Trip Start Aug 09, 2010
124Trip End Feb 01, 2012
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Where I stayed
I'm sure you've noticed our very high opinion of Russians throughout our blog. Overall we think they're great but there is one thing we most definitely were not too keen on...their driving.
Our trip to Olkhon island was a nail biting, seat gripping seven hour affair where we spent a good chunk of our time hurtling down the opposite side of the road overtaking this truck or that cow. When I first caught a glimpse of Lake Baikal I wanted to cry for joy...we had made it here alive!
We caught a short ferry ride to Olkhon Island which is one of the most amazing places to enjoy great views of Lake Baikal - the deepest and 5th largest lake in the world which will eventually become the world's fifth ocean
We were staying in a small compound that felt very much like a mini festival. It was made up of cute wooden buildings that hid some great surprises - a music room with a piano, a little living room with a sofa, loads of Banyas or saunas and even a table tennis room (the place is owned by a Russian table tennis olympic champion). But the impression of the compound paled into insignificance the minute we walked out and headed towards the lake. The stillness of the place immediately made us lower our voices and talk in hushed tones. The silence broken occasionally by the call of a sea gull. The vast expanse of water surrounded by beautiful rock formations made me feel like God was REALLY showing off when he made this place.
We sat down by the great Shamanic Rocks - a place of very strong shamanic energy and tried to get in touch with our animal guide. But alas our animal spirit never materialised. Nevertheless the beautiful views still filled us with awe and made us feel very spiritual.
On the next day Paul and I went to the beach. We decided to brave the cold water and plunged in for all of 5 seconds.....it was FREEEEEEEEZING!
In the evening we went to the communal kitchen for our meal and were very excited to see a notice on the door announcing a talk by a Tibetan monk that would be on after dinner. While we ate we started chatting with 2 Geramn guys who were also doing the Trans Siberian and exchanged travel stories while waiting for the monk to appear.
Our excitement soon died when it turned out that the 'Talk' was a series of holiday pictures which the monk commented on in Chinese, his friend translated into broken English and another willing volunteer translated into Russian. The Germans and us got the giggles and decided to avoid ourselves more embarrassment by sneaking out of the room......it brought back memories of being at Uni. With nowhere else open we were stuck for places to go until I spotted a room with a sign on it - can't remember what it was but what I do remember is that when we walked in we found a sofa, a table and a few chairs. We soon turned it into our personal drinking den and partied the Russian way downing neat shots of vodka straight from the bottle
It turned out to be someone's living room! They were cool with us staying though. So we did. Ha!
The next day we went on a day trip to the north and west of the island. The island is about 70 miles along so we got to see some amazing views. Like i said on Facebook, Lake Baikal is a must-see destination. We shared the trip with a Swedish guy (who could speak Russian so became our un-official guide), a German couple and a French lad. When we got to the far north we got to see the bigger side to Lake Baikal as our hostel is on the smaller size. To call it a lake is crazy as it is so vast and in fact the locals call it the sea.
When we got back to Nikita's (our hostel) we all went down to the beach for a swim. Down is the operative word as we had to go down a sheer cliff face! This time we stayed in the water longer and it was not too bad if you moved about. After having a refreshing swim we decided to get smashed on vodka and beer. It certainly warmed us up. Remember that cliff face we had to get down? Well now we had to all climb up drunk! Thankfully, we all got up safe and sound and carried on drinking over dinner. In fact we carried on drinking all night as we made a fire in front of our room after dinner
The worst hangover I ever had was when I turned 21. I remember being so hung over that I spent the whole day either in bed or with my head down the loo. After that day I swore I was off alcohol for good and in fact did not touch alcohol for a whole year! The reason I mention this is that that hangover has now slipped down to the second place beaten by the nightmare I was caught in the day after, at the start of our colossal journey (I cannot even call it a hangover as surely they can never be THAT bad)
On our final leg of the journey we also had to go through Russian and Mongolian customs. We got to the Russian border, had our passport checked, arrived at the customes gate, had our passport checked again, got off the bus, unloaded our luggage, took it through security and re-packed it on the bus. the security lady took a huge interest in our Times newspaper and proceeded to borrow it and read it while we watched for the next 20 minutes. We're still not sure whether she was searching for hidden messages or being curious. Before leaving the border we had a final passport check for good measure. Then we drove for 10 metres and went through the exact same border on the Mongolian side. The whole process took 2 hours...I would not recommend doing it on a hangover.
Well we eventually made it to Mongolia, alive (just about). So we'll write about our adventrues there soon!
Bye for now!
Paul and Karen