Thursday, 29 May 2008

Olkhon Island

Distance traveled: 7775 km

It was a misty morning at the train station in Irkutsk, when I hit the northern outskirts of the Asian backpacker trails - It was quite easy to tell since the number of backpackers at the station outnumbered the 1 or 2 odd travelers I'd seen at other station, by quite a substantial factor.

Behind me was a 58 hour train ride of 3 nights and 2 days, which is long enough in itself, but was made even longer by the fact that my cabin mates turned out to be to elderly Russian women (I'd jokingly asked for 3 Russian chicks when i was in Ekaterinburg, so I guess God has a sense of humour anyway) Not only were they not terribly attractive, they also seemed to be terribly worried about my health and size, so they were constantly feeding me with bread, tomatoes, cucumbers and god knows what else. Anyway I survived, and I can testify that Russian hospitality is indeed legendary.

Anyway, battle hardened from almost 3 weeks in Russia, I decided 58 hours wasn't quite enough of a challenge, and decided to head straight for the bus station for my bus to Olkhon island in lake Baikal (another 5 hours on a terrible road). But knocked by head to a big "Njet" from the Babushka at the ticket window - Road was closed apparently - or as i found out, the road wasn't exactly closed, but the rules and regulations demanded it to be so, and so it was.

Hostel was sold out, arranged a home stay, and just as i was settling, the hostel suddenly called at said a minibus was leaving in 10 minutes - Naturally yours truly was on it :-)

Ran into a great group of people, 3 couples - a British, a Canadian/English and a Icelandic/Danish on the minibus - and safely there and quite exhausted, we ended up having something of party in the sunshine on the balcony of our Bungalow anyway. Late that night, and a bit tipsy, and in search of a cigarette, I banged my head against a really large Russian dude. Who gave me a grave look, and in a very deep voice uttered "ВOДKA!" - and so, Vodka it was - everything after that seems to quite blurry! :)

The Island was beautiful, unfortunately we had the worst weather they had seen this time of year, in many many years. Which made it all that more fortunate that the guest house we stayed in, was so lovable!

3 traditional meals a day was included in the ridiculously low price - which basically meant you went to the restaurant, and in a matter of minutes, you'd be eating the most wonderful warm Russian stew, with cabbage and bread. It was sooooo nice! The rest of the 3 COLD! days on the island went with playing cards, sitting in the Banja (sauna)

... And lastly, we went on a grand tour to the north Cape of the island, with this wonderful Russian grandfather type, in his old army truck - the dark gray sky made the whole scenery look so dramatic - sometimes you'd look around and imagine you were on Greenland. And sometime it would look like lush Steppe. Our granddad for the day even made wonderful soup in a bowl under the open fire.

I'm back in Irkutsk now, and even though it's only a 5 hour (which is basically like 1 stop with the s-train, by Siberian standards - which I'm getting all used too) and we were riding though huge piles of snow in the mountains, here in Irkutsk you can wear T-Shirt and shots , pretty crazy!

Anyway, have 2 days here, and then I'm of with a train to Ulaan Bataar - The capital of Mongolia - on Saturday.


- Stefan

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