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Published: September 10th 2009
It's a toilet Jim, but not as we know it
We've finally made it to proper Russia.
Siberia was at it's bleakest when we arrived in Irkutsk...just two degrees, though as a treat, not raining. Irkutsk is the sort of town that you could quite happily chill out in if it wasn't for the fact that it's too chilly. A walk along the riverfront with a brisk north wind was enough to give the proverbials on the brass monkey a lot of movement. And this was a drop in temperature from twenty-five degrees the day before.
With a half day sightseeing under our belt, we moved on to Olkhon Island - a kind of Brits abroad holiday (Vibeke was an honorary Brit for three days) involving vodka, beers, macho activities and some skinny dipping. Having convinced Vibeke, Steve, Dave, Khavita, Lucy & Kev that a homestay with Olga would be a good idea we found ourselves in Kozhir (after being pulled for a speeding ticket and waiting an hour and a half for the next ferry) and shown to our rooms. Outside toilets (well holes in the floor of a wooden hut) outside basins, outside shower (which caused Olga to chuckle when we asked how to use it -
Paul & Dave get a Russian cuddle
"nyet, too cold") were enough to make a few eyebrows raise - what had we talked them into!
So off to the bar at Nikita's for a proper western toilet (if only - more holes in the ground) and a few quiet drinks before dinner. There we met Max, Igal, Anatoly and Petr...Russians who were keen to make our acquaintance and show us Russian hospitality, i.e. Vodka. Fortunately they drank tea between toasts rather than beer and an earbashing from their wives at half seven about getting in the banya (sauna) gave us our exit card before things got totally out of control...and we died, one way or another....safe to say jokes about homosexuality with the Russian mafia don't necessarily translate well.
The next day we turned our pursuits to more healthy ventures. Mountain biking to the other side of the island for a dip in Lake Baikal. 2 hours the guy hiring the bikes tells us...3 and a half hours say our legs. We're clearly better built for drinking vodka in this group. And we have to get back now. Unenthused by the thought, we rest by the lakeside. Then despite the potential detriment to our reproductive
Day on the bikes
One of the, many, stops
capacity, Steve and I disrobed (a courteous distance from the women and children) and plunged into the 15 degree water...photo to prove it. Dave and khavita followed shortly after, but with some cameras issues had to do it twice, the fools! The others lack the urge.
Beers, beers and more beers lead to missing a curfew and a scowl from Olga as we return after mignight (with takeouts) and settle down for another three hours and then a game of making sure everyone at the homestay is aware we are still awake - I'm turning into my worst nightmare.
Hangovers mean a less active day being driven around the island via wasp nests on roads that would put a mountain bike tracks to shame. Still there are some beauiful views of the Lake from nearly every stop - and lunch is great, apart from the fact that it is omul fish again. Intrigued by this fish we attempt to hire rods the following day - a futile exercise as they apparently can only be caught by trawl nets. Instead we build a fire on the beach and relax for the day.
Steve, Nic and I, feeling we've
Paul and Steve in the lake
Don't worry, you wouldn't see them even if they had been in the photo
missed out by not eating smoked omul on our trip to Lake Baikal, go off in search after dinner (despite the fact we've had boiled, fried and grilled omul every day) and have our appetite sated by a fantastic taste, while sitting under a virtually full moon. Perfect finish to the holiday on Baikal...well nearly. The meat craving when we return to Irkutsk is overcome with a surprisingly good lasagne accompanied by wine which causes us all to blow our budgets for the next three days.
If you're ever on Olkhon, do look Olga up - just avoid Max & the boys.
Now it's "da svidanya" for real and we're on a train to Mongolia tonight...though we don't get there until Saturday.
We'll tell you all about Ghenghis soon.
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