Returning to Irkutsk after the beauty of Baikal was hard for the system to absorb; traffic, smog, grime, chaos, …… but fortunately we made it in one piece. Rik would be with us for another two days and as a member of ‘CouchSurfers.Com’ had arranged to stay with ‘Spike’, an English Teacher here in Irkutsk. Unfortunately our re-arrival coincided with ‘Spike’ being away with a group of mature students somewhere on the south of Irkutsk called ‘Bolshoi Banet’. With no real plan but a burning desire to leave the city, … we headed south.
After about an hour of riding we stopped to stretch our legs and consult the map. Across the road from where we parked was a small blue and white sign, .. ‘Bolshoi Banet’. We took this as an omen and followed one of the worst roads yet for about an hour and eventually arrived at a steel gate with heavy security, …. Welcome to weekend retreats in Siberia.
After a short delay, ‘Spike’ was contacted and in turn sent word back to security that we were actually ‘good sorts’ and the gates were opened. We rode along tracks between wooden huts and exclusive Dacha’s that had all seen slightly better days before arriving at a small cluster of wooden pavilions. Spike and several other teachers were here at the camp with mature students on a weekend of activities where the only language spoken would be English.
After a warm welcome we were shown to our own private hut and provided with bedding for the night. It was already approaching midnight when we arrived but the students invited us to join in the final activities of the day. It was fantastic to meet such an amazing and energetic group of young people who all showed a genuine interest in what we were doing, the people we had met and the places we had seen. We’d been on the road for fourteen hours, we hadn’t showered or shaved for four days and were basically totally exhausted, ….. so to the students and teachers we apologise if we seemed a little less than sprightly that evening.
The next morning after communal breakfast we talked and answered questions, posed and took photographs with, and of, the students sitting on the bikes. I was moved by the enthusiasm that these young guys had for life and living, … without exception they had an energy and positive outlook that seems to have vanished in England, …. these were just amazingly happy and well rounded young people.
It is difficult to mention any of the students or their kind acts by name but I personally received a ‘Pink Ribbon Talisman’ that had a special message and was tied to my bike, a young lady called Toni insisted that I take with me a medal that she’d won the previous day and Amy slipped a lovely note into my jacket wishing all of us the very best of luck for the rest of our journey. Just as we were about to leave a young and vibrant blonde girl who had shown great interest in our journey almost brought me to tears with the generosity of her wishes and words of encouragement, …… and I know that Alan and Rik were the recipients of similar gestures.
As we rode away from the camp and headed for Ulan-Ude and the final day with Rik, I felt that if these young people were typical of the youth within Russia, …… then Russia’s future will be very bright indeed.
To ‘Spike’, the teachers and the students at the Bolshoi Banet Camp, …. We thank you for your hospitality, your inspiration and we really hope that you’ll stay in touch through our email address.