Travelling with Sunshine

Finally it’s my turn now. After successfully shirking from that task in the last two years, I qualified for writing a guest contribution to the blog with my two week visit at “Hotel Cookie” this year.
Well, according to my promise to come around once a year, I again asked for the best opportunity to meet and the plan was soon roughly made: I’ll join up the salted-life-travel-association in Mongolia at Ulan Bator and then we are going to continue the tour together towards Russia and around the southern part of Lake Baikal. So let’s go for it.
As I arrive on Sunday morning in Ulan Bator, I directly feel transferred to another world. A really tiny airport and as soon as we leave the city you can guess what kind of landscape is waiting for you in the next days…steppe, steppe and steppe. During the 15 min drive back to the camping pitch I already can spot a blank cattle skull by the roadside. Yes, there is plenty of cattle here…and horses and sheep and goats. The first half of the day we spend in relaxed chats and here and there a cow or some goats visit us at the table. In the afternoon we go to the city. As Wendy is not feeling too well, Jörg and I go for sightseeing without her. One day seems to be sufficient for that. The probably most impressing thing we see is the 25 meter high, golden Buddha statue at Gandantegchinlen Monastery. Afterwards I get a first impression of the Mongolian cuisine, first of all of Chuschur (Хушур, a flat piece of ground meat in dough and fried in fat), which will also be offered at every small yurt next to the road during the following days.

The next day gives a good impression of distances in Mongolia. We need a whole day to see the huge Dschingis Khan statue 60 km apart from Ulan Bator, which on the one hand is quite impressing but on the other hand is placed in the middle of nowhere.
The next day is a road day. We travel through the mentioned steppe and great remote landscapes in order to visit the equally remote Amarbayasgalant Monastery on the next morning to join the monk’s ceremony. On the fifth day of my visit we are already on our way towards the Russian border, but not without watching a “traditional” car drift race we are passing by chance. Border procedure is done quite soon, after 3 hours we arrive in Russia. We really look forward to eventually find a variety of fresh fruits and vegs at the markets and to find Pelmeni in almost every kitchen. In the evening we have a nice barbecue with two Swedish guys we met at the border, going around with their quite battered motorbikes. On our way to Ulan-Ude we stop at a further Buddhistic monastery (Ivolginsky Dazan), where the body of a monk is hosted, who entered Nirvana 90 years ago. It is said that his body is still not dead and hair and fingernails are still growing.
Finally we go on towards Ulan-Ude, stroll around in the city and give a toast on actually reaching the most eastern point of the “salted journey”. After a short delay due to minor car repairs we finally make our way to Lake Baikal.

As we arrive in Possolski Ann-Katrin is so overwhelmed that she completely forgets about changing clothes and directly runs into the water. The one big target my friends were heading for over the last two years is finally reached…finally? Or rather sad, because the way back home is starting now?
We spend a nice evening at the fire space and with a great sunset. The next day we are told that the fishermen will haul their nets soon. So we decide to wait for this, watch them and buy some Omul, the sort of pike that lives only at Lake Baikal. What we don’t know: it’s the last day of fishing season and the haul is intended for the people from the village. So half of the village and other rubbernecks gather for watching, help to hauling the nets and as soon as the first fish is seen everyone is pushing to the nets, grabbing whatever they can get. Wendy is quite successful, too. And so she ensures our dinner. In the evening we prepare fresh Omul from the bonfire at one of the most beautiful camping pitches we had during my two weeks.

In Kultuk we have a walk along the former Transsib tracks next to the lake. The route is less exciting than described before but nevertheless the daily highlight won’t be missing. Just in the moment I kiddingly ask for a taxi for our way back to town a draisine with three young Russian guys comes around the next corner. Actually they stop and pick us up…an experience I won’t forget too soon. On the next rainy and cool morning we are looking forward to having a bath at the hot springs at Tunka national park. Maybe my expectation of that was a bit too romantic and as we arrive in the midday heat at some kind of “Russian Mallorca” we all lose interest. Instead Jörg and I go for a short hike towards a nice waterfall in the mountains around Arschan and we camp at the river Irkut. Another road day follows as we want to get to the lake also from the other side. At the touristic city Listwjanka we spot a surprisingly quiet and lovely space for camping at the lake.

My last two days we spend with a lot of sightseeing, first at the Taltsy open-air museum and afterwards in Irkutsk, where is a lot to see. We celebrate Jörgi’s birthday, take him to the barbers shop and enjoy Russian cuisine. Then suddenly my time is already over and it’s time to say goodbye again. Once again I had a gorgeous journey with you guys! It’s quite a pity that things will be a bit different next year…somehow I got used to it ;)
Thank you so much for this and also the previous trips! You showed me some parts of the world, which I probably would never have discovered without you…

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