Day 30: Bolshie Goloustnoy , Exit strategy

The bus stop.
The bus stop.

I awake to gently falling snow, feeling much refreshed after a good night’s sleep.

However when I try to leave the complex at 10am, there’s no one at reception and no clear way out. What is it with me and exits?

I retreat to my room, but when there is still no one around at 11am, I take matters into my own hands and forcibly open the locked pedestrian gate.

Free at last, I set out to find some transport out of this place.

My first stop is the port.

I know that there’s a boat that sails from Bolshie Koty to Listvyanka, so I’m half hoping that it starts from Bolshie Goloustnoy. But while several of the boats look like they can carry passengers, there are no departure signs and no-one around to ask.

The weather in the distance looks murky and I’m worried that the gently falling snow might turn into a full blown blizzard. Last night’s walk didn’t reveal a bus station and I’m feeling cold and bummed out that I might have to spend another night in this frigid and not particularly helpful place.

But if I do have to stay here, I’m determined to find another hostel before nightfall.

I jump online and find that the Irkutsk tourist info site has an English listing for Guesthouse by Anna.

I take the English translation to mean that English is spoken and this is a good place for English speaking tourists.

Unfortunately, this is not the case, at least not on this snowy October day. For a start the guest house isn’t actually open and then, when I find a woman at the adjoining bakery-cum-dairy, I learn that either she isn’t Anna, or she is but she doesn’t speak English. Either way, she can’t help with organising a bus or boat out of here.

It’s not a complete fail though. The dairy is well stocked and the bakery section sells some mighty tasty snacks. Last night’s dinner of ‘essentials’ has, not surprisingly, not filled me up. So I gorge on two deep fried meat & cabbage rolls and a delicious jam doughnut, then restock on water and of course the all important ‘essentials’.

After eating the baked goods I felt better and, most importantly, warmer. But it’s not exactly healthy. My diet has definitely suffered since going on tour. It seems that I always choose what I want, rather than what I should have, and as a result there’s been a lot more sugar, fat and alcohol going down the hatch since I left New Zealand. Perhaps this is an undocumented risk of travelling solo.

I waddle around town, trying to find some other guesthouses.

Google Maps shows a possible candidate, the Baikal Home guest house, but I can’t find it.

Walking back to Guesthouse/bakery/dairy by Anna, I sit inside a partially sheltered shelter and phone the recently helpful lady at the tourist office back in Irkutsk. Despite Bolshie (Big) Goloustnoy being at the end of a popular tourist trail, I don’t think she’s ever been here before. At least that would explain her surprise that it isn’t actually big and that there’s no obvious bus depot. But she’s nice enough to make some calls and when I phone back she can tell me exactly where the bus leaves from and when. 47 Baikal Street at 8am – awesome!

Feeling elated that I can actually leave, if not actually leave today, I set out to get my bearings.

Sensing my homelessness, some curious young boys point me to Sverdlova and Baikal Streets.

I manage to locate the Baikal Home guesthouse at 6 Sverdlova St, but pushing the bell twice doesn’t achieve anything, perhaps no-one is at Home.. But I do find the bus stop and take a picture of it for future reference and language-less negotiating.

A friendly cafe sells me a plate of Borscht (soup with meatballs) and tea. Its translucent green roof offers an upbeat perspective on the grey day outside. The ladies running the joint are attractive and friendly, but more interested in the Russian soap opera playing on the TV. At least it’s a cozy distraction from the snow and I take some time to research freelance business requirements for my upcoming remote work contract.

The soap opera pauses for an ad break, so I ask them if they know of any local guesthouses that I’ve missed. As luck would have it, there’s one right next door! It looks suitable, but the owner, ‘Maria’, is nowhere to be found. Apparently she may have departed for a month away, taking the padlocked door keys (and maybe Guesthouse by Anna Anna) with her.

The unwashed elderly caretaker is apologetic about the missing keys and offers to rent me his own room at the gate. It’s a kind gesture, but the bed sheets look ancient, there’s a smoky smell (which I mention) and flies buzzing around old food (which I don’t). He looks seriously bummed out by my swift rejection and I feel like a selfish tourist for turning down his well-meaning hospitality.

Still afraid of paying beachfront/drive-in prices, I head back to Guesthouse/bakery/dairy by Anna. Someone is there now, but unfortunately there are still no rooms. But they suggest the souvenir shop over the road.

The souvenir shop is run by a Chinese looking Buryat man named Andri, and his two Eskimo-esque sisters.

Pushing the buzzer draws them out of the warm house upstairs, down into the cool souvenir store. Once there, they are disappointed to find out that I am not looking to buy a tacky souvenir (are seals really cuddly?), but are super helpful anyway.

There’s a genealogical chart on the wall and Andri explains that the Buryat people originated in Northern Mongolia and that his great-great-great-etc grandfather was a warrior who had fought with Genghis Khan and had settled in Bolshie Goloustnoy in the 13th century. The ‘Russians’ only arrived in the 1700s and their family trees were much shorter.

Andri speaks a little English and his sisters a little German, and we both have translator apps, so we have a fun conversation. I’m disappointed to learn that they run their own guesthouse (opens new window) but I can’t stay there tonight as they need sufficient notice to get the place warmed up.

However they do find me a room up the road at Irina’s for 500-600 roubles (toilet outside) or 800 roubles (shower and toilet inside). I’m a clean freak so I choose the expensive option.

Irina’s is a pretty sparse affair, but it does the job.

It’s warm and, unlike the similarly priced hotel, the shower is hot first time (and has a radio!) and there’s both a jug and a stove. There’s also a slim chance of meeting another guest (Cecile). Plus, if I’d stayed where I was, I would have missed out on meeting so many interesting people today.

There’s also a free shuttle to the bus stop, which is great as I’m pretty terrible at being anywhere on time, let alone turning up to a freezer at 7.30am!

After settling in, I meet some fellow guests in the kitchen, Fiord and his partner (there’s no sign of Cecile). Married for 5 years, they’re both 26 and from the Sochi area on the coast of the Black Sea. They flew here for a 2 month holiday, but I wonder if they checked the weather forecast first.

They’re making flat cakes to share with the host family next door. I wonder if I’m supposed to do that, and I feel like a selfish tourist again.

At 8.30pm, I decide to brave the weather and head out for another walk.

I’m relieved to find that the snow has almost stopped and that it’s slightly warmer. With no particular destination in mind, I walk up or down every street in town. This is clearly a mistake, as I manage to get the attention of every dog in town.

And there’s a lot of barking! Some houses have 2 or 3 dogs and things get pretty chaotic. A few persistent ones even follow me all the way down their street. It’s probably illegal for someone to walk around like this!

Even the homeless dogs join in, though it’s not clear exactly which patch they are defending. One of these, a particularly friendly husky, becomes my minder for a while. He looks like he’s in good condition, and perhaps not actually homeless. But he excels at telling the other dogs to shut up, because I’m with him. Sometimes he just stirs up trouble for the sake of it, especially with the cows, which are everywhere.

Then I notice the full moon. No wonder everyone is going nuts!

Somehow I avoid being attacked by werewolves, excited dogs and sleepless villagers, and make it back to Irina’s, for a sensibly early night.