UB to Irkutsk. . .two nights on a train
12.04.2007 - 22.04.2007 4 °C
Sdrasvuyte Comrades (bloody hell this language is tough!),
Again, it feels like so many things have happened since we emailed last. Our last couple of days in Mongolia were great. We returned from our Gobi trip so excited and on a big high with another seven days to kill. We finally managed to go to Dave's Place which is a popular watering hole for expats, locals and travellers. We caught up with Tim (Stephen's cousin) and had a disgracefully huge night. Dave played host a bit too well and there were plenty of free beers and people to chat to. If you find yourself in the capital, get down to Dave's Place - it is easy to find, introduce yourself to Dave and have a great night in. Thanks Dave, thanks Tim. We met a lot of English teachers which reignited our job hunt a little. . are we too lazy to find jobs? Maybe. . . .
Anyway, we finished at Dave's at about 2am (hostel curfew was 12. . oops). I was not wearing a watch so could not be held responsible under any circumstances. To get back we had to climb a fence and then wake up some poor guy to let us in. Very shameful . . but not as bad as the hangovers!! We were meant to head to Terelj National Park that day but we had to postpone. Anyway, when we finally did get to Terelj it was worth the effort. It is pretty touristy because of its proximity to Ulaan Baatar but very beautiful. We camped (yep, bloody freezing, complete madness, got snowed on, loved it) and went horseriding on very angry Mongolian horses. Great fun and beautiful scenery. Tips for young players - don't camp on frozen ground. It is bad for tent pegs and it is quite chilly.
Visitors at Terelj
Megs at Terelj
We returned to UB spent one more night mentally preparing ourselves for two nights on the train and a ridiculously long border crossing. It all turned out well - the train was not full and we had a cabin to ourselves. Of course this turned into the foreigners party cabin but that was ok. We did get told to stop drinking vodka by one of the scary officials, luckily by that stage we had already polished off the bottle so it was of no consequence.
The border crossing was an epic though. We arrived at the border at about 4 in the morning. Nothing happened. . .at all. . .for six hours. . .we just stayed in bed. At about 10am we did 3 minutes of standard paperwork and left. Then we chugged along for 40 minutes . . .and then stopped for another 5 hours. This is where thousands of women in uniform (scary women in uniform!!) searched all of the train for smuggled goods. Difficult to find though, because those smuggling just redistribute their stores so they don't pay any duty or taxes. Just before the check they were madly rushing around stashing vodka, sandals, fresh produce and everything else you can imagine in other cabins, in the rubbish bin, in the toilets, everywhere. It was hilarious. Adam smuggled some sandals, the evil international man of smuggling mystery. After the search we could get off the train (which was mysteriously only two carriages - we still don't know where the other carriages went!). Our train was joined to two carriages of a prison train - cool. . .we were thinking it might pan out like ConAir or the more popular title "Con Train". Nothing happened.
We arrived in Irkutsk two days later very excited to be in Russia - it was so very different to Mongolia the minute we crossed the border which was great. We felt like we were in Mission Impossible or a James Bond movie . . this is why:
We met our host, Jack, at the train station. He said 'I am Jack, velcome to Siberia. Ve catch the tram'. Then he ignored us on the tram and we thought cool, we are under cover. When we arrived at the poorly signposted pink door of the hostel he said 'You must find Olga. She is at the Angara Hotel. You must see her in the morning. I don't know vat she does. You must pay 200 roubles. Good luck.'
We found Olga, paid her 200 roubles. . .and got our visas registered. Then our message self destructed.
Ok, there are some editorial embellishments in there but that is pretty much how it went. How cool is Russia??
We spent one night in Irkutsk and then headed out to Lake Baikal for two days. It is a beautiful part of the world and it was very exciting to see all of that ice!! As Australians we spent most of our time just looking at the ice, then looking a bit more. After a couple of false starts with the local tourist information agency, we found a winner. We stayed in a really cool little cabin owned by Vasili, who was a cool old Russian bloke who spoke no English. We did some walking and relaxing and took heaps of photos of you guessed it . . .the ice!
Approaching Storm at Listvyanka - Lake Baikal
Sunshine - same day
Crow on frozen Lake Baikal
Sunset Lake Baikal
We returned to Irkutsk a little tired and maybe a bit hungover (only a little bit) and were thinking that a good sleep would be ideal. But we got talking to a fabulous Aussie fella called Ben who suggested we head out for something to eat. . . .and drink. Next thing we know we are drinking with a couple of locals Vadim and Sergei (Sergei was the dark silent mafia type) and had polished off three quick beers before we knew it. Cured the hangovers that's for sure. Strange place these markets. . .the first time we went there a drunk old bloke stood next to me and after a few suggestive glances and a pat or two on the arm, emptied out his pockets of some serious (but not enough!!) cash hoping to rent or purchase. We moved on pretty quickly.
So ends our Irkutsk adventure. We are heading to Krasnoyarsk, home of Russia's satellite fleet (Adam is a nerd), and a place that Ben informed us is the arse end of the world. Excellent, the time should fly!!!