The next three posts will follow each other quite quickly because they’ve already been written. I am home already, safe, sound, and (now) healthy. The end of the trip was a whirlwind of laughs, adventures, and limited internet. So I picked up a notebook along the way, and wrote these final posts on pen and paper like a real nomad. Or like something really cool that doesn’t have internet or a computer. A vintage journalist. A royal scribe. Anyway…I hope you enjoy my stories- epic, embarrassing, and foolhardy as they are.
This first entry is from September 25, 2012
“I know I am getting behind on these posts, with infrequent internet and little down time. I have been too busy making stories, to write them down! Right now I am sitting on a bus on the way to сансар (Sansar), Mongolia to begin a nomadic cultural immersion experience. I am writing in a notebook I picked up yesterday to do just this- write and document my experiences and maybe help communicate with the locals over the next four days. but on the way I’ll try to catch you back up to speed as well.
So. When I last posted we were still on The Train. We arrived in Irkutsk at 3:00 am local time, and paid a cabbie $10 to take us where we could have gone for 50 cents each had we arrived at a decent time of day (as in, when the trams were still running). We slept for a few hours, showered (horray!), and then went exploring in Irkutsk. I don’t have much to say about that. The only reason I would recommend stopping in Irkutsk is so you can take a marshrutka (a Russian minibus) to Listvyanka. Which is exactly what we did that afternoon after enjoying a cup of coffee at the Lenin St. Coffeeshop- a delightful rip off of another well loved coffee brand.
For 100 Rub (about $3.30) the marshrutka will take you on the one hour journey to the village on the shores of Lake Baikal. They depart several times a day from this farmers market style shopping area. Basically whenever the marshrutka is full, it leaves.
Lake Baikal was seriously amazing. I wish we could have spent more time there. The lake’s waters are beautiful, cold, and crystal clear. They say it is clean enough to drink, and if you swim out too far you’ll get vertigo from staring through the clear waters into the depths, with visibility over 40 meters down. There are hiking trails winding around the lake, including the Great Baikal Trail, which is still under construction, but will one day allow hikers to walk completely around the lake. Our day hike meandered through a birch tree forest, allowing us to see, smell, and feel the trees we had watch whiz by for days on the train. On our hike we met a four-footed travel angel in the form of Vicktor the Amazing Puppy- a young Great Pyrenees we found, or rather were found by, on the trail. He joined us for our walk, alternately scouting ahead and herding us from behind.
We lodged in the Baikal Eco Hostel, a beautiful place that smelled of wood and crist autumn days. The beds were comfortable, handmade singles (no bunks!), and the fellow travelers were friendly and genuine- other serious travelers lured to this out of the way spot by its promise of beauty and tranquility.
After a lunch of smoked Omul, a fish found only in Lake Baikal, we wandered through an open air market. There I learned how mineral rich the Baikal region is. The stalls were filled with amazing pieces of stone jewlery of every color and size. Especially interesting were the vibrant purple and green agates and blue lapis lazuli mined around the lake itself.
Listvyanka is the third place I found on this trip to which I would gladly return for a longer stay to think, write, and soak up the nature’s energy. It was the only place where I felt I truly got to experience Russia; not just the Russians, with their complex history and brusque disinterest in helping a traveler, but Russia the place that takes up 1/5 of the world’s landmass, and is so mysterious and unknown to so many.
All too soon, we had to rush back to Irkutsk to catch the train that would begin our journey to Mongolia. But that adventure is certainly a story unto itself, and must wait for another day. It is a good one though- so check back soon!