Siberia and back.. in 4 and a half days

Trip Start May 30, 2006
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Trip End May 31, 2007


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Tuesday, June 20, 2006

What a fanrastic couple of days!

THURSDAY

We left the hostel on the Thursday morning with Jack Sheremetoff, the guy who ran the hostel in Irkutsk, jumped in his van and travelled north to a place called Christofsk bay (rough translation) on lake Baikal. We were staying in little farm/holmestead which owned all the land in the bay... it was absolutely idyllic (check the pics). As we got there the farmers wife brought us our lunch, a massive offering of smoked fish, siberean sushi (raw fish) potatoes and salad and desserts... more than we'd eaten in absolutely ages. After a digestion break we went for a hike up one of the hills on the valley side. Jack called it his fitness circuit to see how fit we were. We failed ;) It was a great walk but we were sufferin the effects of no hills for a month, we were beaten by the farms two dogs: one who had three legs and one about to have a litter of puppies. We really enjoyed though. The views from the top were absolutely stunning and the lake was awe inspiring.

When we got back, there was more food waiting for us. We couldn't believe it! More fish, potatoes and stuff with the farms home made 'special jam'. It sounds weird but we couldn't get enough of it.... i'm still thinking about it now.

FRIDAY

Next day saw us up and on our way for a 12k hike along the coast to the 'white wall' a historical landmark, used as a sacred place of worship for many years by the indigenous buryat population. The path there was a little extreme, three climbs akin to those of the previous day... we worked out that by the end of the day we'd have ben 2/3s of the way up Ben Nevis if it had all been put together. The bay was definately a bit special, as well as sunny. So before i offered myself to the god of the sun, i built a minature stone hnge as an offering from the british people in this sacred place. Then i went decidely brown.

Helen's legs were dropping off by the time we returned, and Jack's name was follwed by a lot of cussing and references to crazy slave drivers, but we had a banje to look forward to! It was just so nice to be perfectly clean again.
Jack got quite excited by plans for dinner and as the dark meat was presented to us, we told it was Baikal Seal. It was actually really nice, the texture of crispy duck and a bit of a beefy flavour. To finish off the night we made ourselves a fire in the farmyard and watched the light disappear from the sky. Idyllic.

SATURDAY

Up early again for another full breakfast... we managed to smuggle a bit in to our bags for our trip to Olkhon island. Jack took us down the track back to the main road and dropped us at a village bus stop so we could move north to the island and our destination of Hujzer, the islands capital. the islands population is 1500, 1200 of who live in this town.

After 40 mins and flagging down 5 wrong buses, we continued on our way arriving in hujzer about 2 1/2 hours later. We walked up to Nikita's guesthouse, a homestay for up to 60 back packers. Since the closure of the fish factory, tourism is sadly the only industry on the island. We arranged a 4x4 tour for the next morning and i got collared to play in a Russia vs Rest of the world football match.

We moved down to the beach and set up the tent... our own private white sand beach! Beautiful. Shame about the midges.

After we were set up, we did a bit of supply shoping and met up with the 'rest of the world' team which consisted of 8 players including me, A spaniard, Italian, another brit, an aussy, two french lads and a german. We recruited 3 russian kids who were hangin around and looked quite useful. Over to the pitch we went, me in my hiking boots, and some of the lads wearing their swim shorts. Ramshakle is probably an accurate description. When we got their, it turned out the russians had seen us coming and forfeited the game. We win, went the triumphant cry.. but we still had a fotball and 11 willing soles, so 5 a side it was and who should open the scoring but yours truely. Like Alan Shearer, just not as fit.. even with his dodgy knee. It turned out the star of the show was one of the Russian kids we recruited who wore a liverpool shirt. He and i formed a dangerous partnership and were responsible for 6 of the 8 goals we scored. By half time tho... i was craving a second wind, having seen two point blank headers saved and the oppostion (ROW2) equalise. Heroics from sam our australian keeper, were just keeoing us in it... so 2nd half, everything went to the little kid who would then put it on my head. magic. final score 8-6 to us and the assembled crowd went wild. its an interesting fact that the 2nd half lasted a full 20 mins less than the first.. but i'm not complaining!

i slept well that night

SUNDAY

We woke to a wet morning, it had rained thru the night. Infact, the island received 50% of it's annual rainfall right there and then. Dammit

Off around the island with Grigory our guide in UAZ van with 4 germans and helen. Grigory was a bit crazy, but was a mine off information about the island. Through a mix of German and English we got alot of it and now count ourselves experts in the History of Olkhon island. The non existent roads gave us plenty to contemplate as we bounced off the roof, driving by an Old Gulag (political prison camp), and various Buryat settlements and the most beautiful of peninsulars - 'Cape of Love'. Grigory cooked us a fish lunch and special herbal tea. I'm starting to get suspicious of people that call things 'special'. After another bone shaking ride through the forrests we emmerged on the highway. To be honest i couldn't tell the difference. We managed to get food at Nikitas with the Germans and spoke with Chris, the other brit from footy. Turns out he used to be a producer at the BBC...

MONDAY

Up at 7.30 no less to pack away the tent... it was wet. was not impressed. Got it away and were at the bus stop 15 minutes early at 8.45. The bus was 30 mins late

4 hours and ferry ride latr in the middle of a storm about an hour from life, the bus broke down. I took advantage of the halt in boneshaking and got some sleep. we were still not moving when i woke up. Another 40 mins passed and a bus pulled up and we were shephearded on. it was rubbish, but at least it moved.

Back in Irutsk at Jack's place we showered, put the washing machine on and then went to the pub. Seemed like the best way to salvage a lost day. We actually got to see some world cup.. Toga getting beatn by the swiss 2-0.
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