Russia – Ulaan Ude & Bajkal

I slept quite good in the train. Having the whole “kupe” for myself, I should have :). At 7am, in Sukhbaatar, the provodnitsa woke us up. And to my relief I heard Pascals voice in the carriage. He hadn’t missed the train, but he has been in a Mongolian (not the international) carriage until Sukhbaatar. No guilt feelings anymore.
The customs inspection at both sides took a while and finally at 10am the train was was “rolling” again.
Then there was another stop in наушки (Naushki), Russia, for about 2 hours. There I made my first steps in Russia. Walking up a hill, and talking and drinking some vodka on the top. I couldn’t think of a more suitable way to start my Russian journey 🙂
And in the train all the (11?) people (travellers) in our carriage joined together in one kupe and we shared (about 3?) bottles of vodka until the provodnitsa came to tell us (basically that she was still the boss) and drinking was actually not allowed.
I got off in Ulaan-Ude while the others continued for Irkutsk. I might see some of them again later… Arrived in the hostel late.

It was a late night and thus a late day. It was quite a cold day anyway. 17 degrees. I decided to do nothing, but then in the afternoon I walked around Ulan-Ude, saw Lenins head, the theatre, the shopping street, the market of course, the cathedral, wooden houses all around, and the “ринроче багша дацан” Buddhist monastery on the hill, with view over the whole city. The sun sets very late here, after 10pm. So that’s pleasant. Pretty good for doing nothing, huh?

Today was gonna be a 24 degree day. Good for a walk along lake Bajkal. I took the 11am minibus (маршрутка) to Turka to walk to Goryachinsk along the Bajkal lake. The buss drove through the hills, through endless forests hiding attractive little rivers to finally reach lake Bajkal in the Buryat region. If covering this small distance on the map already takes about two hours, imagine how huge this lake is! Massive!
On the bus I tried to study more Russian because I’m not able to express myself at all. I don’t find the words or I find them way too late. So I didn’t talk on the bus. What is different here from Mongolia or Asia, is that because I have the same kaukasian etnicity now, people think I’m Russian and start talking to me. And then I feel bad not being able to understand or say anything back but “я не панимаю, я откуда Бельгий…” (I don’t understand, I’m from Belgium)
And here I am sitting beside this massive blue lake. It looks like the village of Turka is deserted. Or everybody is having a siesta. There seems to be nobody. There is not a single sound. The sun is strong and the wind icy.
Let’s start walking.
In the pine woods a little further, next to the lake a bunch of onder people were having a picknick. I said my two famous sentences and they were interested but I didn’t understand a thing except that they invited me to eat something, but i kindly refused. I barely walked any of my 7kms…
A little later, after passing many more of those self made wooden pick nick tables and places to make fire, I found myself a perfect spot out of the wind and in the sun. I just HAD to make a stop. Again.
About halfway it must have been, another family invited me and they didn’t let me refuse this time. The granddad literally pulled me to their table, where I was subjected to my first real Russian “talk” after the can’t-refuse-vodka-shot. I managed to understand some things and to say some things, but it wasn’t much. But the Bajkal fish was delicious, as was the salad that the babushka had made.
After a little while I started walking again. And I smiled. What a nice experience. How hospitable! Memorable. I was giggling out loud like a child.
About 10′ later the son Genya (about my age) showed up behind me to accompany me on my walk. Could you believe it? A great way for me to practice some Russian. (With many thanks to the online translators…)
Anyway, he helped me finding a гостнинтса (guesthouse) and dinner, he showed me around, took me to see the hot springs (for the first time this travel REAL hot springs, literally hot and springs and outside and for free) and told me a lot, and in the end we watched the sunset over Lake Bajkal with a local beer of Novosibirsk.

Goryachinsk by pushbike with Genya! These endless woods must be the MTB paradise. We unfortunately were by regular bike. We biked a 2h loop, passing an old sovjet airfield from where they attacked China, ending at Bajkal lake. Quite exhausting after 6 months not even touching a bike!
And then before dipping my feet in the hot spring we had a late lunch. Next was the bus to Ust-Barguzin! Dirt roads again here. After arrival I walked past another (old?) airfield to Bajkal, for more Chenggis reading around sunset. People were taking their boats in the lake. I saw about ten boats. One with spear fishing spears even. (Reminded me of Borneo) And a lonely kitesurfer, which amazed me to find that here.

Walked around in ust barguzin. To bajkal again. And to the bus. I thought. But the russian women from the guesthouse aparently handnt booked the bus. So hitching. The guy threw coins at every sacred tree. Flat tire. Until Ulan Ude. Wasn’t allowed to pay for ride. Back in hostel. Book train for same night to Irkutsk.


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