It is 8.45 am in the morning. The driver Ivan is supposed to pick us up at 9am to get us to Olkhon, the biggest island in Lake Baikal. When we say our goodbyes to the lovely lady at the reception and she sees my 15 kilo heavy bagpack she claps her hands over her head telling me to sit down and leave the luagge there until the driver arrives or let Mike carry my belongings. At least that’s what I understood with my fluent Russian (not). But I did read that in Russia men do carry their woman’s bags, so I might not be too far off.
The drive to Lake Baikal was a bumpy endeavour making it difficult to drink as the content of the bootle would land everywhere but in your mouth. Only the row in the very back of the car had two more seats for us left. This row was heightened, which made it difficult to watch out of the window. Compared to Nicolas, a 2 meter tall German guy we met on the bus I was actually fine with my seat.
After a 5 hour drive we reached the ferry that would bring us onto Olkhon and I was already in awe of Lake Baikal haven’t seen almost nothing of it yet. But there is an atmosphere and energy that takes you captive immidiately and won’t leave you.
Ivan dropped us off at our accomodation – a very cosy and warm wooden house, that, when we entered our room smelled like a sauna and made us relax instantly.
Khuzhir, the place we stayed in is the biggest village on Olkon. There are no asphalt roads on the island and the main road has something from a wild west movie. The only thing missing were the tumbleweeds sweeping across the road.
Cows and dogs alternate with one another and really don’t care about the cars. Tiny kittens where also part of the game and I am sure that Mike and I will get rabies on this trip at some point being crazy animal lovers (especially dogs) and we would probably still welcome one and hug it tight that has crazy eyes and a drooling mouth.
We went to the Shaman Rock and it completely took my breath away. The wind was icy and even with 5 layers and a proper michelin look going on I was still freezing.
But nothing could spoil this moment. The part of the lake you see from Shaman or Shamanka Rock is huge and I had to keep telling myself that this was a lake I had in front of me and not an ocean. What is even more startling is that this bit you see from Kuzhir is the smalles part of the Lake.
The next morning the weather had completely changed, not a single cloud in the sky, the sun was shining and you got a glimpse of why this place is called “The Pearl of Siberia”. We went back to Shaman Rock and decided to just wander along the beach from there. The sun glittering on the cristal clear water, warming our faces, making me stop every so often to just indulg into the scenery in front of me.
We went further into the island away from the water and realised how different the flora and fauna on this island is. Wandering across fields (which later we found out were the runway for landings), the silence we experienced was almost defening. It was so quiet you could hear the stroke of wing from the birds flying around.
I was a bit surprised finding out there where planes going to and from Olkhon because I hadn’t know that you could get to the island by plane. Later I found out that the Siberians use the air way in the months when Lake Baikal is not yet completely frozen so cars cannot driver over the ice but already too frozen for the ferry to cross over. In those months Olkhon is almost completely cut off from the mainland.
When the Lake is completely frozen I want to return to Olkhon to experience driving over the ice by car. For me it is unimaginable how a lake that contain 20% of the worlds freshwater reserves, is 673 km long, 1,642 km deep and 79 km wide can freeze completely. I have to see that with my own eyes. So when the time comes I will be back, that time with gloves.
But for now the next stop of the Transsiberian Railway will be Ulan Bator and the Gobi Desert in Mongolia. – If we are allowed to exit the country as the nice lady from the reception told us our immigration cards were invalid. We’ll see…