30 May 2016
Ulan-Ude – Sluydyanka. Sluydyanka – Listvyanka. … and back via Irkutsk.
All up 1083kms
Well, it wasn’t really a loop. More of a back-track. Much worthwhile, but let me tell you. Prepare yourself for a longer read …
In Ulan-Ude we decided on a rest-day, again enjoying the never-ending hospitality of the local bike club and its Prez Champ and Victor.
The next day I continued with Mario towards Lake Baikal. Here several options exist:
- One can travel to the ‘Golden Nose”, a peninsula on the mid-east coast of the lake. This is the shortest option. I was told there is a wonderful National Park with great camping (and bears). Days later I learn that one needs an access permit from the local Ranger, and this is a bit of a roulette.
- The next option is to go to Olchon. This is an island close to the mid-west side of the lake. A well-frequented holiday destination for many Russians. A free ferry gets one across in under 30 minutes and there is a single road on the island’s west side. Many Russians had recommended this to us. Albeit the longest route, almost 800 kms. Later I learnt that the final 200 kms of the road are really bad.
- The third option I was aware of was to go to Listvyanka only a 550kms ride. Listvyanka also is a well-frequented holiday destination and for the latter two options one has to travel through Irkutsk. This option I decided to take, whilst Mario opted for Olchon.
The first leg aimed for Slyudyanka. A pleasant trip along a surprisingly good road. Many brand-new road bits and two or three large-ish roadworks. Soon a great spot with a view back to ‘the foot’ of Lake Baikal, its most southern point.
Arriving mid-afternoon in Slyudyanka we were again hosted by the local motorcycle club. The clubhouse, as we were accustomed to, in a garaged area, noticeably less rubbish. A double storey garage, really thoughtfully build and equipped. Nice guys who helped us to explore the railway line option:
in the old days one could travel with a steam train right along the lake through numerous tunnels and over-passes, hugging the shore of the lake for a full-days travel. That sounded very attractive. However the schedule just didn’t fit. Somehow the season hasn’t quite started yet and all services still run of ‘half’. It also was complicated and involved a night drive in a small bus from Irkutsk back to Slyudyanka, something I certainly would not want to risk, after observing driver behaviour in Russia.
So the next day I was off to Listvyanka. Before Irkutsk a final joint luncheon to separate our way. Mario is interested in Olchon.
I need a shorter route today and forego Olchon, despite all its great reviews. Instead I aim for Listvyanka. Only 80 kms from Irkutsk and being a port city it should be interesting.
At lunch, Mario changes his mind and after all drops Olchon of his list, instead he’s coming along to Listvyanka. There we are bound to meet Sung Hoon from Korea, the scooter guy. He has covered the same roads and made the same miles on his scooter, as we did on our bigger, more cumfy bikes. Next time I feel tired, I shall call him into my mind and shut up and be happy!
Traversing Irkutsk was easy as a local biker, Alexey sidled up at a traffic light and offered to guide us through the worst and most busy bit. Then a clear road to our destination.
Sung Hoon had already arrived and the three of us explored Listvyanka in sunshine with many people enjoying themselves on the pebble beach.
I stayed another day to ‘take in’ the lake a little more and a little better. It strikes me as a special place. A visit to the local Lake Baikal museum was also on the to-do list. Rather interesting and some displays also have an English explanation.
There is a hands-on-microscope section. Her I looked at specimen of several super-small organisms – all alive and moving.
An explanation sheet (English) is useful to ‘discover’ a match and the woman-scientist also explains in great English. I also look at same sand from the lake and am surprised how colourful it appears under the microscope.
The facts about the lake are just enormous! I had booked a 4 hour tour, which was to include part of the railway line, however only two takers, so it didn’t run. Instead I opted for a one-hour cruise on the lake.
A poor cousin, but better than noting. “Roll with the punches, Axel”
Met two very merry Dutchmen on a side-trip off the TransSib line: Dirk and Robert. We had a jolly time and shared a beer together afterwards. All of us slept through the dinner arrangement …. that is age catching up indeed.
Next day alone to Irkutsk. It turnd out to be a good Karma-Day!!
I had learnt the Irkutsk also had a Mongolian embassy, so I had decided to try my luck there. Different people may elicit a different result.
I started somewhat anxious, my Mongolia-Visa-D-day! With the not so pleasant experience in Mongol embassy in Ulan-Ude I wasn’t sure what to expect in their Irkutsk embassy. Hmmmh, keep expectations low and spirits high. Singing loud into my helmet seemed a good promoter for feeling positive.
Travelling solo with no stress, my own pace, sometimes up and other times downright slow, indeed just meandering.
I had planned to arrive at the Mongol embassy mid-morning and expected not to get my visa – if at all – before next Monday. So I prepared for a longer stay in Irkutsk. Must say that my ‘Russia-bucket’ is about ‘full’ and I am ready to see another country.
Nevertheless, my contingency plan if no visa was provided in Irkutskwas to stay a day or two in Irkutsk. A chance to meet up with all the Koreans who happened to be in Irkutsk as well. Then, travel on to Ulan-Ude perhaps on Sunday to try my luck again at the embassy there.
If still no visa was forthcoming, I seriously considered shooting the Sherriff and/or cancelling Mongolia – REGRETTABLY – from my plans.
Arrived in Irkutsk after easy ride avoiding threatening rain. I went to my ‘Schlager-repertoire’ to cheer me up and think positive. After all, I had travelled this road before and it appeared shorter.
Now it was raining lightly and arriving in Irkutsk I lost my way only once (another improvement). MapsMe is a godsend! Get it if you haven’t thus far!
Finally, at around 10.30 I parked the bike on the footpath in front of the Mongolian embassy. Whilst pulling out all my papers I mustered my best smile and called-up my most-positive attitude.
The moment of reckoning. Outside I smiled, inside my tension was building. A final deep breath and I walked in.
Well, you know the result already.
My experience was the absolute opposite from the Mongol embassy in Ulan-Ude. A super-friendly mature (that means my age – therefore I cannot use the term ‘old’) woman was patient, talkative and nothing was a worry. Even though I didn’t have proper paper docs, she took my memory-stick and copied all over – no worries whatsoever. I was the only person in the office and concentrated to make positive and sincere small-talk (an oxymoron??) to aid my application.
Then she sent me off to a nearby bank to pay my 4.977 Rubels ($A105) for the privilege, however I was already dancing on the inside, having difficulties to hold in the joy of the developments thus far.
Add a bank charge of 200 Rubels commission, as they do – and I tell you what: didn’t care a hood. As long as I got the receipt, with which I traipsed back to my friendly embassy lady.
Meanwhile two TransSib (yes, the insider jargon one likes to display to show knowhow ;-)) travellers also collected their Mongol visas. Craig, originally from Manchester and his partner from Greece; didn’t get introduced, as visa-handover stuff happened parallel. All good and the pair walked out, only for Greg/Craig to return and offer me to visit them when in Athens, Greece! Karma of a solo traveller!
Before one hour was over the friendly woman, God bless her heart, handed me my coveted visa. As I walked out, I almost did a flick-flack on the street, but rather continued dancing on the inside a little more.
Upon leaving the woman also recommended a cheap but almost hidden eatery nearby. So full of confidence I left the bike as it was parked – all gear on – and celebrated with a hearty lunch (225 Rubels). Since it was not even past midday, I decided to o further back-track right to Slyudyanka to my favourite club-house of the Tourman bike club.
Even the fact that I forgot to pack my powercord for the MacBook at the last destination couldn’t cloud my day! I shall solve this when back in Ulan-Ude.
Now, I am sitting in this cosy place, it rains outside, a have a cupper and – you guessed it! – another Snickers feeling rather contented.
Aaaahh, one, no two embarrassments as well, but never even denting my super-positive Karma day: I forgot the MacBook charger in the last venue. Guess it’s gone and I’ll need to find an Apple-store to get a replacement. Perhaps Ulan-Ude will be the place.
Secondly and more public: I dropped the bike for the first time L trying to make a too sharp turn into the club house, which in fact is a two-storey garage. Other than pride nothing was dented and Victor, the clubman who came to unlock the house helped me with the pick-up. Well, won’t be the last time I am afraid …. although I shall avoid it as much as I am capable….