The reason we stopped in Irkutsk in the first place was because we were eager to visit Olkhon Island located in Lake Baikal. OLKHON ISLAND: (Russian: Ольхо́н, also transliterated as Olchon) is the third-largest lake-bound island in the world. It is by far the largest island in Lake Baikal in eastern Siberia, with an area of 730 square kilometres (280 sq mi). The island measures 71.5 km (44.4 mi) in length and 20.8 km (12.9 mi) in width. The population of the island is less than 1,500 and consists mostly of Buryats, the island's aboriginal people. The indigenous Buryats, adherents of shamanism, believe the island to be a spiritual place. On the western coast, close to Khuzhir, is Baikal's most famous landmark, the Shamanka, or Shaman's Rock. Natives believe that Burkhan, a modern religious cult figure of the Altai peoples, lives in the cave in this rock. The rock is one of nine Asian Most Sacred Places.
LAKE BAIKAL: (Russian: о́зеро Байка́л, tr. Ozero Baykal, IPA: [ˈozʲɪrə bɐjˈkal]; Buryat: Байгал нуур, Mongolian: Байгал нуур, Baygal nuur, meaning "nature lake"); is a rift lake in the south of the Russian region of Siberia. Lake Baikal is the most voluminous freshwater lake in the world, containing roughly 20% of the world's unfrozen surface fresh water, and at 1,642 m (5,387 ft), the deepest. It is also among the clearest of all lakes, and thought to be the world's oldest lake at 25 million years.
Many backpackers come to Irkutsk to make this journey to Olkhon, so many hostels will arrange transportation to the island which is exactly what we did. We were to be picked up at 8:30am for the 4-6 hour journey by minivan and they promptly arrived just before 9:30am. There were already 5 backpackers in the van when we got in and we stopped at one more hostel which brought the grand total to 13 squished backpackers at which point the driver put all our bags on the roof, tied down under a tarp. I'm thinking our stuff is going to go flying, or we are going to go flying. Below is a photo of our luxury van as we are stopped because oh yeah, our engine doesn't start. The driver kept stopping at every auto shop and while he spoke no English, we guess he needs a spark plug. So every time we stop, we either need to get jumped, or the boys need to push the van. This is looking good.
So in order to get to the island, you have to take a ferry. We get to the ferry landing to find 2 long lines of cars, one line of minivans much like ours, and another line for passenger cars. Our driver says we'll be waiting for 1 hour. As we realize there are only 2 ferries and each only carries a few cars, our 1 hour turns into 3. We have time to explore. We also realize that this waiting period is sort of like really good reality TV. You quickly see that the men in charge of letting cars on have all the pull and have buddies looking to cut the line. Fights ensue. Russian men in fishnet tops (they are all the rage here) are suddenly shouting. But since our lovely van can't start without a push, we are victims to the cutting and vans creep in front of us. Noooo! We eventually get tied to another van and get towed onto the ferry. It just gets better. So we finally make it to Olkhon. It's all dirt roads and bumpy, which explains the plush padding on the roof of the van. It's maybe another hour to our accommodations, but we finally arrive... at 7pm. We stayed at Nikita's Homestead which was quite lovely. Situated right at the edge of the lake with Shaman's Rock in view, it made for the perfect location in the town of Khuzir. All meals were included in the price and the meals were fresh, delicious, not to mention the best meals we've had in Russia. The only gripe was our room did not have a private shower because when we booked, there was only the 1 room left so we couldn't be greedy. There were communal, cold showers, but we opted to just "bathe" in the the magical waters of Lake Baikal every day. So after we threw our bags down, we checked out our "backyard." OK. The ride was 100% worth it. The water is so clear and it feels more like a sea than a lake because you see water to the end of the horizon. However, let's not forget we are in Siberia- the water is cold! Above is Shaman's Rock and below are Shamanic poles that are nearby. Cows are always just wandering town and enjoying the view. I am amazed at their ability to keep their footing with such steep cliffs. As the sun was setting, we headed back towards Nikita's... When we returned to Nikita's, we found that we couldn't even get to our room because there was a performance which had gathered a crowd. Quick clip of the performance below...