Saturday, February 6, 2010

Siberia 4th Stop: Olkhon Island

Olkhon Island , a dream for many seeking to head back to nature , to escape the city life.To experience the beauties of earth.Its you, land , Lake Baikal.

After a 4 hour cramped ride from Irkutsk with 16 people squeezed into a 10 person mashutka initially,dropping off people at villages along the way. we finally reached the our destination,with painful buttocks.The problem was : what is the exact destination.THere was no ferry terminal in sight.As we had found out later on , Nikita guesthouse had arranged for a driver to pick us up and drive us across the ice,much to the dismay of all 9 travellers.10 people in a van with all our bags , travelling across unstable ice?There was plenty of reasons to panic.Selma , being the best speaker for Russian was under alot of pressure to find out the situation and negotiate a solution with the driver.

We settled with the driver , driving our luggage across , while we walked.He had taken us to another route to get on Olkhon Island.Which required a walk of 12km across Frozen lake Baikal.The 3km route that the previous group of travellers had taken was currently unstable.It took us 3 hours to walk across .Something I do not regret.How many people in this world have walked 12 km on Lake Baikal?

It was a 15 minute drive from our arrival point to Nikita Guesthouse.

The owners of the guesthouse were shocked that we walked and even more shocked when they saw the people who came out of the van.They were expecting 9 japanese tourists instead of 9 of us.Apparently , my name sounded japanese to them when i called the day before and they assumed that the 9 people coming over were all japanese.THere were quite a few foreigners at the guesthouse.A group of British travellers were there as well making their way towards mongolia.

We paid 750roubles per night.The prices have unfortunately increased now.Selma ,Therese and I shared a house with a Canadian guy Rick, with me being in the same room as him.A really cozy house with a toilet and common area.This toilet was really environmentally friendly.No water is needed to flush anything down,whatever goes down , just goes all the way down.THere was no shower facilities and the only way to take a shower was to go to the banya (sauna) where there will be a huge tub of water to rinse down.

There was a communal banya where you can stay for half an hour for free after making a reservation.But there was also a private banya where you pay 100 roubles each to have the whole place to yourself.(Selma , Therese and I took this option.It wasn't too expensive and we had some privacy and more time).Rick had taken the free communal banya option for half an hour and was in there with his swimming trunks on , enjoying the heat when an old man ( performer at the dining hall on the first night)walked in completely naked leaving Rick a traumatised person.He had forgotten to lock the main door.He quickly left the banya and the traumatizing sight.

Walking around the area near the accomodation brought us to the famous sharman rocks and beautiful view of the frozen baikal lake.As we started our walk out of the accomodation , we had some friendly dogs trailing after us , escorting us everywhere we went.Being a seasoned city slicker ( who sometimes dream about living a quiet life on a farm growing vegetables and fruits ), It started to occur to me that I was going to become really bored if there isn't anything exciting to do on this island.As it turns out.There were exciting things to do on this island for horse back riders and cyclists.But just not in April, when we were there.It was too cold for the horses to be outdoors.We could rent bicycles to go for a ride or go on a tour in a van.We chose the latter as cycling in the cold with bicycles that did not seem reliable wasn't our idea of a vacation.

During the tour which lasted about 6 hours, the mashutka driver drove us to various scenic spots of Olkhon Island.It was beautiful but really, too much Lake Baikal for me.We made a lunch pit stop where the kitchen ladies brought food for us.Fish soup which they heated up on the spot , bread and home made cheese , biscuits and chai.Being a huge fan of fish , this was yet another feast.There were 2 vans taking all us travellers on this tour.We joined a group of 4 germans.Selma had yet another privilege of translating everything the driver had to say about Olkhon Island, which was great becuase the trip would have been boring if we didn't understand anything about what we were seeing.The ride back was on pretty rough terrain , with Selma terrified that the van will flip over anytime.

All 3 meals are included in the 750roubles per night that we paid for and the meals were AMAZING.I swear that what i had there was seriously the best food i've had in Russia in the 5 months when i was there.I love fish and welcomed any meal with Omul ( speciality of Lake Baikal ), they make the best breakfast kasha and they have amazing berry tea!

And the first time i saw a Baltika 9 was on this island, away from civilization.I do not remember seeing any Baltika beer strength 9 in Moscow or anywhere.The maximum i had seen was 7.And according to a french guy who had to pass a parcel to a lady living on the island , he personally witnessed a 2 year old girl sipping beer and enjoying every sip of it.And again, where do the people on this island get food from?There was no market in sight!The local convenience store sold basic stuff but not the hard core meat , fish , rice etc.Do they store up by driving over to mainland?Do they live on the fishes that they catch?

We stayed 2 nights in Olkhon Island and it was time to leave.And there was a problem.How do we get back?We finally agreed to head back on a lada car. Selma , Therese ,Rick and I.Nikita had arranged for a marshutka to pick us up on their scheduled drive back to Irkutsk.Think Speeding Lada across Lake Baikal.It was a great experience:)Once in a lifetime,yes.If given a chance , I will come back in summer when all the leaves are green and the waters inviting.

The most memorable part of the trip was perhaps the people i met during the trip , i wished i had spent more time with the other 6 travellers as i did on my last morning on the Island, laughing and joking and talking about travelling and our lifes.It just amazed me how westerners have a mentality that they will continue travelling regardless of whether they have financial stability.They just travel til their money runs out..

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