Sunbathing in Siberia
In hindsight, hiring bicycles to explore a predominantly sand-based landscape is a bit of an error, but by the end of the day we felt all the more athletic for doing so. We headed north-east from Khuzir along half-hidden sandy coves and rugged cliff tops with stunning views of the vast Lake Baikal, which looked more spectacular at every turn. When we got fed up of the multitude of sand-flies we headed inland, where the surroundings changed to a mix of forest and ‘steppe’ – a Siberian wilderness where we didn’t see another soul for hours.
It’s difficult to fathom the scale of the lake. It holds 20% of the world’s fresh water, is around 400 miles long and 40 miles wide. In places, it reaches depths of 5,370 feet (terrifying) and is 50 million years old (also terrifying). Who knows what manner of pre-historic beasties lurk beneath. Occasionally, the trees and rocks were decorated with colourful scarfs, marking a spot believed to be sacred by the Shamans, which only added to the mystical feel of the place.
Swimming in Lake Baikal is meant to add five years to your life so we were determined to at least get a toe in. The water was crystal clear and despite the blazing sunshine, absolutely freezing (we were told later around four degrees). That didn’t stop the Russian holidaymakers stripping off and casually submerging themselves without even a squeal. Well, they’re used to the cold. I proudly got up to my waist before screaming in agony and couldn’t feel my legs for the next half hour. Elliot refused to go deeper than his knees for fear of losing his testicles.
After three days at the lake, sunburned, relaxed and dreading the journey back to Irkutsk we gathered outside Nikita’s only to have our luggage unceremoniously slung onto the roof of the mini-bus which itself had a cracked windscreen and more passengers than seats. Inside we met Sandra from New York, a Chinese couple on their way to Mongolia and group of friendly Czech guys and struck up a conversation, which mainly revolved around the fact that we didn’t feel quite so likely to die with this new driver.
We were an hour out of Olkhon when the bus began to have problems and our driver flagged down a passing truck for some water to cool the radiator. Ten minutes later it came coughing and spluttering to a halt at a petrol station in the middle of nowhere – at least five hours from our final destination. We were lucky. The Chinese couple had a train to catch to Mongolia that night.
We waited another two hours for a replacement bus to pick us up, keeping our spirits high by eating ice cream and dumplings while soaking up the sunshine and petrol fumes. When we finally made it back to Irkutsk we treated ourselves to a well deserved Papa Jeans pepperoni pizza – fearing this may be our last edible meal for a while. The next day we were headed to Mongolia…marmot country.
Bye bye Russia!
Leave us a comment.
Leave a Comment
Join the conversation.