Across Continents

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Night train to Lugovoy

Carriage five. Berth thirteen. The night train to Lugovoy. Close to midnight, the doors of most of the cramped four berth compartments remained open. Groups of young men, families, older couples, all ethnic Kazakhs. Sat on their bunks chatting quietly, a few sprawled out, attempting to rest under the harsh electric light. Small window tables piled up with mugs of tea, flat breads, salamis and boiled eggs. Pungent aromas on such a warm night.

The attendant had at first seemed suspicious of me, carefully checking my ticket as I’d sought to board the train at Turkistan. Once satisfied I’d found the right carriage, he’d helpfully indicated that if I could turn my handlebars out of the way, I could secure my bicycle in the narrow passageway right outside my own shared compartment.

My companions were two men who appeared to be travelling together. Quiet murmurings as I carefully stowed my panniers in the little space available. But then, with the appearance of my phrase book, the offer of tea and eggs. I declined politely, explaining I’d already eaten, instead showing them a small card explaining, in Russian, my venture. Was I going to Afghanistan? No, I said, I preferred to take my chances in Bishkek. They didn’t seem to think that was a good idea either.

By the morning they were gone, a young woman now occupying the bunk next to mine. Sound asleep, her face obscured by a clean white sheet. Ethnic Russian I thought. Outside, mostly gently rolling grasslands, patches of cultivated fields. Overcast, rain drops streaming diagonally down the windows. The occasional glimpse of mountains to the south, the border with the Kyrgyz Republic.

[With thanks to Alistair Maclean, a favourite childhood author, for providing inspiration for the title]

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