Irkutsk Travel Blog› entry 5 of 7 › view all entries
Arrive in Irkutsk around 10am and meet our new Honcho, Kosta. Off we head to our hour and a quarter transfer to the town of Listvyanka on the bank of lake Baikal. The lake is the deepest in the world and holds 20 percent of the worlds fresh water. We check into our hostel which is gorgeous!!! Little villa type arrangements with views over the lake and cute little cottages surrounding it. We had a chat about or options for the next few days, dog sledding, scuba diving (its minus 23 outside!!) and a Russian sauna. I signed up for the sauna today and the sledding tomorrow.
After a bit of a clean up we went for a 10min walk down to the lake edge and took some pictures…it was freezing!!! Noses, eyelashes, clothes were freezing solid….
We popped into a restaurant with a beautiful view over the lake and had some Russian dumplings in broth for lunch. We then wandered back to the hostel and had some rest time before our banya (sauna).
We went in and got undressed and robed in a bed sheet, then into the 80 degrees sauna in a pine room, after time in there we came out into a cooler room and had a cup of hot tea. Back into the sauna, this time Kosta kept putting more water on the coals so the steam was much more intense, not out to put our feet in the snow and another cup of tea. Back into the sauna, this time out for a full stop drop and roll in the snow and a cold glass of water, back in the sauna and now for the good bit!!! Round one of being beaten with 2 bunches of pine branches.
After a shower to get all the pine needles off we went into the hostel restaurant for our dinner. Salad, chicken and rice, breads, oranges, tea. The best meal any of us had had for ages!! We were all so tired by this stage we all tottered off to bed to sleep like babies
Breakkie at 10 and then non set off for the dog sledding, it was about minus 20 today sp a bit warmer but the wind was pretty much gone so felt like a huge difference. Walked about 50mins to sledding, we could hear the dogs from blocks and blocks away, they were so excited!!
We went in and the boys got rugged up first while the guides harnessed the dogs up. They are beautiful alaskian huskies which are bred there and trained and raced by the owners. There were 8 dogs per sled and 2 sleds so we took turns over the next few hours on a 5km run which took about 20min each. They go up to 50kmph!! We all started sitting in front of the guide and most of the guys then stood up and swapped to steer….with 2 exceptions. Of course one of them being me!!!!
We were not far out from the start when believe it or not a cat ran out across the path.
However after a few seconds the guide stopped and signalled for me to swap with him, as you can imagine I was not thinking this was such a good idea after having just been dragged through the undergrowth but I did as I was told and got up. He told me to stand on the break which is basically just a bar that digs into the snow. Then he got off the sled and went up to the dogs, I hadn’t noticed but one of the dogs was on the wrong side of the centre rope and half out of his harness so when that was sorted out the guide came and relieved me of my breaking task (think heavy, think heavy) and let me sit back down.
The rest of the run was a bit calmer but I am certain one of the boys up the front had ADD as he just couldn’t seem to concentrate on looking forward!!! There was a point on our way back when we were going through tall trees with the sun setting on the snow that was a pretty special moment. Overall a great experience.
Unfortunately the other exception was when Melleah was having her turn with a different group of dogs there was a run in with an unrelated dog, she had some pretty heavy falls and hurt her ankle, not good.
Started back to the hostel now, stopping in at a bakery on the way, they specialised in filled pastries, I got one filled with Omul (a fish unique to the lake) and one with meat called a brilash.
We went back to the restaurant we had lunch in the first day after finding out most of the other restaurants around town were closed. I ordered the dumpling soup again and a salad of ferns J also got a bottle of Russian champagne. Had to try it! It was very similar to the sparkling grape juice I had as a kid but not at all unpleasant.
Showered and fed we decided against a hike up the hill cause it was pretty overcast and went down to the local market instead.
Back up to the hostel for our transfer at 1pm back to Irkutsk. After a wee pit stop at the bakery (rice and egg filling this time) we were on our way. Once there we had a very brief internet stop, pharmacy, soup lunch, bit of a walk and a beer. Then picked up again and swung past a supermarket for train supplies. Off to the train station for what was gonna be an 8.45pm train but it was late so didn’t leave until 9.
Had a pretty restless night but still woke up early, spent the morning and early afternoon again reading books, chatting and generally just hanging out. At 2pm we arrived at the Russian border, 2 hours later we saw our first sign of an official, she took our passports away and didn’t come back for about another hour. Then customs came through and search the cabins, lucky for us they don’t really worry to much about searching through everything tourists have it is the locals the pay more attention to.