Monday, November 22, 2010

Lake Biakal and Irkutsk

Waking early in the morning on the train, in the middle of Russia, our cabin was soon made aware that Mark was in a panic in the cabin next door, looking for his bag which contained all the important things, wallet, camera, passport. Passport! In Russia! Where you practically have to show documents to go to the bathroom! A sickening feeling seeped into the group, as we searched everywhere in both cabins, with no luck.

Meeting our Honcho on the platform, Costa was about to work the hardest day hanging out with tour groups for Vodka Train ever! After Costa talked to the Provodnitsa , he helped the rest of us register our arrival in that part of the world, and it was decided we would travel by bus to our destination for the next couple of days, while he and Mark dealt with things in town.

The mini-bus took us to Listvyanka, on the banks of Lake Biakal. At the end of the journey there, we were confronted with the large in-land water mass, and snow-capped mountains on it’s far shore. Breathtaking!

Having not had a shower for 4 days, and being cooped up in the confines of the train, the rest of us agreed that whilst it probably wasn’t really (the one at the Moscow hostel may well be, for all time), the shower in our villa in the mountains was the best ever! While wondering whether Mark and Costa were having any luck, and what the options may be, the rest of us went for a wander along the shore of the lake, taking in the crisp, fresh air. Sampling the wares at the little market, we then stopped for a couple of beers along the little bars on the shore.

Initially there were talks that Mark would have to fly back to Moscow to get a replacement passport, and then the idea that he would not be able to fly without sufficient ID implied that a return trip on the train we had all just got off, was on the cards. A very tense afternoon ended with Costa and Mark arriving at our villa, with the bizarre news that his passport had been found with a bunch of others from the train, with an apprehended thief further down the train line. Mark is one lucky Irishman! Costa treated us to a Russian sauna then, and a thankful group dinner allowed the group to debrief on the day.

The following day, Costa took us for a hike up one of the lower mountains, to give us a view of the Lake. A chairlift assisted us for the top portion, where we found the Lake and the mountains creating a postcard in front of us. Some of us ventured for more climbing, and a swim in the ice-cold Lake, while the rest of us returned to the string of beer venders along the shore.

The next day we loaded the mini-bus again, and farewelled the fresh air and view, and returned to the city that we started from, being Irkutsk. Here several of us made our matroyska purchases, before walked around seeing the sights of the city, while marvelling at the cute, cute little Russian houses. This included a tour through the house of The Decembrists, young revolutionary uprisers in their day, which caught my attention in the guide book due to the American band of the same name. Costa assured us that there would be English translations in the house, but really we came out of there non-the-wiser about this infamous group of Russians.

Final drinks at a bar, and then preparations for our next train journey, were our final tasks of this stop in the middle of Siberia, before Costa deposited us into another set of cabins on the Trans-Mongolian Railway.

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