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Brian’s Travel Diary

Sunday, 11 Mar 2007

Location: Irkutsk, Russia

MapCorrections- Retractions & Apologies: Somewhere along the lines of history 'Ghengis' Khan's name was mis-translated and forever preserved in our history books. But, his actual name is Chinngis Khan not Ghengis Kahn and can been seen throughout all of Ulaanbataar in places like the Irish bar Chinngis O'Khan's and every form of mongolian made vodka.

The train from Ulaanbataar to Irkutsk was a sauna. The attendants on the train for some reason feel it necessary to keep it 40 degrees C on the train and unceasingly fill the ovens with coal. To add to the misery Beau and I where neighbored by two drunk russian ladies who felt the need to tell me they loved me in 5 different languages. As romantic as this may sound it was actually quite disgusting as these were two of the most vulgar and unkempt 'alkogolics' I have met so far. I guess they call it the vodka train for a reason. But, everyone being drunk has its upsides because I found 460 Rubles on the train which ain't bad money. When Beau and I weren't fending off the drunken lovelies the mongolian smugglers where busy little bees trying to hide there various goods in every nook and craney in the train. It wasn't illegal stuff really, just clothing and food products and they didn't want to have to pay a customs tax. They were quite bold and even tried to get us to hide stuff in our suitcases for them. And were even so bold as to be upset with us when we told them to bugger off, but after the near miss with Chinese police at the New Year the idea of explaining women's clothing in my bag was not a pleasent thought. The rest of the train was ride was about as good as can be expected with the door locked to keep out smugglers and dipsomaniacs, and sadly the fresh flow of cool air .

Finally in Siberia - Irkutsk is a neat little town but there isn't a ton to see other than some places of exile for attempted coups. The big draw to Irkutsk is that it's a launching pad to Olkhon Island in Lake Baikal. It's a bit of a logistical challenge getting to the Island having to take several public buses, some of which only run once a day. It's even more of a hassle when a car T-bones the bus only 20 minutes into the ride. It was an interesting comparison to ride buses all throughout China, Mongolia and Russia and finally have a point of reference for comparison. My first few days in Russia walking the streets were so pleasent with little to no horn-honking. I was quite pleased with the percieved serenity of it all. But then it hit me - literally, right below my window - a small hatchback car that even I could see coming 100 feet away. No horn from either driver... because its a pleasent town. But, the cost of the serenity was an hour and a half stop of paperwork. Maybe Russians should honk more.

Olkhon Island is a pretty nice place and driving 2km across the ice of the lake to get to the island is an even cooler experience. You can hear the ice cracking underneath you that is such a deep and intense sound it sounds nothing like the ice you fell through as a kid when it breaks. It's amazing to hear really, but it's not cracking from the weight of the bus, but from the heat of the day from the sun heating it up and then getting frozen even more at night.

Siberia is famous for its Banya's. Basically they are best described as a sauna, but only about twice as hot and you beat yourself (or if you are lucky someone else) with a birch branch that hardens the body and purifies the soul. It was hotter than any other place I have been on earth. When I put the water on the rocks the water exlpoded back onto me - it didn't just steam up. Then, the steam made the room so hot I couldn't breathe and had to go to the middle room where it's only boiling hot. I enjoyed it, but I wasn't ready to make a habit out of it.

After two days on the Island we were back off to Irkutsk. Beau decided to go to Yekaterinburg and I headed straight to Moscow -87 hour train ride.