Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Ulan-Ude and Lake Baikal

I took a taxi from the train station to the hostel, which was not too far away, but since I didn't know where it was, I decided to take a taxi. And it was kind of a convoluted route there since there were not many bridges over the railroad tracks by the station.

But I got to the hostel, and it was a pretty cool atmosphere; very cordial and friendly. The first night I was there, I walked in and everybody was speaking Spanish. So naturally I just joined in. There was Federico from Italy, Anna from Spain, Gabriela from Brazil, and me, all talking in Spanish all night. The other three dissipated and went their separate ways over the next few days, but I stayed on.

Then I got really sick. I don't know if it was food poisoning, or what, but I was miserable and weak for about 48 hours, and mostly in bed. It might have been the water, too. I had asked Ivan, the guy seemingly in charge at the hostel (actually, nobody was really in charge...the owner/manager was off traveling, and had just left his employees there doing their thing), if the tap water was safe, and he said it was, so I drank some. Later he told me they usually boil it. Great. I looked online and found that it wasn't safe because of giardia. Oh, great, again. Then I got the sickness. After that I either boiled water or used water purification tablets that I brought with me.

While I was sick, a couple of women from the US checked into my room,  Gwen and her daughter Anya. They both spoke fluent Russian. They had bought tickets for themselves and a local friend of theirs from the States who lived in Ulan-Ude, Carolyn, to go on a regional bus to a section of Lake Baikal at Goryachinsk on the east side of the lake, which was a lesser-traveled area that mostly locals went to. But then Gwen got the awful stomach funk, and got too sick to go,  so they asked me if I wanted to take her place so their ticket would not go to waste. I was happy for the opportunity but sad that she could not go. It was definitely an experience I would not likely have found by myself at that time. I would have had to chase down a local bus that stopped in an out-of-the-way place, figure out which one was going there with very little information and a language barrier, and then figure out how to get back.  But now I was traveling with Anya and Carolyn, who spoke fluent Russian, and were kind enough to provide me with experiences and foods from the local culture that I would not have experienced.

It was a three-hour bus ride to Goryachinsk, and we stopped at several towns along the way, sometimes detouring down rutty little dirt roads. It was a bus mostly for commuters, and definitely not a tourist staple. Though Goryachinsk had some hot springs, they didn't seem open (the "Gorya" part of the town's name means "hot"), though we did use a bathroom at the springs that was a board on the ground with a hole in it in an outhouse.

We walked on a path around the town to the lake, and weren't sure exactly if we were on the right path, but, sure enough, we got there. The lake was beatific, covered in ice, and surrounded by mountains. Lake Baikal is the biggest freshwater lake in the world, and bigger than all the Great Lakes put together.

We spent most of the day there, and had a picnic by the shore. We also waded in the icy waters there, and I happened to have a Buddhist prayer shawl in my bag that I tied to a tree that already had several prayer shawls attached.

We walked a different way back to Goryachinsk, taking the main road to the town, which was fairly long, but a nice walk. We got back just a little before the bus was due to go back to Ulan-Ude, so we just looked around the main square there while we waited for the bus. Then we took the three-hour ride back to Ulan-Ude. Upon getting back to the hostel, Gwen was feeling a little better, so she accompanied us all to dinner. Strangely enough, all three of the people on the hostel staff knew Carolyn from different connections, so we stored to chat with the members of the staff before taking off for dinner.

The next few days, I just spent looking at the sights of Ulan-Ude. All good things must come to an end at some point, and I prepared to leave the city, making the plans for the rest of this leg of my Russian journey.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Stuuu !! I just found your blog �� very nice stories !!
    The name of the spanish girl is Anna ��
    Sometimes i open your soundcloud page and loud up the music !
    Strong hug dude, keep on like this