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Published: November 17th 2011
Next morning we headed to the bus stop and we found a group of people already waiting for the same minibus. We looked at each other and decide to wait anyway. We did not like the idea of waiting for the next one for 3h in freezing weather. The driver allowed us in but later on started to ask something about the phone. Good we had a Russian speaking Cyril with us but we still had no idea what he was on about. Apparently this bus is for bookings only so we were asked to leave very quickly. Shame that no one at Nikita's mentioned it to us. The driver obviously felt bed or just wanted more earnings, as he asked people to squeeze in and we managed to get place. Cyril was not very happy by his child size seat between a window and big Russian fellow. The journey was around 6h together with the waiting time for a ferry to cross to the Island. Surprisingly how 6h becomes nothing after few times in 30-40h train journeys. The views were stunning and we just could not wait to explore the island more and more.
The Khuzmir village is a
panorama of Baikal
for the view like that it is worth the time and effort to get there
gathering of many wooden, Siberian houses, few shops and massive Nikita's Homestead. The place is impressive, frankly speaking. Apparently it can host up to 400 people in the summer season although we know that they never refuse bookings. They simply ask locals to host people for them. The fee is not small (winter season 900Rub/18£ pp) but includes 3 meals in one out of their 6 canteens (winter season just one). Wi-fi is payable extra and all the excursions obviously cost a little bit more but seems like the whole village is working for them so not sure if there is any other choice.
We got a double room for the same price and banya (sauna) up to 20 min per person was free of charge as well. Next day we signed up the 6h excursion around Olkhon Island (600Rub/12£ each) and we could not have been more lucky with the weather. We had another 2 Belgian guys with us : Chris and Fred whom Cyril met in Krasnoyarsk and we had a funny group to travel. The views were incredible and luckly there was a little bit of snow. We were told by the driver that it almost
never snows in Olkhon as it is too dry so it is a very rare view. We visited the most northern part of the island – Khoboy Cape, got freshly cooked lunch in the forest and also managed to spot a deer herd from the distance. Apparently there are no legal restrictions in terms of hunting over there, so many of the animals are becoming slowly extinct on the island. Shame as if this place was pronounced a National Park then maybe it would just sort the things out.
The driver told us a little bit of history of the island. When Soviet Union collapsed people lost their secure jobs in the fishing factories and in no time became poor and some at the edge of starvation. There is no way to grow any plants because of the very unfavourable climate so only fishing and fishing and fishing is left to do. Nowadays people learnt to leave out of tourism as well but that is only thanks to Nikita (who is a former table tennis champion), who came back from his travels, bought some land and decided to develop some tourism in the Island. Apparently the local community was
against him for a long time as they could not comprehend the idea of letting rooms or houses to tourists, but very soon they understood what good it causes to the whole village. Not only more than 100 local people have jobs thanks to the place but also shops, cafes and house lettings flourished through years.
Overall the Island is an amazing place and anywhere in Western countries this would have been already spotted by some developer or government organisation. It is a wonder there are no resorts, big hotels or conference centres yet. There is not even a proper road leading to Olkhon from Irkutsk. Of course we are glad it is this way as, again, another place we visited that has not been yet spoiled and stays natural and beautiful.
In the evening we took a small walk to the well known Shaman Rock to admire beautiful sunset at the Maloe More (small sea, western part of Baikal). It is incredible how shamanism is evolving in Siberia and many places are covered by the places of prayers. You could probably get rich by collecting all the money that was thrown there on the rocks;-) The shamanism
is growing stronger because of tourism not because of the spiritual meaning. Someone discovered that foreigners are interested in shamanistic ways and preying so they can make money out of it. No one was able to describe to us what Siberian shamanism really means.
Next day it was time to get back to Irkutsk to catch the train to Mongolia. Sadly our visa was running out and we had to get to the border as soon as possible. We were initially thinking of crossing the border in more unconventional way that train (minibus/bus/train combo) but again, we were running out of time so went for the easiest, less exciting train ride. Before we started the trip we thought that 19 day visa will be more then plenty of time but now we wish we could have had a month or more to discover Russia. It is one of those countries that you don't expect much from, but then you are surprised how much you liked it;-)
Mongolia here we come ;-)
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