The last leg of the train ride was very different from the other two legs.
First of all it was now the trans-mongolian railroad with final destination in ulan-baatar. This meant that there were practically no russians aboard but only mongolians. And they weren’t just travellers but traders stacking huge amount of goods. One lady had goods in pretty much every compartment, stretching over several carriages!
Second of all we didn’t go to the restaurant van, we didn’t drink vodka (okay I didn’t, Nikolaj had a little bit) and we shared compartment with a british couple. Unfortunately I don’t have any pictures! But I do have a picture of the train from a platform which isnt’t really a platform but just the tracks:)
We spent the whole trip playing cards (Uno and Durak), watching out the window and getting our passports checked at the border. The view of lake Baikal from the train was spectacular though!
Presently its 6am and I’m sitting in Ulan-bataar (Chingis khaan international airport). But lets go back – back to when we arrived by train to Irkutsk near the great Lake Baikal.
DAY1 – July 31st, Arriving at Irkutsk
We arrived safely to Irkutsk in the evening and quickly found our homestay (arranged through a hostel). As it was late in the evening all we did was grab some food and withdraw some money from a nearby atm followed by a quick shower and then straight to bed. The food was terrible.
DAY2 – August 1st, Listwyanka
In the morning we made our way to another hostel as the homestay was booked out. As the pros we have become at finding very unmarked hostels in russia (often in completely anonymous residental complexes) we found our new hostel and had checked in around noon.
This is where we met Kurt – an australian that had been spending the last 40 days camping and trekking the mountains of Mongolia. He also just arrived in Irkutsk. He decided to join up on a trip we planned going to a lake city called listwyanka near lake baikal – and eat breakfast their.
We bought 2L beer, a bottle of vodka, some cucumber, some tomatoes, some pepper fruit, salami, bread, butter, cheese and got on our way. The breakfast of kings. We then got on our way to Lake Baikal. After about 1h of driving in their marshutkas (minibusses) we walked around and quickly found a nice spot at the beaches of Lake Baikal.
<Picture pending of breakfast>
But first a few facts about lake baikal – It is the deepest lake in the world. It is 600kms long and 60kms wide. It contains 20% of the worlds combined water resources – more than the 5 great lakes combined! Also it is so clear than you can drink directly from the lake. Quite impressive.
Anyway, this day was one of those, “we don’t really have any plans but I’m sure we’ll have fun” days and so we did. Our original plan was to see the lake and take the last boat home at 18:30. That didn’t happen. After having eaten our breakfast we asked a random boater on the beach if he would take us on his boat and since lady luck is constantly behind us, he said yes.
After the short boatride of about 15minutes (and half a bottle of vodka) we just walked down the road along the lake to see what was going on. As it usually does something quickly happened: Nikolaj spotted a banya (russian bathhouse) sign with a phone number. We stopped the first stranger and asked him to call the number.
This guy was a young russian who had just bought booze to meet up with his friends. He didn’t meet up with his friend – instead he joined us for the most of the day. I’ll spare you the details but we swam in lake baikal and tried some very cheap food:
I high fived a bear:
met alot of new friends and of course went to the banya:
On a side note: Being the danes we are, we ofcourse wanted to skinny dip in the lake but our russian friend told us “no no no no”. The women will called their boyfriends, the boyfriends will call the police (and beat you up), and finally the police will beat you up again (and throw you in jail). This is not just because they don’t like nudity but more particularily because they don’t like MALE nudity (we were 3 guys that wanted to do it) as it is basically too gay’ish. Two bottles of vodka down we were this close to doing it but still opted for keeping the boxers on.
Around 8pm we took the marshutka back to irkutsk and had a crazy night… we went to bed around 2am.. or 3am.. 4am.. I don’t really remember. Honestly I don’t remember much after we got back… it rained.
DAY3 – August 3rd, Hiking around Lake Baikal
We got up at 8:30 am (YES!! after that day/night). That was probably one of the worst hangovers and most confused times on this entire trip so far. Furthermore, we had planned a 12 km trekking trip.. and we only had flipflops to wear. Getting picked up by the tour staff (and Mirko the german we met earlier in Moscow who had joined up with us again… great, huh? :)).
Mirko was fully prepared with trekking gear, bugspray, water and food… we had… uh… flipflops and a hoodie. We got the driver to stop at a market and got some food and water and after an hour of driving, best described as attempted suicide, we got to the start of our trek. We quickly got to talking with two russian girls who was going camping and they joined us for the rest of the trip
One of the stranger things that happened was a bikini dressed russian girl in the forrest named Nastya. She was there alone and she had a tent, some food and a whole lot of Samogon (russian home-brewed booze) that she had made herself. We did a picnic there pooling all our food and also tried some of the samogon. It was very home-brewery.
We also got to hide under the railroad tracks when the rain started pouring having a little camping there for about half an hour.
We also skipped stones at the shore of Lake Baikal, tried “moutain energy tee” that the russian girls had brought from home. Talked alot about alot of things and I learned a few new words.
Another thing to mention are the tunnels. For some reason the russians decided that tunnels were bad karma and opted for leading the railroad tracks AROUND the tunnel instead. I have no idea why.. but on the plus side the tunnels doubles as excellent shelter for those less fortunate.
Below are some pictures of the trail
At night we just got home, ate food and went to bed.
DAY4 – August 4th, Leaving
We got up early, and took the train. How that went is for the next blog post
Getting into the train we stocked up on snacks and supplies as we were about to endure / enjoy a 54h trainride from Yekaterinburg to Irkutsk. This time crossing a large chunk of Siberia.
Eager to see who we were going to share our 4 bed compartment with I rushed into the train to see a 13 year old daughter, Katja, and her mother, Olga, sitting very nicely, having cleaned up the one bottom bunk for us. We had the two top bunks but could use the one bottom bunk for sitting during the day. In the beginning I had hoped for the bottom bunk for easy in out access but as time passed I realised that top bunk was better as it gave much more flexibility as to when you could go to sleep. Just climb up anytime a day and take a nap. With the bottom bunk you would have to kick whoever was sitting there away first.
At the first station we got out to see who was around and we quickly spotted a non russian looking group of guys standing around – and quite as suspected they weren’t. They were german. Stefan, Matti and Michael
As we didnt speak russian we attracted alot of attention when we spoke – mostly positive, in fact without being too sure, i think it was only positive. Two russian kids (Pasha and Ilya) also said “good day” (in english, mind you) to us and we politely said “dobry den” (good day) back to them. The germans had a different experience. They said that people didnt seem to like them when they said they were german… so during the trainride with us they decided that they would henceforth be known as dutch people as they get a much better response. Apparently the russians still dont really like germans.
So the scene was set for some all out good russian/german times. In my secret mind I had hoped a little bit for a crazy russian guy that drinks too much to share a bottle of vodka with and all that but as it turns out – having a quiet roommate is very nice – then you can go to the restaurant van for partying. The 3 germans were not so lucky – they had a drunk russian in their room. He did nothing but sleep eat and drink – he didnt shower and smelled like a combination of horse poop and sweat. It was bad.
The first night though we played alot of cards with the 3 germans and 2 guys from uzbekistan and drank beer and vodka and all was good. The uzbekistanis (!?) tought us a game of Durag (means fool) that apparently everybody plays. Kinda like everybody in denmark plays “røvhul”. We did this in the germans kupe although apparently you are not allowed to. The door was open and we did this for 6 hours wihtout anyone minding so how could we know it wasnt ok!? 🙂 This was just another case of russian: “it is illegal…….. but ok!” Also, the russian was up in his bed sleeping the whole time while we had this party. He only woke up once to say “VODA!” (which means water) which we quickly gave him and then he kept on sleeping. As it turns out – he was a frequent visitor of the restaurant van.
The loser of durag had to wear the fools hat (the bathing had from our banya visit in moscow) and here Nikolaj is wearing it while the german Matti looks angry (russian people always look angry in pictures):
The second day after we got up we talked a little to the germans and played some uno with our roommates. The little girl spoke good german so i could explain her the rules of uno without too much hassle. It was great. Later in the day we went to the restaurant van as we figured it wasnt a good idea to drink in either the germans or our room this time (by the way i say room – it really is a “kupe” but who cares :))
We met a bunch of russians meeting our prejudices about russians. 3 rowdy looking types were sitting at two tables while a fourth was sleeping at the table. They each had a bottle of vodka and a shotglas -and of course food – because as you might remember: If you drink in russia without food then you are just an alcoholic. One might argue that 3 people with a bottle of vodka EACH are getting there… but “when in Rome…”. So we ordered a bottle of vodka – this time for 1400 rubles, on the last train it was 700 rubles but apparently they were all out of those (the menu said 700 but “niet”). One of the russians put in a few hundred rubles and joined us in our quest for killing all the vodka in the world.
He was very unhappy that we didnt order food so we did and then we started drinking. The guy that was sleeping woke up and joined us. All was good. The bottle was quickly gone. One of the guys stuck with us and we stuck with him although we were warned that he was “russiya mafia”. He told us he was Ukrainian. He also told us (by mimicking) that he had been to jail for 10 years, showed us some scars and some full body tattoos. We snapped some pictures and here are two of them:
After we got back in the restaurant van though he started being very aggresive in wanting to buy our stuff. He pointed at our watches and sunglasses and wanted to buy them for money and for his own sunglasses but we refused a couple of times. He also really wanted to play durag for money and we said niet niet niet. In the end it got a little too much and we pretended to go back to sleep. The waitress had to help us in the end and told him to let us go – which we then did. We never saw him again. But from then on out two police were sitting in the restaurant van all the time – maybe that’s why he stayed away.
We could definately feel a transition of people since we entered siberia – it was all a little more rugged.
When the van closed we bought 4 beers “to go” although you cant legally drink them anywhere and went to one of those hallways between the train carriages and started drinking. The conductor came out and saw us drink but as we had caught her smoke (which is also not ok) she didnt really mind. We had a common understanding that things were okay 🙂 Two russians came out and we talked to them – one of them was a policeman and he was very proud that he had not smoked for 9 years.
After that we went to bed and slept like babies. Especially me. I had gotten used to the train life that I just keep on sleeping. I had fallen into a trance where all you do is sleep – maybe 12 hours everyday. It was great and very relaxing except for the fact that I was always tired! Everytime there was a little break in stuff to do I took a little break in the top bunk (remember how i mentioned how that gives you flexibility).
Well, when I woke up the third day it was also our last and the two russian boys, ilya and pasha joined us for uno which they seemed to enjoy very much. I learned the colours of Uno: red, blue, green, red in russian and they learned them in english. We also played with Katja, while Olga (the mother) was watching.
Here they are:
Safely arriving to Irkutsk we said goodbye to a surprinsingly large number of russians that seemed to know us: The roommates, the nextdoor neighbours, a random guy that knew us, the two russian kids, their father, their mother, the germans, the conductor, the uzbekistans next door, the policeman from the hallway, his brother, two fishermen from the restaurant van and a few others. We felt kinda included and I was actually a little sad to be leaving “already” 🙂
We found our way to our hostel in about 10 mins – we do russian trams like pros now – and got in:
Inside, our next door host Olga (as the hostel was booked we stayed at a homestay next door) came to pick us up and after some quick food we went to bed.
Today (the morning the next day) we will go see Irkutsk and maybe take a day trip to listvyanka. Tomorrow we’ll meet up for a full day tour to lake baikal with one of the germans we met in moscow (hopefully if all works out) but I’m getting ahead of myself – we’ll get to that!