Beautiful Baikal

Trip Start Aug 09, 2010
Trip End Feb 01, 2012

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Flag of Russia  , Siberia,
Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Hello all!

 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 was FREEEEEEEEZING!!  We got very excited when we caught a glimpse of the very rare Baikal ducks and took about a zillion pictures of them, even though they were far away and only appeared as spots on our camera. (We tried Uncle John!)

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 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. I should now let you know about my wonderful girlfriend Karen. For some reason she decided that tonight was the night she would try to have the world record for drinking shots of vodka! Now normally, this would be cool but this was our last night on Olkhan island and we had a 7 hour bus ride back to Irkutsk, an overnight train to Ulan-Ude straight after the bus ride and then a 12 hour bus ride to Ulaanbaatar straight after the train! So you can imagine my concern when i said to Karen "maybe you should slow down". Anyhow i will let her carry on that story. It was great sitting around the fire swapping travel stories with people that we only just met. That's another thing i have loved, the fact that we can meet some people in the morning and then a few hours later we have all agreed to go on a trek or tour. People are a lot more relaxed and flexible when they are on the road. Right, i am off! I need a beer.

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). All I can say is that for the first time in my life I actually woke up drunk, stumbling around, laughing like a maniac and not really taking in the enormity of what I was going to have to go through that day. I wobbled about the room packing my stuff in and felt the nausea set in. By the time we got to the van I was green. Our poor minvan driver had to stop twice for me to get out  - well I won't go into the gory details.

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

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Tukkie on

I am just LOVING your trip with you!!! Thanks for sharing guys, and keep the blog posts & pics coming - it's so much fun to read and the photos are amazing... Now, put that vodka bottle down ok! ;-))

rosa robins on

this is so wonderful - love reading all of it and the pics are just fantastic too XXXXX :) - but....there is one thing I'm puzzled with!?!?!?!?!?---the driving thing!?!?!?!?!?!....considering you are both so very familiar with Maltese roads lol..... are you really saying it's worse in Russia!! - at least there's a LOT of road there!! nah...I can't see anywhere more frightening then Maltese roads!

paul_karen on

Hehehe maybe I've been away from Malta for too long!

mom & dad on

Once again a great read and amazing pics xx

Bern & Ol on

Hey guys. We're catching up on your travel diary now that we have a moment to spare. We're enjoying it immensely (not as much as the two of you clearly are). Had we read it earlier we (i.e. Olga) would have warned not to mix beer and vodka. Too late now.
Also, I (Olga writing) should have got in touch with my cousin from Ekaterinburg, who tells everyone who would listen that he will be the next president of Russia. He has not succeeded yet but he is doing very well with his dairy produce firm. So, clearly local cows have mooooooooo trust in him then the rest of the electorate.
We'll now move back to your previous entry. Or else we'll go to bed. It's 1am and we are having a gin and tonic (Eva has retired for the night).
More kisses
Bern & Ol

Dean on

Now you have set yourself a new bench mark regading the hangover situation I suggest that you now start training and set a new personal best, try a few practice sessions set a date for the personal best and go for it.. Try not to wake for 2 days, wake up and still be pi**ed, then travel by car, bus, boat and finally roller skate for 5 miles with Karen on your back. xxxx

John Sherry on

So now I know someone who has been to lake baikal. Such a huge place and the teals are so small and pretty. Next time we meet in Malta remind me to show you a close up picture. We all look forward to your next episode as it is really interesting reading. Keep having fun. U J , Naomi & Alicia

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