Tuesday, 28 September 2010

Irkutsk (4th of August)

It wasn’t raining when we got to Irkutsk, but it was rather chilly. Walking out of the station we got bombarded by ‘taxi, taxi’ and decided to walk across the bridge to the hostel rather than wait for the tram, just in case anyone thought we did want a taxi. Being in Irtutsk Downtown Hostel almost makes you forget you are in Russia. There were people from America, England, Germany, Latvia, Switzerland, France, Holland and probably some other countries too. We got helpful advice on where it might be possible to buy a train ticket in English (although they might have overcharged), where to visit and where to go food shopping.

A place was advertised on the fridge called Bolshie Koty. The Latvian and the German had a terrifying tale to tell about their walk back from the remote village to Listvyanka. They’d gone the wrong way and been walking around trying desperately to find the path, thought they’d found it, but realised they hadn’t when scrambling across the cliff face and very nearly falling into the water. Walking the 18km route was not recommended. We decided we’d go there, so the next day we had a planning day. The port for the boat to Bolshie Koty was south of Irkutsk so we had to go there on a minibus to buy a ticket.

Minivans seem to be the way to get around and there is a constant stream of them pulling up to the bus stop. It’s mayhem and the kind of thing I’ve always imagined happens in developing countries. We had time to fully observe this as the number 16 was taking its time coming. Irkutskians pay when they get off the bus, it’s usually about 10 Roubles and is written on the door, but sometimes you just have to guess or try to figure out what everyone else is doing. We sat in the back of the van, the doors felt like they might fly open and we’d find ourselves sitting on the road. Russian driving appears to be very fuel inefficient with a lot of sudden braking and accelerating, maybe it’s because the petrol is so cheap. We’d been told to get off at Paketa (said Raketa), the bus did go past some boats and realising we’d gone too far had to walk back.

Using our almost non-existent Russian we found out the boat to Bolshie Koty was booked out but managed to buy ourselves a ticket back with the aid of an English speaking Russian. It looked like we’d have to tackle that walk after all. While in the queue a Russian man had given us 10 rubles as a “present”, we didn’t really understand why and found it a bit odd. It wasn’t a fake though and paid for our bus back to the city.

Next stop was the bus station to buy tickets to Olkhon Island where we’ve planned to go for a few days. Our technique improved since visiting ‘Paketa’. We’d written everything we needed on a bit of paper, and what we couldn’t write we drew. The lady spoke a little English and grasped what we wanted, resulting in ticket purchase with little hassle.

Irkutsk has many stray dogs wandering its streets and I wish I could take some of them home. They run right along the sides of the pavement on their own or in groups of two. As we walked back from the bus station we saw a run over dog and a forlorn dog looking on from the side of the road. This really upset me and reminded me I should really toughen up a bit if I’m going to make it through Asia. Dodging the cars across the zebra crossings we made our way up to the square, which was most unlike the pretty pedestrian ones of Tallinn, Riga and Warsaw. In true Russian style there were cars everywhere. After tiredly admiring more onion domes and the river Angarsk and buying 15 eggs (because they don’t seem to sell them in smaller packets) we set about deciding what luggage we’d be leaving at the hostel and what we’d be taking to Bolshie Koty. We were told that there would probably have been boat tickets from Listvyanka to Bolshie Koty because everyone gets out in Listvyanka, and we kicked ourselves for not having thought of this ourselves.

Irina at the hostel asked us if we’d take coffee with us to Bolshie Koty as the man who runs that hostel had run out. She also told us we would have to walk up street in Listvyanka, take a left hand fork, go up, up, up and up and then flat and down and keep to the lake. She didn’t understand how anyone could get lost and couldn’t stop singing Bolshie Koty’s praises.

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