Tuesday, April 24, 2012

How to see the best side of humanity: Some thoughts on traveling sans safety net

It's my last Saturday night in Russia for the foreseeable future, and one of my roommates and I took it upon ourselves to whoop up my last weekend and head outside of Moscow.  The snow is gone, and so are we.  Our third roommate headed to St. Petersburg for the weekend, and, not wanting to miss out on a little action away from home base, we thought it would be fun to have just one more Russian adventure before I depart.

We are in Suzdal, which, from the glimpses I have gained speeding through the main stretch of town at 100 km/hr at 10:20pm, is Russia's answer to Colonial Williamsburg...at least architecturally speaking (we'll see tomorrow morning if there are folks dressed up like days of yore- fingers crossed!). 

So why pull out of town my last weekend here?  I was wondering the same thing this afternoon as I pushed a fresh change of clothes into the now very well used travel pack that has schlepped from St Pete to Siberia and back again.  A long irritating search for the correct bus (unfruitful) eventually left us taking a non-sanctioned bus (think underground version of the DC-Chinatown to NY that leaves from 7th and G NW), and I asked myself the same question again.  I could be, right now, taking a pre-dancing evening snooze before putting on a fun skirt and having one last night dancing with mafia-esque creepy guys and hanging with the friends I have made in my dorm.

Cue three hours in stop and go traffic and drizzling rain on the "informal economy's" (read: operating outside of State regulations) answer to the sanctioned bus system.  This bumpy ride was followed by the sinking realization that Tema and I are too late pulling into Vladimir, the city through which we must pass to get a connecting bus to Suzdal, to get a bus that night.  Now we had a a little more of an adventure on our hands than we had hoped for.

Fifteen minutes later I had my answer as to why I had wanted to travel my very last weekend in Moscow (for the time being- I will be back!!): Adventure and the opportunity to see the best in others. A young couple on the bus overheard our predicament and gave us the number to a reliable cab company that could take us to Suzdal.  When our phone calls didn't pan out, they each took their own respective phones out and spent the next three minutes securing a cab from an alternative company.  Tema and I stood outside the darkened bus terminal in Vladimir, grinning at each other in the glare of the streetlights reflecting off the wet pavement.  We had been talking on the bus about "Russkya Dusha"- Russian spirit- how generous, genuinely truly hospitable, Russian people are.  Russkya Dusha to the rescue: The young couple's efforts yielded a Hyundai that swooped out of the misty night to carry us away to Suzdal.

My 'why are we doing this again' thoughts were obliterated within seconds after the cab pulled away from the darkened avtobusvoksal (bus terminal).  Hiking bag and purses tucked around us, Tema and I had laid our heads back against the seat and immediately had our eardrums assaulted by blaring bass of danceclub techno music.  Once again, we shared a goofball grin at each other, delighted by the bizarre twists the evening had taken.  Here we are, cold, slightly damp, slightly lost, and without any real idea of how to accomplish our next mission, but fate and helpful Russian hospitality had intervened to make all things possible.

Splashing to the hostel on The. Worst. Road. Ever. the cabbie got totally lost in the dark wetness of the Suzdalian countryside.  Lucky we are once again, because out meandering in the soggy night are a middle aged man and a teenage boy, who helpfully point our cabbie in the correct direction- back down the puddle filled and pothole pocked road we had first tried, but now we had a better idea of what we were looking for.  We pushed past the point where the cab had first turned around, sure we were lost, and eventually pulled up outside of Godzillas Hostel, a fantastic A-frame cabin shaped slice of heaven in the rural Russian countryside.

When our knocks on the front door yielded no answer, Tema and I were forced to tap on the window of the hostels' front room to get the attention of the woman happily typing away on a computer.  After scaring the shit out of the poor soul with our loud rapping, she alerted the head of the hostel that two half drowned ragamuffins had deposited themselves on the front porch.  Two minutes later we were checked in for two nights of relaxation and adventure, and our thoughts turned to the fact that we were ravenously hungry.  Lunch for me had been 10 hours earlier, and Tema had eaten only творог (Russia's answer to Greek yogurt) that morning before heading to class.  Alas, it was almost midnight in rural Russia, and there was no cafe open...even if there had been, there was no way that we would be able to slither up the flooded road to the civilization of the town center above- the road was all mud, and I had already burned a lot of karma points willing the tiny Hyundai cab to not get stuck in the mud on our adventure to the hostel.

There was no food to be had in town, and yours truly is really, really specific about eating three meals a day as part of my regimen to keep my ever-lurking eating disorder* at bay.  But Russkaya Dusha was once again on our side- the hostel director gave us a conspiratorial grin, and busted open her personal stash of yogurt and milk.  I had packed some cereal for the morning, and Tema had thrown two oranges into our bag that morning.  A festive dinner of cold cereal, milk, fruity yogurt and oranges ensued, and I climbed into my bunk bed with a full stomach and happy heart.

The doubts I had about leaving town my last weekend in Russia had been obliterated by the wonderful twists and turns the evening had taken. But more than the adventure that had unfolded, what I appreciated most about the evening- what could have only come as a result of traveling into the unknown-was that I had gotten to see the best in others when I was in a pinch.  In my day to day life I often (usually for the best!) have every minute and every possibility for disaster planned for.  Overcompensating for a few years of disastrous depression that left me with the sense that my most prominent character trait was "flaky", I have over-prepared for almost every professional and personal commitment I have had over the past five years.  This is undoubtedly a good thing, the foundation of much of my success.  However, the moments where I find myself under-prepared (I had packed some food, after all, but not a whole dinner) or when plans go awry (see: black market bus transport to Suzdal when official bus not operating), are the times where I have been the most surprisingly delighted by the generosity of others.