Lake Baikal/Olkhon Island, Russia

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I heard about this island on Lake Baikal the first night I have arrived Russia.  Vashek, a Czech who speaks fluent Russian, told me about this island in the hostel I stayed in St. Petersburg.  “So is there any hostel on that island?”

“Yes, there is a nice expensive hostel, but you could also couchsurf in this church for free.”

“So which option did you take?”

“The expensive one, and it’s quite worth it.”

I took the expensive option as well and so far I had no regret about it.

 

After getting off the train at 6am in the morning, instead of staying around Irkutsk, I decided to go to the Olkhon Island right away.  I tried to wait for the bus listed on my hostel reservation direction, but it did not show up for the longest time.  Eventually, I finally saw a street car came and stopped by the train station, and then all the sudden, everyone at the bus stop pushed themselves up there.  Realizing that this might be the only bus for a while, I followed everyone onto the crowded car.  Since this is not the bus listed on my hostel’s direction, I do not have the slightest idea where to get off.  So I started randomly asking people in English where to get off for the bus station.  A young Russian teenager came up said he actually speaks English.  He and his friends (9 people group) were actually on their way to camp on the island for a couple weeks, so I followed them for the bus station.

His name is Ker.  He told me that the bridge to the bus station had an accident so all the downtown traffic were cut off from the train station.  That explained why there was no bus coming.  We had to get off at a place not too far from the bus station, then walk about a kilometer through different small streets before reaching the bus station.  Fortunately one of his friends had relatives living here so he knew his way around this city.

We found the bus going to Olkhon about to load.  “Are you guys with Nikita’s Inn?”

“Yes, do you have a reservation?” The guy was one of the few who spoke English.  I was impressed.

“Yes, I booked with them for three nights.”

“Hmmm… I can’t find you on bus reservation list.” He said, “This bus is full, you need to wait for the next one.”

“But I had a reservation with Nikita’s tonight.”

“Sorry….”

But then one person didn’t show up for his reservation, and I got his spot.  I was very lucky.  Ker and his friends of 8 could not get on the bus because they did not reserve and the bus simply doesn’t have 9 free spots.  They had to wait till the next bus.  I waved good bye to them and was on my way for a 7 hour bumpy ride to the island.

To get to the island, we had to take a ferry to cross the Baikal.  As the deepest lake in the world, you could still see the bottom after sailing from the shore for a while.  Though it is a lake, but it felt like sailing in an ocean.  After getting onto the other side, we still had to drive another hour before reaching the village bus station.  However, I could not find Nikita’s Inn..  So I asked the driver to drop me off at Nikita’s.

“It’s over there.” The driver pointed to his left, “at end of this street.”

But after getting lost and being abandoned many times without speaking Russian, it wasn’t easy to let the driver go.  Once he’s gone, if I couldn’t find Nikita’s, I will be very lost and abandoned on this island.  So I picked up my bag and went back to the bus….

After waiting for a while, I saw a smiling driver showed up.  He picked up my bag, “come..” he said.  Then he walked over to a little motorcycle, put my bag the back, and pointing to the back seat, “you sit here”.  Then he got on the bike and he dropped me off at Nikita’s.

After the Russian table tennis player Nikita retired from his professional table tennis career, he and his wife sat up a little hostel on the famous Olkhon Island.  Little did they see that his hostel grew in no time.  Soon the hostel has spread the surrounding areas of the village and is currenly occupying a good chunk of overall village’s size.  I booked a shared bedroom in the annexed cabin and my roommate is a pretty British girl.   Since both of us were traveling alone, we were buddies in no time.   The she mentioned that some Isrealis invited her to have some banya on the beach next to the Shaman Rock not far from the hostel.  Curious about the legendary banya (a type of Russian sauna), I decided to accompany her to check it out.  Apparently Lake Baikal is famous for banya since the lake is very cold, together with the hot banya and tea leaves will help the body’s circulation.  The Isrealis were taking care of the make-shift banya trailer – which is just a little box with seats inside and headed with coals under the box.  They showed me how to use the banya – kinda reminded me of the ice dips in Sweden.  You sit inside banya for 10 minutes then you run out to the icy cold lake for a few seconds, then you rest on the beach for a bit before the cycle starts again.

I booked myself a tour around the north of the island with the hostel.  This tour offers the best view of Lake Baikal and is probably the most popular tourist trails here.  After some bumpy tours we found ourselves driving along the north cliffs overlooking the spectacular lake.   Coming back was quite an adventure.  Since there was no paved road on the island, there were quite few roads lost repair for years.  Our Russian van swung back and forth in between dip ditches and tall bumps.  Several times I thought our car was going to topple – I never rode a car that felt like toppling before…

After the tour I decided to visit the Shaman Rock again – this time walking down the the Rock itself.  However, I did not expect that the little trails going down the hill were steep and slippery.  As I was struggling walking down there in my sandals, I saw a man with a big trashbag walking behind me.  He waved, then he screamed, “Jenny, I’m Ker!” –  the guy who helped me to get to the bus station in Irkusk.  Apparently they were camping around here, but he did not enjoy it as far as today, but he did tell me joyfully the local dancers folk show in yorts (the Mongolian style tent – “ger” in Mongolian).

From Lake Baikal/Olkhon Island, Russia, posted by Jenny Zheng on 10/20/2011 (153 items)

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