To recap, since arriving in Vladivostok I have ridden over 3,000 kilometres to Ulan-Ude
Over the last week I have ridden out to Lake Baikal and Olkhon Island
Which as you will see is absolutely spectactular.
For those who didn’t Google Lake Baikal here are a few facts;
Lake Baikal is the oldest (25 Million Years) and largest freshwater Lake (by volume) in the world, it holds around 20% of the worlds fresh water, it is also the world deepest Lake with a maximum depth of 1642 metres. The Lake has around 2000 species of animals not found anywhere else including the Baikal Seal and the Omul fish which is smoked and sold in small roadside stalls around the lake. In winter the lake freezes over with ice up to 2.5 metres thick and can be driven over by car.
Before leaving for Lake Baikal I had 3 days to see the sights of Ulan-Ude so I left the bike parked in the Hotel’s secure parking lot and toured on foot.
Some new building going on but a lot of the centre of the city has old Timber Buildings some are no longer used.
Not sure how they go with OH&S with that timber ladder?
One of my first stops was the Mongolian Embassy where it took me all of around 3 hours to get my Mongolian Visa approved and at $ 70 US it was less than half the cost than it would have been in Australia.
Hotel Buryatia, great rooms at a really good price and they organised to have the Bike secured in a parking lot around the back.
May the 9th is Victory Day in Russia where they celebrate Victory over the Germans in the Second World War, some other nations including Australia would go on to fight in the Pacific for another 5 months. It is very similar to our ANZAC Day memorials with Military parades and people march with photos of relatives who were involved in the conflict, there was a large crowd turnout and it obviously means a lot to the people.
Every City seems to have a Lennin Square and Statue, this one boasts the largest Lennin’s Head in the world.
And they finish off the night with a Fireworks display.
With my 3 rest days over I headed west towards Lake Baikal and after 3 fine days it decided to dump down some rain and sleet on me. So nothing left to do than ride on…..to the nearest Café with a heater.
After the rain stopped I headed back out where I ran into this couple from South Korea, they are headed west through Russia to Moscow and need to buy some warmer clothes along the way.
Lake Baikal is pretty much surrounded by Mountain Ranges particularly on the south and west shores, the temperature dropped again to around 3 degrees as I got closer to the ranges.
Unfortunately more Road works, not so bad but it turned into this further on where a Semi was bogged.
So as it got colder and darker I stumbled onto a Ski Lodge where the rooms were very cheap and the dinner of Fried Pork, Potatoes and Onions was delicious and I was the only one there.
Parked my Bike under the chairlift…..where else?
The following day the weather fined up and it hovered around 10 degrees which is good compared to what it has been. So the highway headed back up into the Mountains towards Irkutsk (major City) which unfortunately I couldn’t avoid. After dodging the traffic in Irkutsk I travelled back towards Lake Baikal where I stayed the night at Listvyanka which is a small tourist town…with not many tourists at the time I was there.
The following day I packed up and headed back again towards Irkutsk, unfortunately as hard as I tried there was no roads which lead directly form Listvyanka to Olkhon Island which would be my next destination. After braving the Irkutsk traffic and road works for a second time I was finally on my way to Olkhon Island ( the largest Island in Lake Baikal).
I think this guy just drove through the Irkutsk traffic….
I arrived at the small village on the banks of the lake and waited for the ferry to take me to the Island.
Olkhon Island is a narrow Island which is around 72 kilometres long and has a single dirt road running from the Ferry to the only town situated about half way up. This ‘road’ is a rutted mess and shakes you endlessly and as an added surprise has soft patches of sand to grab your front tyre if you are not concentrating so all along this ‘road are diversion tracks which run either side made by the locals so they don’t have to drive on the ruts, so ‘when in Rome’. As I made my way towards the north of the Island I was met by some ‘not so happy’ National Park Rangers who told me that the National Park at the Northern end of the Island was closed and that I needed to turn around, which I did….until they passed me then I turned around again and headed north. Just before the gates to the national Park I met up with Robin who had been on the island since the previous day so we looked for a place to camp….and we found this…..
The entire section of water between the Island and the western shore of Lake Baikal was still frozen which had its benefits…..
So what better place to pitch the tent than on the beach, not too sure about an afternoon swim though.
So as the sun went down it was time for a fire and some dinner, no better way to end the day.
And yes it was a cold night but I’m getting used to those now, but when you wake up to this it all seems to not matter..
Notice how much of the Ice had melted overnight, we were lucky to see this as it will be gone in a day or two.
So now it was time to explore the Island (without the National Park bit).
The riding was so much fun, the sandy tracks run off in different directions and you always get a surprise at the end of them, this place is spectacular and is one of the highlights of the trip……..so far.
So after a full day of riding around it was time to get back on the ferry and head back to the mainland, where after a few hours we found a nice campsite with our own horse.
The next day I made my way around to the Eastern shores of Lake Baikal to explore further. As you can see it is flatter and less dramatic and even resembles some of the Bay Side beaches we have at home….without the Ice.
I stayed the night in a Guesthouse in Sukhaya.
Where I met this fantastic couple from Crimea who kindly invited me to join them for Barbequed Shasliks and Sausages. We had a great night trying to understand each other and swapping photos of kids and home and eventually went off to sleep at around 1 a.m. This kind of generosity and hospitality has been very common from the Russian people and they can’t seem to do enough to please you, more about this later in ‘thoughts on Russia’.
So the next day I headed further up the East coast only to find sleepy little towns and villages with not much happening, I suppose it is the ‘Shoulder Season’. The busy times around the Lake are during Winter when there is snow and Summer when the lake is warm enough (and not frozen) to swim. So I headed back towards Ulan-Ude to prepare to cross the border into Mongolia.
Small road side cemetery very colourfully decorated and a derelict factory on the way back to Ulan-Ude.
So I’ve spent to last day and a half here in Ulan-Ude getting organised to leave my third country and enter my fourth. Laundry is done, bike maintenance is done, this blog is done and I’m ready to go, although it is now 8.50 a.m. Thursday morning and the clouds are gathering outside my window, I’m hoping I don’t have to leave Ulan-Ude in the rain….again.
Thoughts on Russia;
Firstly do not believe what you have been told about Russia (mainly by the media) the country here is Siberia is vast and absolutely stunning, yes its cold and can be difficult but that is what makes it interesting. The cities and towns were a bit of a surprise when I first arrived, particularly the larger cities like Vladivostok, Khabarovsk, Chita and Ulan-Ude all need Infrastructure upgrades and I suspect they have seen better times. I don’t mean that these places should be turned into western cities but the buildings, architecture and character of them would benefit from some rejuvenation.
The roads can be dangerous and again are in need of serious repairs but they are really no worse than those we have at home and particularly when you get used of the driving habits here you can easily and safely get around, in some ways its safer than home as you don’t have erratic Marsupials and large birds trying to kill you when you are riding.
I have found it very safe to travel and camp providing you take care as you would in any other parts of the world, I have had no issues while camping and have felt completely safe, again with no snakes and spiders around also helps.
The people have been extremely friendly and helpful and can’t do enough to help, I have lost count of how many people have approached me along the way asking about the bike, showing me photos of their bikes, kids and their homes and they genuinely want you to have a great experience in their country. I have enjoyed my time in Siberia and I would love to return and travel on the Trans Siberian Railway from Moscow to Vladivostok as that would be an experience (when I’m too old to ride). The only things that could have improved my trip here is the complexity of the Russian Visa system as I would love to be able to spend more time here or ride back into Western Russia and I really wish I could speak Russian as it would have been so much better to communicate in the local language, maybe to go on the to do list.
Ok that’s it from Siberia, I’ll see you in Mongolia.