(This ‘Post’ was missed and has been added later)
It’s been a busy night at the brothel, on the table amongst the beer bottles and overflowing ashtrays a large strongbox is open and overflowing with 1,000 Rubel notes. The girls look red eyed and white faced as I waltz into the bar at 8am and greet them with a cheery Russian ‘Good Morning’, … their returned smiles are polite but weary, a stark contrast to those of the previous evening. The heavy steel external door suddenly jars opens and the small claustrophobic room is instantly filled with morning sunlight as the silhouettes of two broad and purposeful figures fill the entrance. As the two men enter, the muzzle of the first jet-black AK47 points towards the floor, … the second towards the ceiling, …. neither of the black clad men are smiling. Caught between intrigue and cowardice, I stand my ground and eventually hold out a cautious hand in their direction, ….. ‘Priviet’. A moment’s silence is followed by the flash of gold teeth, … my hand is taken and clenched in a vice like grip, .. ‘Anglian, .. Motorshikl?’, … the conversation is brief and I quickly understand that their interests lay elsewhere in the room. I take my coffee and decide that this is as good a time as any to inspect the security of our bikes parked outside in the yard.
With little hope of ever seeing my stolen goods again we collect Rick’s passport from the Mongolian Embassy and head north out of Irkutsk towards the island of ‘Ol’Chon’. The smog and congestion of the city are soon washed away as the cityscape turns once again to steppe and the road for a while becomes satisfyingly smooth and almost winding. The route that we need to take is closed for road repairs, … but this is Russia, .. we swerve around the barrier and continue heading North towards Lake Baikal.
The Mongolian influence is very evident here in the faces of the people, … the roadside statues have changed in character along with the village names and I begin to notice the appearance of ‘Shaman’ talisman trees along the route. At one such tree I stop and tear off a strip of old cloth. I tie the strip around a branch of the tree and tip my loose change onto the ground along with the cigarettes and lighters that are already there, … and I make my wish.
We board the ferry for Ol’Chon and memories of our attempted exit from Albania return. The ferry is old, .. it has the same broken boarding ramp and has thus become a ‘Roll-On Reverse Off’ vessel, …… a situation made more interesting by the number of Lada’s boarding that are towing fully loaded trailers. The journey takes less than thirty minutes and the people aboard the ferry are silent. For the first time on ‘Poor Circulation’ our motorbikes are ignored as the people quite rightly concentrate all of their senses on the surrounding lake and landscape, …. it is just an amazingly beautiful place.
The air here is fresh and clear and the waters are still with a slight shroud of pure white mist, …. it reminds me of my favourite place in this world, …. Lake Dahl in Kashmir. Even above the throbbing of the vessels ancient diesel engines there is a serenity about both of these locations that is so difficult to find and absolutely impossible to explain. Lake Baikal is geographically almost at the centre of Russia, …. but if anybody ever has the chance to visit, … then they will not be disappointed.
We cross Lake Baikal, the world’s deepest lake, heading towards one of the world centres of Shamanism. Two months earlier and we could have ridden onto the island as Lake Baikal would still have been frozen. The island of Ol’Chon is connected to the mainland during the summer months by ferry and in winter by the frozen road. In spring and summer the Island is cut-off for several weeks as the ice is too thin for vehicles and too thick for the ferry. As I was about to discover, …… if you can choose a location where you are ever to be disconnected form the world at large, then Ol’Chon is certainly a venue to consider.
The road towards the ferry had been ‘marginal’, … but the road from the ferry was if anything slightly worse. The tarmac had ended some sixty miles earlier and the hard packed stone had now turned to loose packed sand. The Tiger’s (and riders) are not best suited to these conditions and our progress was slow. On the other hand Rik was in his Germanic element on the ‘Dakar Spec’ BMW and doing his utmost to make us look like the amateurs that we clearly are, ….. but revenge would be sweet, … if served slightly chilled. Rik has turned out to be a really great guy to have around. Soon after we first met him on the road he made the statement that ‘German’s have no sense of humour’, … and we have tested this to the limit with him. Rik does tend to take things quite literally, … a trait that Alan and I take full advantage of and Rik quite happily plays along, …. he’s really a cool guy.
We passed ‘Nikita’s’ homestead (more of which later) and headed for an isolated spot where we could camp peacefully and undisturbed for a couple of nights. (i.e. without receiving constant invitations to all-night Vodka parties). As we headed onto a small peninsula the road turned to deep sand and dunes where your throttle is your only saviour. Unfortunately every road riding instinct tells you to slow down when danger is upon you, ….. but in loose sand this will spell disaster as the front wheel buries itself and all stability is lost. With the little ‘off road’ experience that I have, I mostly managed to avoid the constant temptation to close the throttle and with more good luck than good judgement, .. I eventually made it through. Alan had a little less good fortune and managed to drop the Tiger in some particularly deep ruts. There was no real damage to the bike but with his foot trapped beneath the hard panniers it was the end of his riding for the day. I set off and found a campsite before walking back to ride Alan’s bike back through the trickier areas while he hobbled behind swearing loudly to the accompaniment of a myriad of mosquitoes, … welcome to Lake Baikal.