This is the last post about Olkhon. We stayed 4 nights and we were ready for a proper shower. The trip proved to be a great experience that I highly recommend. This post is all about exploring the beaches, which as you will see, are of great variation. As we spent some time soaking in the sun, I couldn't believe I was getting a tan on the beaches of Siberia. Pretty amazing. Many people come to Olkhon to camp and this beach seemed to be the popular one to do so. There were portable banyas along the beach to rent if you needed some heat before braving the chilly Siberian waters. As we continued south and crested a hill, we found a cove of decay. Just 10 minutes away from the spiritual Shaman's Rock, there lies a carcass of boats, bordering abandoned buildings full of waste (trash disposal is a real problem on the island). It seems like boats aren't the only victims of expiration around here...As we strolled the beach, there was a real sense of beauty within the decay... Though cool, but probably not very safe, there is a boat that is half swallowed by the lake that you can freely walk around on... Our last night, we hung out around Shaman's Rock trying to soak in the last of the spiritual magic.
But here's what happened...
Below are 3 pictures that show the progression of the evening.
In the first picture, I'm just hanging out by the water, taking in the landscape. It's peaceful, lovely, etc.
Picture #2: We decide to go closer to the rock and I climb a secondary rock nearby. Still lovely as ever.
Rick wants to climb higher on Shaman's Rock and we begin to ascend as I am suddenly ailing with pain as I hit a plant with what feels like a thousand stingers and they go right through my leggings. (Further proof that leggings are NOT pants. I should listen to my own fashion rules.) I feel like I am being poisoned, maybe I've struck a form of Shaman poison ivy? My immediate thought is, WHAT DOES THIS MEAN? BEING POISONED ON A SACRED SHAMAN ROCK?!?! We quickly abort the climb and Rick suggests I soak my legs in the water to reduce the swelling. (Picture 3). As I am soaking, I find that I am standing in a sea of the most amazing rocks I've ever seen.
I forget about my poisoned legs and go rock hunting. I find 6 amazing rocks to take with me.
Who knew poison could lead me to beauty? Toxic bliss.
Thank You Olkhon Island.
There are plenty of tours to choose from on Olkhon Island and we decided to pick one: Khoboy Cape. Khoboy Cape is the Northern cape of Olkhon Island. In Buryat language Khoboy means ‘fang’ or ‘grinder’. A huge fang-shaped stone dominates over the cape. Approaching it from the sea, you will see a big piece of rock that looks like a figure of a woman. The locals call it ‘a Virgin’. The legend has it that a woman that asked for the same wealthy house as one of her husband was turned by Tengries to a stone. The spirits declared she would be a stone till evil and envy occurs between people.
Since we visited Nordkapp (North Cape) in Norway, we found ourselves in a cape kind of mood and wanted to see if the two northern capes were comparable. (Hopefully this one wouldn't be lost in the fog!)
We braced ourselves for another minivan adventure. Compared to our broken down van from Irkutsk, the tour vans are stylistically much more interesting. However, style doesn't mean comfort. Bumpy roads equate to jumbled brains and bruised body parts.
The driver doesn't speak any English and we make a few stops before we get to Khoboy Cape.
The views are quite spectacular and it is evident that Khoboy is a sacred site for Shamans.
What's on the menu?
fish soup + sandwiches + salad + tea + biscuits
According to tradition, this fertile rock will grant you a girl if you walk to the right and a boy if you want to the left. Our last stop was the only area on the east side of the island that is boat accessible.
While the west side has long stretches of sandy beaches, the east side is predominately rocky cliffs that don't allow for beaches. The tour itself lasted from 10am-5pm and the dust from all the roads was lodged into our sinuses.
Neti Pot, where are you when I need you?
So the landscape of Olkhon Island is breathtaking, amazing, with endless postcard pictures. The main town of Khuzir however is the Yin to the Yang of the Island. The town is indicative of what we've seen outside of the main cities in Russia. The houses, mostly wooden structures seem only somewhat sturdy and as we saw, could go up in flames at a spark. There are no paved roads on the island and you see abandoned cars that have succumb to the elements. For such a tourist draw, Khuzir is not the modern resort town on the cliffs that you may imagine. However, as a photographer, this is a gold mine.
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...
So we got to Irktutsk, which has been called the "Paris of Siberia," which is not only a gross exaggeration, but downright wrong. The only thing Parisian about it is a small Eiffel Tower structure on the main shopping strip.
The city is such an architectural mix with beautiful wooden buildings like this...
with plenty of buildings in disrepair like this...and beautiful brick buildings that are Brooklyn brownstone-ish / New Orleans French Quarter like this... and of course mixed in with Soviet block style apartment buildings like this...Now we all know Parisians like to shop, but this is no Avenue des Champs-Élysées.
This is the main shopping drag that houses the Eiffel Tower and megaphone announcements. The other thing I've learned here in Russia, is they love their megaphones. In Saint Petersburg and Moscow, it was all about announcing tours via megaphones, and in Irkutsk, we found that shopkeepers like to stand storefront with their megaphone announcements. Suddenly, the very quiet country of Finland is sounding nice about now.Below are some other iphone shots taken around town. The local buses here look as if they are about to break down and are usually packed with people. Irkutsk is on the Angara River and one night as we strolled down the river, we came across an "amusement" park or should we say, a vaguely amusing park. Nothing like a dirty jump house under some telephone wires. So let's just say that Irkutsk leaves something to be desired, but serves as a great gateway to Lake Baikal.
There was however one thing that really caught my eye in Irkutsk. Find out what in the next post!