Last day in Baikal, and we were rewarded with some beautiful scenic snow!
A little frustrating that we got the kind of weather we wanted on our last day, but that’s life. Breakfast had been organised for 10-10:30, so naturally Dimitri didn’t appear till 11. Think he’s probably just grateful for the extra sleep considering his workload. But having another tech crisis. My watch has lost its no.11 digit and bent the hands out. Where am I going to get that fixed?As promised, once our bags were packed, Dimitri took us out into the fresh snow was a walk along the beach and a significant hill. We were all actually pretty surprised by how on hands Dimitri was to be honest – the Vodkatrain had advertised honcho’s as more advisors than guides – they could recommend things to do but wouldn’t actually take us places. Dimitri however, hasn’t left us for more than an hour every day – not complaining, we’ve done far more due to having him with us, but it did mean he was deciding where we were spending money and having little freedom to do what we wanted. If our honcho is like this in Mongolia I have no problem, but China could be an issue as I’m supposed to be meeting a friend for the first few days. Maybe I can find a balance.
Anyway, along the way we gained another team member. A beautiful mutt that met us at the bottom of the hill and then didn’t leave our sides for the next few hours. The lot of us ended up dubbing him ‘Bobby’ and were told by Dimitri that this specific dog had followed several Vodkatrain groups over the past few months. So if you’re ever in Baikal and come across this adorable mug, give him a pat for me.
Beach was under a few inches of snow and we got to enjoy a snowy beach (along with a beautiful and friendly matching cat), before Dimitri started heading upwards like the little mountain goat he clearly is.
This guy is insanely sure footed. The further along we went, the narrower the path got, and the steeper the fall became. A good 15 minutes in and we’ve broken into 3 groups. Dimitri and 2 of the more sure footed group (plus Bobby) in front, myself a good 100 metres behind, and everyone else about 150 metres behind me
The first half of the walk was pretty worth it. There was one very steep hill that, when covered with snow, gave us some pause. Though not as much pause when we realised we were going to have to come DOWN the same way. The view we got from that first point was spectacular though – in ice it must be stunning, but in snow and water its still incredible. Then Dimitri pointed upwards towards another tree on a terrifying slippery walk a few hundred metres away and told us to keep following. Group split into 2 again (the 2 fellow mountain goats and myself) following Dimitri while the others got their breath back. View was definitely worth the extra couple minutes of adrenaline though – one of the guys in my group took a panoramic so breathtaking even Dimitri the local wanted a copy.
Course, we were all stuck on what was a few vertical angles away from being a sheer drop in places, and as Dimitri headed back, we all realised the only way back was the way we came. Going up had been hard enough – going down in the snow was going to be next to impossible. To be honest, if I hadn’t done it myself I would have said it couldn’t be done. Ended up skidding a few foot down the steepest part when the plant I was relying on was pulled straight up from the ground and I lost my grip.
Made it back to the beach and had an impromptu snowball fight to celebrate our mutual survival, and then headed back to our Chalet for the last time to pack the last of our things and head onwards to Irkutsk. Sadly, it began snowing and the ride was more than a little bumpy, so of course I started to get motion sick and ended up not really taking part in any conversation.
Honestly, I sometimes wonder just what it is about travelling that I enjoy. I have the navigational capacity of a Disneyfied Lemming, the delicate stomach of a supercar and get motion sick on just about every form of transport known to man. Logic dictates that I should HATE going anyway, least of all to places I don’t know my way around or recognise the food, yet every year I got a wandering. Irony huh?
Dimitri had organised a late business lunch for us in Irkutsk. We were a little taken aback that he had, but considering he’d bagged us 4 courses plus tea for 230 Rubles (just under a fiver), we weren’t complaining. Also got another example of ‘Russian time’. We were told that, since there was no parking we’d have to disembark in about 5 minutes as fast as we could. 30 seconds pass, and Dimitri leaps up telling us to get ready, causing a scramble ^_^
That said, the food was LOVELY. Started with a beetroot salad, followed by what I’m beginning to accept is a Russin staple, chicken noodle soup, then peroges (kind of a mix between gnocchi and gyoza, basically potato filled dumplings) and a little berry sponge thing for dessert. Restaurant immediately went into our good books when they provided mushroom soup for the 2 vegetarians too, even though they pretty much had to make it from scratch. After dinner, Dimitri gave us a little serenade via a guitar hanging at the side, and since he’d been such a good guide, we took the chance to give him a tip for the 3 days.
Following dinner, we headed out into Irktust, and got to see the park next to the river (along with the statues decorating the bank), some communal buildings and a very high end looking shopping centre before heading into the up-class part of Irktust. Once a rather low quality residential area, it was levelled and replaced with restaurants, bars, coffee shops and a cinema and become quite the tourist atraction. We all ended up in a pretty fancy coffee shop called CocoMoco, which was fascinating in that it had an English menu, but only one person on the staff who actually UNDERSTOOD that menu.
But eventually, our time in Irktusk came to an end, and Dimitri got us back to the platform for a tearful farewell. He was a great guide – a lot more hands on than we’d expected, and thanks to that seen a lot more of Irktusk than we’d have managed alone, so it was really kind of sad that we weren’t going to see him again. There was many a hug and manly tear before we had to force our way back on.
Of course, our sadness was quickly forgotten when we got a good look at our cabin for the next 2 nights: We had cabinets! And fold away beds! And a TV (though later investigation would prove this didn’t work). But best of all? A window that opened! A glorious wonderful addition that had us all on cloud 9! No more sauna-house!
Sadly, the trade off for this was no more meal service, but frankly, I was happy to make that trade.