|At 23:00 last night we left Ulan Ude on an overnight train bound for Irkutsk. This is our first time on the mainline of the trans-Siberian Railroad (we did not board at the easternmost point- Vladivostok). The trans-Siberian covers 8 time zones as it rolls over 9289 km of taiga (Siberian forest), steppe, and desert. A white marker tells us that we are 5784 km from Moscow (at each kilometer, the rail builders placed markers written with the distance to Moscow). The train arrived in Irkutsk this morning. We disembarked and drove 68 km to meet our hosts for three nights in a small village called Listvyanka. Our hosts, Luba and Vladimir, are biologists who work at the local Limnological Institute and study nearby Lake Baikal. They provide guest lodging to earn money for their children's college tuition. "College is no longer free under capitalism, an unfortunate side-effect of a full market economy," they said. Capitalism isn't easy.