Sunday, September 30, 2012

Irkutsk and Lake Baikal

We arrived in Irkutsk at 4am and shared a cab with another girl to our hostel. Well, after a two hour drive into the middle of nowhere, we arrived, but what I thought was a 24 hour hostel was not. We rang the bell for about a half hour, so we trekked down the hill to the water. Lake Baikal is the largest fresh water lake in the world, larger than the great lakes and Lake Champlain. Well when we first saw it, I was amazed on how large it was, hell, I even thought it had a horizon! I later discovered that there were clouds in front of the mountains on the other side... But it was definitely reminiscent of Vermont. After two more times hiking up and down the hill with our packs (I barely had 11kilos so I can hardly complain) we finally entered the hostel around 1030-11. The woman at the door apologized since the bell was broken, even though she was up when we arrived. We took an immediate nap, showered, and organized ourselves for the day. We planned a banyan bath session later in the evening and headed to town.

Sunny and bright, it was a booming little town on a Saturday afternoon. Market stalls with fish, smoked fish, and fish eggs were all yelling out when we walked past. Souvenir stands had jewelry, magnets, and stuffed animal baby seals, as lake Baikal is known for their seals. When we went to the Information stall, I asked about the seals, to which they replied that the seals were more north on an island in the middle of the lake. Disappointed, we headed towards the end of the street. We saw some more, large mountains, some with snow on them! After exploring all we could, we bought some food (including a bottle of vodka and doughnuts filled with caramel) and headed back up for our banyan experience.

Hot and steamy are the two words to describe it. We got to have the birch branches as well, for massage, even though it required you to hit the other person with them. Let me just say don't go in with someone you're angry with or who is angry at you because it could go downhill fast. There was a chess table inside and we actually over stayed our time since we were trying to finish our game (we both had our kings and 1 bishop on the same colored square). After feeling rejuvenated, we got changed, ate some dinner, and headed to the other common room for drinking and chatting with the other guests. Australians, fran├žois, a German, and a spainard were those who accompanied us. We talked about where we were all going and coming from, which places were better than others, which places you had to see. It was fun and exciting but with half the group leaving early in the morning, they mostly retired to bed, except on of the Australians who decided to go on a beer run with Tom and I. After barely finding beer, we headed back talked some more and went to bed. The next morning I was covered in bites. Maybe an allergic reaction? I said to Tom. Watch it be bedbugs. So looking at the bed (again) I discovered this time a plethora of insects in an out of my bed. Freaking out I ran out of the room, took our bags and told the woman running the place. Tom showed her the bed (which grossed us both out) and we got relocated to a private room. Needless to say, Tom saw, firsthand, how I am allergic to these nasty little bugs. They replaced the mattress the next dayand our friend slept in that room the next night, but told her the next day as to not causeca rukus. This Eco hostel has a name to live up too, and I know that no one will want to have bed bugs there. If you have never seen bed bug bites take a look at these pictures. Mind you, these were taken after the swelling, about 3-4 days after being bitten.

So anyways, the next day was a sad, dreary day. It looked like rain for most of the time, but Tom and I hiked along to the port of listvaynka, up the hill, and then up a ski lift to the top of the mountain to the view point. Let me tell you it wa worth the 100 rubles up. Even though it was cloudy, it was beautiful. We found a shorter path down and made it back into town in a much shorter time. I bought some lake Baikal playing cards that had seals, plants and scenes from the area as the pack Tom bought started at card 6 (I now beileve I have lost these cards).

The next day was uneventful, we bought ourselves a smoke fish, and made food for the trip. But it was the day we left that made things more interesting.

We bought our bus tickets in advance, which everyone thought was odd, but we had a luxury bus instead of riding in the small public mini buses. Paying 70 rubles total, we thought we had a steal of a deal compared to 100 if we tool the mini. But we got dropped off at the bus station, not the rail. So trying to explain train (I definitely said choo choo), having a drunk tell us it was a 10 minute walk (would have been over an hour) and asking 3 women, we finally got on the tram and made our way over. When we got on the train, our companion only spoke Russian so we introduced ourselves, chatted a bit with other riders and fell asleep.

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