Though Nikita’s is about the only accommodation option in Khuzir nothing is stinted upon to make a stay very comfortable. A little more expensive than the oh so basic city hotels the provision of three cooked meals a day more than made up for having to reach a little deeper into the pocket. Each plate brought out contained as much as we had been eating in a day.Even though we arrived well after the advertised lunch period was over the friendly staff assured us it was no problem and ushered us through into the dining hall.
Like a hall of old this setting was all polished log walls, carvings in wood and stone, furnished with long wooden tables, benches and a piano. Hands were washed at the ceramic samovar. The soup got served. Followed by a main of baked whole Omul and dill seasoned vegetables. Having to be careful of the fish bones meant savouring these delicious flavours.
Despite our pact to avoid the group we had sighted on the ferry crossing of course we ended up sitting together at the first possible opportunity. And of course we all got on splendidly. My ability to discern nationalities based on travel gear needs to be fine tuned a little as here we had a French, a Dutch, and a German. Little had we known that they would become our close companions for the next week. A lifetime in backpacking terms.
Some fresh air was needed after all that time in the van. Just by wandering out the back gate of the guesthouse we managed to find some good spots to watch the setting sun. With the late lunch dinner was only a couple of hours away so we saved any extended exploring for the full day on the island. Khuzir looked sweetly inviting as we returned down the slope of the northern hills. Smoke from the fires hung lazily in place over the little cluster of buildings. Everything felt just right for an evening of cards, tea, and conversation.
Dusk and smoke hang over Khuzir.
As she had been constantly reminding everyone, tomorrow was Arnika’s last being twenty two. Our new friends shouted her a banya (Russian sauna) while Rdoc and I tended the fire in Paulin’s room. Electricity had only been introduced to the island within the last five years. So each semi-detached log cabin was set up to also function without switches and wiring. Paulin was our neighbour and the fireplace in his room was a huge white concrete thing that took up as much room as a bed. The others returned. Something had been not working with the banya and it had not been able to warm up properly. As we had gotten a bit carried away with stoking the fire the room was hotter. Especially once Paulin produced a bottle of vodka.
What followed this enjoyable evening was the most unpleasant part of the trip so far. I had to spend most of the night disgorging the two huge meals served earlier. Into probably the most inconvenient toilet too. With little plumbing around the outhouse contained one of those eco toilets that do not use water. Having rushed from the room to make sure I made it I had not remembered to grab my torch either. Thin strips of moonlight broke through the gaps in the planks and I managed to find the barrel of water to wash the facilities clean.
Rdoc chilling in our cabin.
It felt very wasteful only picking at the hearty breakfast placed in front of me the next morning. I did not trust my stomach to keep anything more than a cup of tea down. Somehow I managed not to disturb anyone else in the three or four trips outside in the night. With little strength left I slept away the morning while the other two went off and left me in peace.
While the lower half of the island that we had driven up through was fairly barren grassland, the top is forested in classic Siberia style. That means birch trees. After Arny and Doc had returned for lunch I was feeling better, or at least a little stronger, and did not want to waste the opportunity to see a little of the place. Traveling has no allowance for illness. Taking a map of trails through the forest we had hopes of making it to the other side. But this being Russia maps mean little as the trails would start off in very definite form and then peter out into pine needle covered nothing.
Rdoc, not Begdozi.
Each time this happened we would walk back to the previous junction and try the path not taken initially. After a couple of hours and still nowhere we resorted to just pushing our own way through the rows and rows of beech forest. A close eye was kept out for Begdozi, the evil spirit the Buryat people believe lives on the island, but there were no sightings. Quite often the trees would break into a small clearing where there would invariably be the remnants of some long gone bonfire party. Plenty of food packets and empty vodka bottles just left scattered around.
Feeling beaten once again, though better for getting out, we returned to Khuzir. By this stage I was feeling quite empty and weak having not eaten anything all day. In a way this was a good thing as when dinner time came around again my appetite had returned, a relief also as this meant that whatever had caused the previous night’s disruptions was not going to linger. Too bad if it had wanted to as we have to be out of Russia in a couple of days anyway before our visas expire. While I lay down the others went for a swim in the lake. More on that another time.
Arnika’s birthday had to be properly celebrated. There were rumours of a bar cum club a few blocks away from Nikita’s. It was not too difficult to find as it seemed like there was only one building with lights on and it was there. More like the bare front room of someone’s house than a bar at least the two laser balls in the corner made us feel welcome. Beers were ordered and served in plastic cups. There was only one other table with people. Paulin kept us entertained with a variety of riddle games that became more challenging as the beer flowed.
The most happening bar in this town, yo!
Getting stuck in traffic has a different meaning in Khuzir. Not other cars but wandering cows, dogs, and babushkas. And we thought we had already seen the height of absurdity. The young lady sitting next to Rdoc in the back seat proceeding through an emotional farewell with her partner. But doing it on cell phones, palms placed against the window glass to add to the connection. The window glass of the side window which could be slid open.
Give way to the right.
Once we started driving she disappeared from our consciousness. Unlike poor Janina and Juliette’s companion in the back seat of their van, a guy nursing a box of Omul on his lap in a full and stuffy van. They already looked slightly green around the edges by the time everyone got out for the ferry crossing. There was still five hours to reach Irkutsk.
Paulin didn’t believe that I could pull off a timer shot balanced on a car roof. Ha!
Tags: bar, culture, myths and legends, drinking, ferry, food, hostel life, Lake Baikal, religion, Russia, Siberia, tramping, Travel