Irkutsk - City of Surprises!

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September 29th 2006
Published: September 29th 2006
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Tank you very much!Tank you very much!Tank you very much!

Is it a tank or an APC? Anyway, I'm sure that we were taking a risk photographing it!

We are a long, long way from the English villages, French Boulangeries, Belgium chocolate shops, Dutch coffee shops, German Bier Kellers, Czech pancake shops, Austrian bakeries, Hungarian sunflower fields, Romanian orphans, Moldovan street cafés, Ukrainian ice-cream parlours… etc,… In fact - six and a half thousand miles away from my nice warm bed in Staffordshire, England! I look at my bike and think, “Did I really get here under my own power”! I look down at my thin, Mr Bean legs with new respect.

Since entering Russia, our group of four has been split a few different ways with me doing my own thing for a short while, then Rory and Toby spending a lot of time together, leaving me and Scott to do the last 1800 miles together. We’ve had a lot of adventures together and we’ve got to know each others strange ways. We’ve also worked good as a team and it will be strange when we leave Irkutsk as a group of four again. I’m just wondering how it’s going to work because from here on we will have no choice but to stick together and to help each other.

Once we were up,

Tobes making a "doobie" from his big bag of Stuff. Just before we gave the bagfull to a traveller who had just arrived in Russia from Mongolia!
we explored the city, found a good bike shop that would fix our back wheels, then went to an internet café. The other guys were in town and there was a message to meet them at The British Council around midday, which we did.

When we saw each other there were lots of smiles and stories to be told. They had actually been cycling behind us half the way from Krasnoyarsk, then decided to catch trucks and buses then rest of the way to Irkutsk. We found out that the British Council was so helpful, too. The boss fellah, Anatoli, couldn’t do enough for us. We had coffee and fre internet access there, and also for Wednesday a press conference had been arranged where we would have to sit in from of the local press and TV channels and spill the beans that we weren’t actually tough cyclists - but, beer-swilling, marijuana quaffing, blokey types who liked nothing more than to have a great time!

Rory and Toby came over to our hostel later, and then we went over to the Mongolian consulate to get our hassle-free visas, only for 15 days though, and Scott didn’t need a
Irkutsk BeerIrkutsk BeerIrkutsk Beer

Another word from our sponsor.... "Remember kids, Drink a Gallon of beer a day and you TOO will be able to cycle around the world and sleep with exotic women".
visa cos he was a yank! It seemed that our trip was back on target again! However, Scott and I were suffering badly from exhaustion and we looked rough. The plan therefore, was to rest six nights and leave Saturday morning, this would give us ample time to get everything sorted, washed, cleaned, repaired, and our bikes in fit order again. The only problem that I can see ahead of us is that perhaps Rory and Toby will be holding us back a bit because thay will have lost all their cycling muscles and momentum after their 12 days rest in Krasnojarsk, and nearly a week here… we shall see…We drank our compulsory beers in the evening, met an American guy named Daryl Fortney who was on the road indefinitely, then crashed out.

Day 117, 25th September


So many things seem to be happening. I can’t think straight when I write at times like this, and I’m sure I’m leaving some important details out somewhere? Later, Scott and I stopped off at the council and spoke to Anatoli for ages about work, politics and the environment. He’s arranged for us to talk to a group

Andy: My first press-conference. By the look on my face I betrayed my unsureness about the event.
of students on Thursday about our trip. He’s also arranging a trip to Lake Baikal for us sometime. In town we bought a set of groovey wall maps and used the internet again. It’s good to keep in contact with Kathryn, she’s doing fine and back to her old self again which is great. Later, I had to change 80 pounds to cover the cost of my bike repairs; new back wheel, chain, and gear-set. We picked up the bikes and went back to the hotel to cook chips and to chat to Rory and Toby. They went out on the town later, but I had an early night.

Day 118, 26th September


Today was going to be one of the weirdest so far! The morning was spent just arsing about, watching the military from our windows checking cars for bombs. At 2pm we got our bikes ready and headed off to the British Council and our ‘so-called’ press conference. It was amazing, just like you see on TV. We had name tags, were seated at a big table with four glasses and four bottles of mineral water (we’d only been drinking well-water up to
The British CouncilThe British CouncilThe British Council

From left to right: Rory in pink, Scott, me and Toby. What does one say in situations like this?
now - what if this stuff made us puke)! And we were surrounded by cameras and microphones. There were 33 reporters in all, and the local heads of BP (British Petroleum) who give the council half of their funding. We were dumbfounded!

The thought occurred to me, “Nothing much happens round these here parts”. Why were the Irkutsians so interested in four daft cyclists? Toby turned up late cos he’d been dropping off his washing on the other side of town and his chain had broken, he arrived holding the broken chain in greasy hands as if to prove he was a bona-fide cyclist.

The whole experience was fun and afterwards we were introduced to many ‘important’ people.

We arrived back at the hotel to be told by guests that we’d been on TV, on all four channels actually. My theory about nothing much happening here, seems to be true! I’ve noticed that all this attention has gone to Toby’s head a bit, and that Rory too is all smiles about this media stuff. We went to the Hauauna Café later. I stayed sober (boring) watching the others get drunk (fun)…

Day 119, 27th September
Irkutsk - British CouncilIrkutsk - British CouncilIrkutsk - British Council

The head of the Brit Council, Anatoli, posing with us.


Today was going to be an even weirder day! Having seen ourselves on breakfast TV we set off for the British Council once again. I used their email facilities to contact Kathryn, and later Anatoli let me call her on his phone. It was great to talk with her as always. She’s fine and well, and as crazy as it seems, I really miss her. I feel guilty at times, having such crazy times and she’s there in a troubled country on the verge of war. I just wonder who the yanks are going to attack for the attack on New York - Iraq?

At midday, a chauffer in a big black car arrived from the BP headquarters in Irkutsk and whisked us off to their offices on the other side of town. We were shown around like honoured guests, given free oil for our bikes, tea and coffee. Afterwards, the chauffer took us back to the BC and promised me that he could get me some spirit for my Trangia cooker from a friend at the local vodka factory.

We were then taken to a local languages school to give a guest lecture about
Blessing the dead!Blessing the dead!Blessing the dead!

The morning after a bloke died in the next room to us, an orthodox priest came around every room to perform some kind of blessing - weird!
the tour and our lives. The room was packed with 100 plus teenies, mostly girls, hanging on to our every word. It was the weirdest experience! They asked questions like, “Are you married”, “Do you have girlfriends”, “Are Russian girls nice for you”? And after the lecture they said that we were their heroes!!! Crazy or what! It was difficult not to let this get to your head - temptation, temptation!

In the evening, we all went off to a club that had been recommended, “Stratosphere” and were bought loads of drinks by an Irish guy. We danced the night away, almost, and headed back around 1am - except Rory and Tobes who went off looking for a strip club!

Day 120, 28th September


Today was a busy one, our last full day in Irkutsk. We had a lot to do. Firstly, I went to what I thought was an auto-repair shop, but was in fact a fire station, with my Brookes saddle to get it welded (remember - in Kazakhstan the babushka juices had corroded it). I left it with a bunch of bemused firemen, then went off to do some shopping with
Russian militaryRussian militaryRussian military

From the hostal window, a regular sight was the soldiers checking parked cars.

It was strange cos people recognized us from the TV, some of them wanted to walk along with us and chat. At the post office, the service to ages, one old babushka dealing with loads of queuing folks. Then I went off to the Mongolian Consulate to pick up my visa and waited ages only to be given one for 14 days! Did some more shopping afterwards, bought some much needed leather gloves and food. On the way back to the hostel I called in at the fire station to pick up my saddle. They had fixed it, for free! I did put some money into a charity box they had there, though.

Tomorrow, we set off towards Lake Baikal, and then southwards towards Mongolia hoping to be at the border in about 10 days, in Ulaan Bataar in about 3 weeks. God knows what the weather will be like then. It’s getting colder by the day and locals tell us that normally at this time of the year the roads start to become snow-covered. They say we will be extremely lucky to make it to Ulan Ude, the forecast says that the snow is a day
Irkutsk suburbsIrkutsk suburbsIrkutsk suburbs

Typical scene whilst walking from the hostal into town.
or two away!


2nd October 2006

Tank or APC?
It's an APC specifically a BTR-60

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