Thursday 20th July 2017 – From Irkutsk to Khuzhir
I woke up around 8.30am, got the backpack ready and made some breakfast from some left-over good bread from the day before and honey and peaches. Then I went downstairs to wait for the mini-bus going to Khuzhir to pick me up and chatted with Nastia who, with her boyfriend Ivan, currently runs the hostel.
Around 10.20am the minibus finally arrived but it was full.
Nastia tried to ask a guy sitting in the minibus and who was travelling alone to get out of it to leave me a seat so I could be in the same minibus as my parents but he didn’t want to change mini-bus and I really didn’t mind, so within minutes I was transferred to another minibus.
Here is a map showing the journey from Irkutsk to Khuzhir located on Olkhlon Island on Baikal Lake, about 250kms North-East of Irkutsk.
I was sitting all day next to 2 Russian women in their forties, Irina and her friend Svitila. Svitila had 2 boys, 12 and 14 years old sitting at the back, Vladimir and Denis. Irina and Svitila were engineers living in a city near Irkutsk called Angarsk. They didn’t speak any English but we still managed to get by. It was great because they were making a real effort trying to find alternative words or ways to explain me something. We spent the whole day chatting about little things. We had a lunch break at some point where I had my rice salad made the day before and they ordered some soup called solianka which contains potatoes, carrots, some meat and herbs.
They were only Russians in my minibus except an Italian couple and me. Everyone turned out to be really friendly. Here are some photos of the journey between Irkutsk and the pier.
We got to the pier and waited. The crossing of the lake to get to the island was quite epic. A long line of cars was waiting but as a minibus we cut short that long queue. The boats on which all vehicules were going was quite small. We still had to wait several boats, probably about an hour and half in total, before it was our turn. There were huge groups of Chinese people queuing up too, most of them holding their umbrellas, using them against the fierce sun. I had been warned by Nastia at the hotel to be careful with the Baikal sun as one can burn pretty badly.
The crossing itself was quite short and eventless apart from seeing some sparrows which had made their nest in a hole of the boat itself and seeing some black cormorans from the boat.
Once on the island, there was still quite a while to drive and some beautiful landscape and views of the Baikal lake.
We finally arrived in Khuzhir around 5pm but the driver was a bit weird and dropping people not based on how close from the car and how logical the order was but rather based on in which order they had entered the bus. I should have pulled out my phone and used google map earlier as he dropped a guy at some point who happened to be 2 streets away from mine when I looked on my phone later. I was the last one left to be droppec at the hostel which he did around 6.30pm! An hour and half going around!! The Italians were just before me and we joked that you might call that the ‘Siberian logic’. At least, the positive side is that I got to see many of the streets of little Khuzhir!
This place looks a bit like San Pedro de Atacama in Chile with its dirt-road streets, before it became touristy. While walking its streets, I could foresee how developed it was going to be soon and I was glad to be able to see it at a time when it was still relatively small!
Then I entered the hotel which was more of a campground-style except the tents were replaced by nice little 2-floor bungalows. A woman called Natalia welcomed me and gave me a tour of the place in half-Russian half-English. She was really friendly too. I went to unpack my bags and then my parents who had travelled in the other minibus arrived. We shortly went out for some dinner of the local fish fished in the Baikal lake called ‘omul’ and had some local beer. It is funny how they put the beer in a plastic bottle to measure it and then transfer to the glass.
After that we went back and chatted around the firecamp. There were 2 young couples from Irkutsk who spoke a bit of English and were really friendly. While my parents went to bed, I stayed around with them. They were making dinner and invited me to join their table. I sat with them and ate some really nice salad of ogurets (cucumbers) and pomidori (tomatoes – almost the same word as in Italian!) and cream, and some meat cooked on the barbie which was really delicious.
Valentin and Natalia had a 9-month baby they had left in the bungalow sleeping and they went to check several times in case he would wake up. Denis and his girlfriend Lena were really nice too. We kept learning new words, them in English and me in Russian, words I kept forgetting too, haha. That’s the problem with Russian, I learn a word but then I immediately forget it. It takes me forever to learn that language! One word I remembered quickly though was ‘castior’ which means firecamp, as it is so close to the word ‘castor’ in French which means ‘beaver’.
There were some other Russians who had gathered around the firecamp and were overhearing our conversation, maybe wondering whose that foreign girl there was, can we talk to her, is she friendly, or should we avoid her. I did get the feeling of being observed, not with hostility but rather with curiosity. Russian is quite a hard language and not that many tourists go to Russia apart from going to Moscow and Saint-Petersburg. I get the feeling that Russians get very few interactions with foreigners so of course their attitude can be a bit cautious when meeting some.
We chatted until midnight then we all went to bed.
Tomorrow, let’s explore Okhlon Island and enjoy the various views of the Baikal Lake and learn more about it and its legends!