanked Rostislav for his kind help and proposed to invite him for dinner as thanks. We agreed to meet at 6 PM after he is done with work.
We left to take a cab to the hotel and then have lunch at a Sushi restaurant where we discussed our options. We were initially not even sure if we understood everything correctly. I mentioned to the sushi waitress who spoke a bit of English that we were having this language problem at the train station. She asked her boss and said that she was able to take time off to come along and help translate! We decided that this was not needed, but I was seriously impressed by this degree of helpfulness that would have been completely unheard of in Europe.
The fact is that if the train has capacity, we will be in Chelyabinsk by next Tuesday. If the train does not have capacity, we may have to wait up to a week for the next train with exactly the same uncertain prospects for capacity…which is definitely not a good idea. The alternative is to ride the bikes ourselves to Chelyabinsk, which would take maybe 8 or 9 days depending on the weather and our toughness. In other words some days longer than the train, even if we leave immediately.
Jerome is an optimist, so he thinks that the train will have capacity, and so we should wait until Saturday to hear about capacity. I am a pessimist, so I would prefer not risking that there is no capacity and losing 3 days by waiting. Also, I am thinking that this is supposed to be a rally, so it is somewhat disgraceful to take the train, even if it can potentially help our schedule. But neither of us wants to split up, so we made the compromise of waiting until Saturday, and then starting to ride if the word is that there is no capacity.
In the afternoon we went to a hardware store to get more wire and fasteners, and I re-mounted my backpacks on the bike i a way that was both rock solid and will no longer reach the tarmac in corners.
We were concerned that at our dinner party in the evening we will not be able to communicate with Rostislav very much. We ended up finding a Czech couchsurfer online named Vladimir who also arrived in Irkutsk yesterday … except he got here from Vladivostok by hitchhiking(!). In fact before then he hitchhiked his way through Thailand and China. And the best part is that he spoke fluent Russian and Czech. We invited him as well. At 6:30 PM (damn rush hour traffic) we collected Rostislav and went shopping with him. We then went down to his ‘Dacia’ (which was exactly like a Schrebergarten in Zurich), made a fire, and grilled and drank until 2 AM or so, having an excellent time, which made the thought of having to camp out here for more days a little bit more bearable for me.
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