Irkutsk, Russia 15/07/08 to 19/07/08

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July 19th 2008
Published: October 21st 2008
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Ok I had no idea Siberia was like an island in Croatia or something.
15/07/08 After saying goodbye to Beata and Whsitek (man I hope I see them again) I went to the ticket office at Irkutsk station to purchase my departing ticket for Moscow. The ticket office told me that the only available tickets for Moscow on the 18th were kupe for 8,000R (about $400 AUD at the time). They said if I wanted plaskart I would have to come back on the 17th and try my luck then. I told them that I would be on the island of Olkhon - but she simpled answered that it wasn't her problem. I didn't know whether to take a gamble on the kupe tickets or come back or what.
Fortunately a pleasant girl approached me and said that I could book tickets through the Internet. She gave me the business card to try and book it from the island of Olkhon. I found out I had to catch marshurtka 64 to autovaksal. The first two marshrutkas I tried to board rode past me saying there was not enough space for my stuff and me on board. When I finally got on I was pretty flustered - to the point the guy that I stroke up

Getting ready to board the boat to Olkhon island
a conversation with on the marshrutka told me to calm down. His name was Andrei and he said he would help me get to Olkhon. I told him about my travels and apologised for my frustration - explaining what had led to this chain of events.
Andrei paid for my marshrutka when we got off 10R (0.50AUD) and wouldn't let me pay him back. He was off for a few days hiking with a friend to Listvianka - which he invited me to join him if I didn't make it to Olkhon. He spoke to me in English - I think he thought I couldn't understand Russian so well plus I probably looked like a rookie tourist with all my crap.
We got to the autovaksal and found out that all the buses were booked out for Olkhon today and tomorrow! I thought about joining Andrei - then decided I didn't want to intrude on his time with his potential girl friend so I thought I would wait until 10:30am and see what happened and if it didn't work for Olkhon I would go to Arshan. Then we saw the bus for Olkhon island and there were people lining up.

A cow nearby the shore
Me and Andrei went to find out about the bus and Andrei begged the bus driver to take me on board - even to sit on the floor. So I joined up the queue with a Swedish couple (who I later found out were Ben and Anrea from Lund). The bus driver took us and some Norwegians onto the bus and the rest of the people in line were denied a spot on the bus - even not a piece of floor space which myself, the Swedes and Norwegians had to do for 7 hours. We still had to pay full price 350R (17.50AUD) for the one way fare.
I heard a lady near us saying in Russian she forgot to bring playing cards for the island. So as in my usual ignorant style - I assumed everyone who went to Olkhon stayed in the same place - Nikita's (even though Bernie told me in Mongolia he stayed at Maria's). But anyway I butted into their conversation and said
"don't worry I have cards!"
They thought this was the funniest thing and this led to me meeting these great chicas who had studied together in university (in Tomsk) and known

The beautiful Siberian landscape.
each other for 32 years now. There was Luda who had stayed in the building industry and was now a director of a construction company. Luda had moved to St Petersburgh (being originally from Tomsk). Olga (who was an accountant now and originally from Ukraine) and Natasha (originally from Kazastan) had both moved to Irkutsk and set their lives up there. At our first stop they suggested I try these meat plemeni type things which were delicious.
We eventually had to cross the small sea by ferry to reach Olkhon island. The bus boarded the boat and we were off. It was a beautiful view and nice weather too - the only downside was we realized when we got to the other side we had lost a few passengers (and later their bags could not be found on the bus). Once we got to the island, Natasha brought me my visitor pass as a present. I thanked her so very much. I wondered if this was karma for giving a lady 3 roubles at the station?
We drove to the city of Khuzhir (on Olkhon island). Olkhon island is considered one of 5 global poles of shamanic energy by the

On the boat on Baikal,
Buryat people. The island is 72km long and only 3 years ago was it connected to electricity. Anyways once we arrived to the town centre the three new ruski friends I had made gave me advice where to buy my return tickets for Olkhon - which I helped pass onto the Swedish couple and Norwegian. Then I went to check into Nikita's. I checked in and then had a late lunch at 5pm. Then I went to the city centre - where I met a 12 year old boy called Dan who said I couldn't buy sim cards on Olkhon (although you could). I went to the local Internet café - which turned out to be the most expensive internet I have ever used in my life - 3.5R a minute so that would be about 17.5c AUD. Unfortunately I could not get any tickets for the train to Moscow off the Internet - so I guessed I would have to rely on some being potentially available when I got back to Irkutsk.
After this I headed back to my room. My room mate was back she was really nice - her name was Larissa and she was from Moscow.

Luda, Natasha and Olga the awesome girls that studied together from Tomsk.
She was hear from a series of physcological seminars that were taking place. She invited me to a marketing seminar tonight. I decided to grab a quick banya and head on up. The banya that I used was basically a hot room where you get naked and wash yourself with buckets of water - and soap if you so wish. It was so good after a 26 hour train ride and a 7 hour bus ride on the floor. Being clean never quite felt so good. I went to the marketing lecture after that which was quite interesting and ended up going to bed relatively early.

16/07/08 So I woke up around 9am and had a delicious Nikita's breakfast. I decided to go to the beach with this guy from Germany - Markus. We baked in the sun for a while and then when it was a bit warmer I braved the Father Baikal. Even though it was about 26C outside (even when it got to 29C) Baikal stayed at a cool 7C. I just ran in and dived under. Well good. It was pretty refreshing afterwards. I spoke to Markus how he sorta ended up in a chinese

A boat in the small sea.
jail due to an accident with a park bench (which he broke when he was drunk). Around 1pm we went back to have lunch - Amoul fish and soup. Yummy. Afterwards I went for a walk. I climbed this big rock near our guest house (which I found out later was a shamanic rock from Larissa and you weren't meant to climb. But the view at the top was so relaxing - I could have stayed there for so very long, the breeze, the lapping of the waves against the shore and the distant murmur of people some where below...

A few of the rocks had ribbon on it - similar to some of the rocks in Mongolia. I walked to the other side of the cliff face where I could look back at the shamanic rock. Spectacular. Afterwards I went down to the white sandy beach nearby and went for a dip. I laid down for an hour and realised I was falling asleep so I hoped up and went for a walk along the shore line. Suddenly I spotted a familiar face along the shore line wearing a black swimming costume.

"Luda!" I called out. It

The lake was almost inviting me to jump in. I was seriously debating it after being stuck on the bus floor for 7 hours.
was indeed Luda and she was so happy to see me. She, Natasha and Olga thought they had lost me the day we got off the bus. Then I sat with Natasha and Olga under a tree whilst Luda continued to swim. They told me to congratulate Luda as it was her 50th birthday today. I congratulated Luda and she said it was the best birthday she had ever had. She said she would always remember it. I joined her for a quick dip in the water and then I had to bid them adieu as I had another banya experience to go to (with Markus). I got back to Nikita's and met Markus for the banya which we had booked in for like an hour. It turned out to be bliss really and I was so relaxed when I came out. There was an area like with a sauna and then a part to wash yourself in. We sat naked with just a towel wrapped around us and took turns in the showering area. Markus also added beer into the steaming part of the banya which made the room smell like bread. After the banya I quickly got changed

Ahh m russian van on Olkhon how ive missed you.
then ran to the concert that was playing that night. The pianist - i don't remember his name - but he was amazing. The way he moved his fingers over the piano keys - well it was like butterflies dancing. Afterwards I went back to our room where me and Larissa had a big D&M before I headed out to listen to songs by the campfire. I saw Markus there and two girls - one of who was called Toni. Around 2am I headed to bed.

17/07/08 So I woke up and decided to go on a tour to Hebai. The tour was 450R with a car ($22.50AUD and included lunch for the day). It was up to Hebai with stops along the way. We had 12 people including the driver in the car in a russian comby style van. Dan was there too - the 12 year old boy I had met upon my first arrival to Olkhon. He was there with his mum. Our first stop was near some horses and some cliffs - where some of us explored whilst the driver prepared lunch. Then it started to rain heavily so the driver tried to relocate lunch

We want to leave cleanly. Were we had to pay our Olkhon cleaning tax. I hope it went to the right authorities.
into the car. Lunch consisted of salad and soup (with fish Amoul). We then rode on to the next stop which was 3 brothers. We got to the tip of Olkhon (Hebai) and it was quite misty. We were afraid we wouldn't see anything but we decided to climb the cliff face anyway. It was still beautiful. And the rain had stopped. This point had a powerful inspiring type of energy surrounding it. There was a guide there that said you should stack stones on top of each other for your sins to be forgiven. We did this and suddenly the mist seemed to lift and the sky cleared and the sun came out??? Suddenly it was perfect weather to strip down to our singlets and t-shirts. After this we headed to the love rock. Again beautiful views. We got back to town around 5:30pm and thanked each other for an awesome day. I met some Korean girls on the way to the sauna and invited them to join me. They were so happy particularly as they were leaving tomorrow and would probably miss out on the sauna if not now. After the banya I quickly got changed and rushed

First views of Olkhon Island.
to the Shaymans rock for sunset. I made it and it was spectacular. I stayed until the sky turned pink and the light began to fade - 11pm. I got back to the kitchen for some tea and met Toni there. I sat down to have a chat there and met another guy working there (Toni was a tour guide BTW).

The other person there was this guy Rene from Kazastan and he told me that he traveled to Indonesia (on his way to Australia though unfortunately he didnt quite make it to Australia) over a years period on $250US. All he had with him was 3 tops a sweater, pants and a pair of shorts, a sleeping bag and tent. Basically he got around by hitch hiking. He learned English along the way! Everytime he arrived in a new country he would meet someone who he would tell that person about his journey. Usually they would be really impressed and they would help him write something about what he was doing in thier language - say Thai as he went to thailand (through Mongolia, China, Hong Kong, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam and to Indo I think). Then he would

The island of Olkhon.
show this to locals who maybe would help him out by giving him food or a place to stay. He would also stay in alot of buddhist temples and churches or religious organisations.

I was so inspired by his story! The way he told it, the message was clear - all you needed to achieve anything you may have wanted in life was some motivation and to actually do it. Here was a guy that just decided I want to travel I may not have the money but Im going to do it anyway what ever it takes!
I said to him you have to write a book - which he was in the process of - but he was 23 so and this wasn't his main lifes priority - I think he was more doing it cause he had met people like me who he had shared his story with who had encouraged him to do that. His next step was to make it to Australia to do fruit picking and to England to see Liverpol play.
Toni played the piano for us and invited us both to go outside by the campfire. I ended up joining her

Me and the opening to where the small sea joins the mighty Baikal.
but Rene went to bed. At the camp fire I met this cute guy called Peter - he was the son of a dentist who worked 3 months of the year on the island of Olkhon. In fact she was the only dentist on the island. He was 19 and he worked as a kitchen hand at Nikita's. His friend was from Kazastan. I could tell Peter liked me he kept saying dont leave so I stayed around - it was quite fun Toni played the guitar for us and we sang russian songs. It got to 4:30am and I had to get going as I had to get up at 7am to catch my bus.

18/07/08 Got up at 7:50am. I thought I was getting up at 6:50am - I forgot to adjust my time for Russian time! Larissa told me the correct time and I was like crap frantically getting ready and running to the bus stop with all my crap. I missed the bus.

Which in hindsight was actually good cause I got to go back to Nikita's and pick up my towel which I would have forgotten there otherwise. Plus at the bus stop

A local Olkhon inhabbiant.
they told me its ok I can catch the 8:45am bus. On the bus I sat next to a lady that was whinging to me about something - she was about 60 or something. I told to relax and enjoy the ride reminding her she probably wasnt on Olkhon often. She wound down a bit with this and became all interested in me asking where I was from. I told her originally I was a Moskvitch but now living in Australia. So she decided she would teach me some russian proverbs.
After about half an hour of this I heard someone familiar call out my name. I turned around and Natasha, Olga and Luda were there signalling me to come sit next to them! I was so happy to bump into them like they told me they were too!

So our bus broke down at the start of the trip and we ended up missing the ferry we were meant to catch back. So me. Luda and Olga had a tea - it was about 10am and Natasha had a beer. I ended up passing out most of the bus trip cause I was pretty tired from staying out

The main town centre of Olkhon. It was great to be here.
all night. Which was a pretty good thing as the bus was really slow and it took us about 2 hours longer to get back to the Irkutsk autovaksal. Most of the time it felt like we were doing 30km under the necessary speed zone - the way I judged this was by the amount of cars that seemed to pass us. We stopped for lunch and Natasha insisted to get me lunch of the steamed dumplings - the ones I had on the bus trip over I think Ponchikis. I brought them some ice cream for desert but Natasha said she wanted to pay for me as their guest, their friend.

Olga said she would get her son Vova to drop me to the station and would not take no for an answer. He was quite good looking too - he was half Korean half Ukrainan - Olga's husband was Korean. He studied economics and was working as a chef of Japenese cusine. Yum! We got to the train station and asked for trains going to Moscow today. The cheapest train ticket was 8,700R ($435 AUD)!
We tried another counter but they quoted us similar prices -plaskart or

Me on the way to the beach. Is this Siberia?
3rd class was not available and these prices were for 2nd class. Their were some 2nd class fares that went as steep as 11,000R ($550AUD). We decided to try another counter upstairs and I was already giving up and thinking I would probably have to go to Moscow later then intended as those prices were way to steep then I had anticapated. We decided to try a final counter but again no luck. Natasha asked me what I wanted to do. I said I would probably grab my stuff from the car and then head to the airport. I didn't want to take up any more of her time cause I knew Vova was already running late for work cause of me. On the way back to the car I spotted Andrea and Ben at the station. I asked them about their train ticket and how much they paid for it. They said about 6500R (which was sorta the target range I was aiming for as the flight would have cost about 7,000R). I actually really wanted that fare cause I wanted to finish off my trans-Mongolian journey by train and not plane if possible. I asked them which counter

Some moored boats.Perhaps they came here from Moscow realised how great it was and never left.
it was that they brought the ticket at and they showed me - the one that I had just last spoke to. Me and Natasha ran up there and enquired again I asked the girl to double check if they definitely did not have that price for tomorrow. She checked and said no...

...but wait hold on yes she did. It was 6,300R with all taxes and service charges included.

Can I book it? I was so excited that I forgot that I should be pissed off with her for not mentioning the ticket in the first place. Natasha didn't though. She was pissed off and said why did you have to stuff us around like that we asked you about the ticket when we came before. The girl said with a bored expression on her face that she didn't see it. Anyway I told Natasha not to worry about it the main thing was that I got the ticket. I said goodbye to Luda, Natasha and Olga and Vova helped me carry my bags to the Swedes. Then I hugged Vova goodbye and they all left.
Me Andrea and Ben decided to find a room together. They

Some kids braved the mighty father Baikal.
told me they were having real hassles booking accomodation cause they couldn't understand what anybody said. We found out you could stay on some couches near the station but there was a hotel nearby that worked out to be cheaper. It was meant to be 1,000R for the three of us - so about 330R each ($16AUD or so). We got there and they charged us an extra 200R booking charge which I argued about with them that they should be upfront with that and not assume anything about travellers - just because I was from AU and they were from Sweden doesn't mean that we made heaps of money. For example Andrea and Ben were studying Law and I was unemployed and I said if we wanted to spend alot of money on an expensive room we would have stayed at a fancy hotel. She was quite shocked actually and in general asked me all about us and I helped translate for Ben and Andrea. After checking in we went to walk around Irkutsk - did some interneting. Grabbed some Baikal vodka for the cousins and headed off to bed.

19/07/08 Woke up at 9am and got my

I decided to take my chances with the mighty father.
stuff ready for checking out. Then me, Ben and Andrea went off to do a bit of sight seeing. Saw some beautiful churches. Afterwards we sat in the park and had some ice-cream - which was even tastier then delicious mongolian ice cream! Actually you have to try milk products in Russia - if you eat dairy stuff that is. ITs the bomb! I seperated from Andrea and Ben then rang dad to say happy birthday! For some reason I thought it was the 18th and he was like thanks your one day late but anyways. I was like damn Im so sorry! I called Nadia and said what time my train was then I went and watched some breakdancers in the street. Brought some groceries for the train and headed back to the hotel. At 3:30pm we headed to the station for our train. I said goodbye to Paulina the lady that worked at reception who had sort of warmed to the three of us from yesterday and was always asking us questions and smiling when we got back to the hotel. Got to our train and headed to wagon where this young looking red headed girl - the

Father Baikal accepted me after all.
pravodnitcha helped me board the train.

Additional photos below
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It was cold but refreshing to swim in the Baikal lake.

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