Sunday, March 29, 2015

21: Irian

In Irian, the the railway passes this bridge, built by the Russians in the  late 1950s. The statue-of-liberty light posts are a unique feature, and were meant to advertise Soviet freedom, and possibly tweak the Americans as well.
The Scully tavern serves up a good pint of Watney's.  
As the train rolled into Irian, Alan was impressed by the architecture here. The train slowed as it began to follow a city street to the elegant stone-and-brick station. The shops, lodgings, townhouses, as well as the train station had a humble early-20th-Century-European-Modern look to them. The brightly painted trimwork gave off the sense of a faded resort town.

Jeremy, suddenly awake, said, "Ah, we're in Irian. You know, this town is worth seeing. It was once the playground of the Russian military elite and other VIPs who wanted to rest in the sun. Since Independence, the place has become very quiet, and is literally half deserted! I grew up here, and I remember how busy it was when the Russian fleet visited, especially back in the '60s. We could sure use some fresh energy. If you ever want to come back and open a hostelry, there are cheap places galore, even at the beach!"

"I'll consider that," Alan replied.

"Well, I'll be getting off here. It was a pleasure to have met you Mr. ah..."

"Faramond," Alan replied. "Alan".
He was afraid Jeremy might hug him, but he offered Alan a card instead.

"Thanks for the card, and, ah, the same to you," Alan fumbled.

"Look me up next time you come this way", said Jeremy,  and he got off.

This was a 15-minute stopover, so Alan got off as well, and walked the length of the platform, then went into the ornate waiting room, found the toilets, then bought a coffee at a tiny lunch counter. Out on the street, a few departing passengers were walking away with (probably) loved ones, and Alan felt another pang of isolated sadness. 

The horn sounded two short toots, and Alan stepped back on the train.



Sunday, March 22, 2015

20: Brandonbeach to Palmer to Irian

Only footpaths connect the houses at Brandonbeach.

From the train, Alan noticed that everything was connected by footpaths. He saw quite a few people walking, or pushing a strange-looking carts, or riding bicycles. He also saw groups of  young kids, walking or on bikes, out on the paths far away from any houses, with no adult supervision! 

The train gathered speed and continued into a hilly valley and then back onto the shore, now among gentler slopes. The hills were quite pretty, with no roads or houses to be seen. Alan did notice an overland path off toward the beach, occupied by quite a few travelers on foot or bicycle.

 At Palmer, a few people got off while the mail bags were exchanged. Alan noticed there was now a road alongside the railway again, but it was mostly used by foot and bike traffic. The train rounded another saltwater bay, and a sign said "Broken Bay Walkers' lodge", pointing to a shingled building, which looked very appealing, down on the beach. Near the lodge, the bay was busy with sailboats and kayaks.

The coast becomes more sandy toward Irian, the climate warmer and drier.
The train then pulled up at Beachwoods, a strange-looking subdivision of weed-filled streets but no houses. As a couple of passengers got off and then on, Alan studied the one modernist building with large windows and murals painted on it - very artsy, he thought. He noticed a few people with drawing pads relaxing out front - an art class? He figured it must be an art school or artists' retreat or something - a hopeful sign that the arts might be healthy here! The train moved on.

Between Beachwoods and Irian, the waves broke further offshore, crashing in long white lines before reaching the beach. Alan noticed that Jeremy had dropped off to sleep, his mouth open and snoring softly. A good time to read for a bit.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

19: The Skeleton Coast

Once the train rounded Roaring Cape, Alan felt almost dizzy when he looked down. The tracks seemed to cling about halfway up a very steep slope, chewed and clawed at by the huge waves crashing below.

"See, what did I tell you?" Jeremy piped in, "The waves are big today, and they are usually the biggest on this stretch of coast...sometimes 30 meters or more! We'll come to a place called the Oceanyard where the surf churns and erupts in all kinds of wild configurations. Sometimes they have to close this line because of rocks on the tracks, tossed up by the waves."

An early postal stamp commemorating New Island Railways' engineering feats
along the Skeleton Coast.

Just then the train slowed down, but kept a steady pace along the winding stretch of track. As it approached a long tunnel ahead, beneath Red Point, Alan saw some unusually large waves ahead splashing high enough to reach the train. And then whump! a good size breaker hit the seawall next to their car and splashed the windows, momentarily obliterating everything. He cringed as he heard bits of stone clattering against the glass. After the splash, more swells that were just plain huge lined up one after another, heading for the train...

Then they were in the tunnel, just in time!

Alan was loving the ocean's energy, but Jeremy looked a bit bleached. "Well, I think that's over," Jeremy said, looking rigidly across at Alan. As they emerged from the tunnel, the waves were less ferocious, and the train soon pulled into a settlement called Brandonbeach, the first town of any kind since Ocean Grove.

After a slowdown to exchange mail bags, the train continued, and as it picked up speed, Alan noticed a few smaller settlements tucked among trees by a creek. "Oh, how I'd love to hike up there and explore those villages," he told Jeremy, who yet looked pale and had said nothing more since the wave incident.

"Oh well, now I'll have some time for my thoughts," thought Alan.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

18: To Roaring Cape

Roaring Cape from the train stop.

 Alan noticed no towns or houses for quite a while, only larger hills covered with deep green grass and low scrub, edged at the ocean by an undulating line of sand dunes. Then he noticed houses ahead.

In the Newport Station, Alan hopped out and bought a bottle of root beer at a kiosk. The train had paused here for about ten minutes, and most everyone got off to stretch.The town of Newport rests on narrow sloping land between a huge and steep sand dune and the bay, offering a dramatic view of Newport Bay and the Hills of Blackstairs beyond. The dune shelters Newport from the often blustery Southern Indian Ocean winds, but encroaching sand has lately become a problem.

Soon they were on their way again, and within a short while Jeremy, proclaimed, "Ah, that would be Roaring Cape ahead, almost an island attached by a sandy isthmus."

"Yes, I can see that," Alan muttered.

The train stopped at a cement platform marked ROARING CAPE, a flag stop according to the schedule. A pair of backpack-laden women got off and Alan watched them head up the slope toward a scattering of  huts and tiny houses. "Aahhh, said Jeremy, "They would be members of the Hermits, who build their own shacks all around this cape, and never hold regular jobs. They just keep to themselves, scattered over these hills. No one bothers them, you know, because all this land is held in common - did you know that?  Their only way in or out of here is to ride this train, or to have a long walk."

Alan thought that he'd like to be a hermit and get off here right now.

17: De Salazar Ruins, Drum Cape, Newport

The railway passes by only a few houses as it follows Route 2.

Some time later, just after his ticket was punched, Alan's seatmate informed him that they had just passed the De Salazar ruins, built by the mysterious Old People. Alan thought he saw a stone tower off toward the bluff, but he wasn't sure. The guy continued chatting, "Those Old People built towns and towers and roads all over the island, even a harbor way up north, all out of  hewn stone. We have no idea what happened to them, they seem to have simply vanished some 800 years ago."  Alan tried his best to listen, but he also wanted to look at whatever passed by.

Near Drum Cape, the train continued toward Newport. Alan noticed the emptiness of this coast. A narrow blacktop road connected a house or two over miles of sandy but mostly green landscape. He wanted to read his book, but his seatmate carried on...

"I should probably tell you my name is Jeremy," the man said.
"Well, hi, I'm Alan. Pleased to meet you."
"And I gather you're not from around here, am I right?"
"Ahh, yes, I mean, no, I'm not - I'm from the States, er, the United States..."
"Ahhh." Jeremy sat back. "I don't believe I've spoken to an actual American before. This is quite extraordinary. You see, we hardly ever see tourists from further away than Australia, though I've talked to a few Russians and Japanese travelers, who are usually related to our locals who came from those places. Do you have anyone here?"

"Uh, no, I'm just here on a sketching assignment...I'm doing a series of pictures for a guidebook. It's for the Ministry of Trade. And what do you do, may I ask?" (Alan remembers to initiate...)

"Oh, I'm going to visit an old friend in Irian, an annual trip. We've known each other for years, and I have found it best to visit only occasionally, if you know what I mean. Your assignment sounds interesting, by the way!"
"Oh, yes," says Alan.

Jeremy finally goes quiet, for now, and Alan resumes his reading.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

16: On the Irian-Southwestern Railway Line

The Putney-Victoria express, similar to Alan's train, is seen here cruising along the Putney Bay shore.
Mt. Hayes, in the distance, is often snow-capped in winter, and shows its plume of steam. 

Alan settled into his seat in the middle car.

The first car was also the engine, and the last car was the dining-and-club car, plus baggage and mail. The train had an aged, and often-restored look to it, that somehow felt comforting. As he entered the car, Alan saw a small brass plaque mounted by the door, which declared, in Russian and English: "This train car, proudly built in 1956, is a gift of the people of Czechoslovakia, 1982." Cream-colored paint and varnished wood trim filled the cars' interior, with seats of fabric upholstery sporting patterns of slightly-faded red roses and wisteria. The seats were spacious, arranged in sets of two that faced the next set of two, instead of all facing forward.

He settled into his seat with a new book titled Eleanor and Park, a novel about a pair of 16-year-olds. Other passengers selected seats around him. He noticed many teenagers and slightly older-looking men and women with backpacks, and a few families; but the car was nowhere near full when the train started out.

It took only a few minutes to reach the first stop, in Alison, and more passengers boarded. Here an older man in shorts and a flannel shirt sat in the seat apposite of his, jarring Alan's comfort zone. He wasn't yet ready to engage in any conversations this early in the morning...

His seatmate didn't say anything, so Alan looked out at the scenery. The tracks followed the coastline just above the beach, and Alan watched the long and sizable waves rolling in. The ocean was calm except for the incoming swells. "That is pretty-good sized surf for this stretch of coast." the guy said, "I'll bet they'll be much larger once we round Roaring Cape! Do you surf?"  "Oh, no," Alan replied, finally looking at the fellow, who seemed friendly enough. "I grew up by the ocean, but I wasn't a big swimmer. I like watching the surf, though..."

The train stopped again at Margaret Beach: a cluster of small houses, a store, a pub, and a tiny train station next to a small sandy bay. "That's Ten-window Bay", offered his seatmate, to which Alan had no reply. Sloops and gaff-rigged sailboats sat still next to a boat ramp and repair yard. Not much happening; mail bags were exchanged, but no one got on or off.

As the train gathered speed again along the back side of the bay, Alan watched the grassy lowland glide by, and he could see massive Mt. Hayes looming in the distance to the north, a tiny plume of steam flowing from its peak. "Uh, do you know about that mountain?" Alan asked his neighbor. "I'm just wondering if it has ever erupted, or if it might some day..."

"Well, it hasn't erupted for many years, as far as I know. As for the future, I've heard many stories and rumors that it either won't ever erupt, or it'll go off tomorrow...take your pick!"


Alan's train will take him to southwest, to Newport, and beyond.
The volcano in question lies about 30 miles to the north, at the upper left corner of the map.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

15: Alan Takes the Train

New Island Railways
Schedule A-2
Victoria Harbor to ROSEVILLE with connections to PUTNEY.
Note: flag stops are listed in italics.

lv             Ustimovitch Sta. VICTORIA HARBOR       AM             8:00
arr            Alison Beach                                                                         8:08
arr            Margaret Beach                                                                     8:19
arr            Ruth                                                                                      8:26
arr            Grapevine                                                                                8:28
arr            Salazar                                                                                   8:32
arr            Eureka                                                                                    8:35
arr            de Salazar Ruins                                                                       8:38
arr           Newport                                                                                8:55
lv             Newport                                                                                 9:10
arr            Ocean Grove                                                                         9:14
arr            Sims Creek                                                                              9:24
arr            Roaring Cape                                                                           9:33
arr            Ocean Yard surf spot                                                                 10:03
arr            Brandonbeach                                                                       10:15
arr            Briarwood                                                                                10:41
arr            Palmer                                                                                   10:52
arr            Barnard, Thames, Wetwater                                                       10:57
arr            Beachwoods                                                                               11:01
arr            Thursby Bay                                                                              11:11
arr           Irian                                                                                       11:16
lv             Irian                                                                                        11.31
arr            Old Irian                                                                                11:36
arr            Contentment                                                                          11:46
arr            Stonebill - Clearcreek                                                 PM            12:04
arr            Beastey                                                                                   12:11
arr            Basker                                                                                    12:36
arr           Pendleton                                                                                1:10
lv             Pendleton                                                                                 1:25
arr            Antrim                                                                                     1:57
arr            Sajak                                                                                        2:14
arr           ROSEVILLE                                                                          2:30

lv             ROSEVILLE                                                                        3:03
arr            Hazelhurst Ruins                                                                       3:07    
arr            Hazel           (Alan will get off here)                                         3:10   
arr            Rosslea                                                                                   3:20     
arr            Skegness                                                                                 4:09
arr            Killen – High Spen                                                                 4:20
arr            Abbotsford                                                                            4:37
arr            Port Orford                                                                            4:55
arr            Portmore                                                                                5:22
arr           Putney Station PUTNEY                                                     5:30

After breakfast, Alan waved to a pedicab driver to get him to the train station, and he made it with only a few minutes to spare. The Ustinovitch Station, named after a famous Soviet railway builder, looked very European, though not as large as those in say, Paris. Once inside, he found his train easily enough: three-cars, electric-powered, rather elderly-looking, but turned out with a fresh coat of red paint. Another two-car train was waiting at a track marked "Blindhaven" which is a town to the coast to the southeast, Alan noticed on his map*.  A few other passengers were getting on his train, but it was otherwise quiet in the station, perhaps because it was early.  

He was taking this local train so he could see the coast and as much of the island that he could before getting off at his destination near the town of Hazel.  He could catch the late-morning Victoria-Putney express, which would get him there much faster...but perhaps another time. With his train schedule and his map in hand, and finds he'll be going down the southern coast to Roaring Cape, then on to the western end of the island, and then curving back to his destination near Hazel. Cool!

He climbs aboard, finds a seat, and hopes they have coffee.

*Alan is carrying the New Island Travel Map. To get your own copy, for $12 including postage, send a note to Lee at

Alan will be heading southwest; Blindhaven is the other way.