We arrived in Irkutsk, Russia on August 12th. All of a sudden the people looked a little more like me. The architecture was Soviet, reminding me of Prague and it felt familiar. I heard someone ask for "syr" at a store and from my Czech language days I knew they were talking about cheese. Brad and I were out of Asia and it felt good. We left the train station and began to look for a hostel. Our Trans-Siberian guide book had some hostel and homestay suggestions and tips on how to find them. In Russia, backpacking is still a fairly new concept so these budget style accommodations are not well marked. We found the addresses of a few hostels and searched for a buzzer on the building where they were supposed to be, but none of them seemed to actually exist. There was one homestay that was described as having a tall gate and a beware of dog sign. When we got there a beautiful Russian woman came downstairs with a English translator on the phone. She could host us for a night and we were thrilled because her home was intimate, clean, and comfortable.
We had to leave early the next morning because she was having other guests. But she made us a delicious 7 a.m. breakfast.
While we were in Mongolia we had meet a pair of neurotic British girls that were doing the trip in the opposite direction as we were. We asked them about Lake Baikal and Irkutsk. They told us that they and taken a bus ride to Oklhon island. They described it as a "hippy island" and told us that it was not exactly their "scene." We decided we should go there. Oklhon Island lays in the middle of Lake Baikal and is about a six hour bus ride from Irkutsk. The population on the island is less than 1,500 and not until 2005 did the full island receive electricity.
It was cold and rainy when we got to Oklhon island. The story is that if you put your hand in Lake Baikal one year is added to your life, and if you jump in, twenty five years. We stuck our hands in.
We stayed in another homestay, Nikitas. Once a small homestay it now has 40 beds, making it the largest place to stay on the island. The owner of the house had craved all the amazing woodwork. And his wife offered me a bucket of water so I could clean my muddy boots off.
One evening, with beers in hand, we found ourselves sitting in the precisely carved chairs across from some Slovenian travelers and their wine. I got out my Eastern Europe Lonely Planet and I learned where Slovenia was and all that it seemed to offer. We told these other travelers that we probably would come there and that they would be hearing from us in a couple months.