Border crossings always make me nervous. Waiting times, forms in foreign languages and characters, extensive inspection of the truck, people jumping the queue and being dependent of the sometimes badly-minded officials.
A good dose of Zen is essential.
And when you think that everything is over, a car insurance policy must be taken out. Credit cards are not accepted. People want cash in local currency. This often means that you have to look for an ATM or bank in the nearest town and then drive back to the customsoffice.
The population, religion and the environment are very similar to the north of Mongolia. The big difference is the better infrastructure and the possibility to cross a zebra crossing safely.
In Ulaanbaatar, using a zebra crossing amounts to committing suicide. The car is king there. Here, traffic stops before you put even one foot on the road. A relief.
In Russian cities I have made it a habit to sleep in a hotel. They are usually good and not too expensive. It is also a good idea to obtain a registration form, but so far I have never had to show one of these forms at the border.
I plan to stay here for 2 days to visit a number of attractions and also to get a visa for Mongolia in order to return to Ulaanbaatar next month. By using an emergency request and paying a slightly higher fee, I can pick up the visa after 3 hours. Otherwise I would have had to wait 5 days, including the weekend.
My goal for this month of travelling in Russia is to visit both the east and west sides of Lake Baikal. The road is excellent and Piggy gets some rest after all that heavy work in Kazakhstan and Mongolia. I drive past small villages with picturesque wooden houses, displaying colored windows with crocheted net curtains. Yes. This is Siberia. Did I ever think I would be driving around here with my camper truck? I have to pinch myself occasionally. The birches are already showing their yellow autumn color. Alongside the road there are often people with buckets full of blueberries and huge mushrooms, gathered in the forest. It is unfortunate that we do not speak each other’s languages, because I want to ask them so many questions.
Lake Baikal and its coast are beautiful. With a depth of 1600 m. it is the deepest lake in the world. Forested shorelines alternate with rocky and sandy beaches. Beautiful camping spots. The temperature of the water is now about 14 degrees Celsius, so a dip is a bit on the chilly side as far as I am concerned. But afterwards it does give you a wonderful invigorating feeling and a lot of energy.
On the small peninsula of Svyatay Nos, I try to get to a fishing village. Here the roads are comparable to those in Mongolia again. Just before the village the “road” dips down steeply and due to heavy rainfall a large part has been washed away, showing deep trenches. I would rather like to turn back, but that is no longer an option, I have to go on. Adrenaline rushes through my veins. After repeatedly getting down to try and look for the best track, I try to choose the safest options. Oh, how I wish I had a co-driver in these circumstances!
At the bottom of the slope, my rear wheel slides into a deep channel and Piggy threatens to tip over. Do not slow down now, I think, adjust and go with the flow. Pffff. That was a bit too exciting. After the last meters, passing weathered wooden houses on each side of road, I reach the small harbor, home of a small decrepit fishing boat. Unfortunately, there is no place to spend the night here. A fisherman points in the direction of the village center on the other side of a very narrow stretch of beach next to a steep cliff. I could continue, with one side of the truck going through the water. But at the end of the beach there is a large rock and to be able to drive around that, you have to go through the water with all wheels and the sandy, sloping bottom looks like too much of a challenge for a 13 ton weighing truck to me. You definitely do not want the wheels to sink into the sand!
Less than 50 meters away from the most beautiful camping site in the world, I have to decide to turn back. I slowly climb back up the steep slope and just before sunset find another nice spot on the beach.
Further to the north I want to try to get deep into the Barguzin valley. The road going there is terrible, washboard quality. You should drive on this type of road with soft tires and at high speed. But the many curves prevent me from doing that. After a night camping in the fields, I decide not to go any further.
Via Ulan Ude I travel around the southern tip of the lake to the big city of Irkutsk. There I enjoy a hotel, a visit to a good Japanese restaurant and visits to colorful churches and cathedrals.
On the west side of the lake I find paradisiacal camping spots, like the ones at the mouth of the Anga Amra river, where I take 2 days off to walk and climb some hilltops with a beautiful view over the estuary.
The island of Olkhon is another gem on the west side of the lake, which can be reached by ferry, free of charge. There are beautiful camping sites close to the shore. The place I have choosen is occasionally visited in the morning by Chinese touring companies. But they leave me alone and just come to admire the beautiful view of the Kharaldai Cape, that I can see from my roof tent. They do not stay much longer than five minutes and spend most of that time making selfies. In that respect, the Chinese are much the same as the Japanese.
I make a short stop in Irkutsk, where I have some repair work done to Piggy (broken altenator and broken cabin suspension – the famous problem in Greece). I also visit the Buddhist Ivolga monastery near Ulan Ude, where the exhumed body of the twelfth Khambo Lama can be seen. Oddly enough, he has not really departed. Totally dehydrated, he is peacefully sitting in lotus position on his pillow, dressed in his ritual clothing. He is shown to the people six times a year, when many pilgrims come to pay him a visit. I now am one of the lucky ones who have been able to see him.
Incidentally, I have so far met again with three other travelers, whom I met earlier in other parts of the world. In Ulaanbaatar I run into a German, whom I met two years ago in the Algarve, Portugal, a German couple I met at the castle of Dracula in Romania and in Ulan Ude I come across the German couple, Britt and Karsten (www.fred-on-discovery.wixsite.com/fred ), that I met near Athens in Greece. The world is smaller than you think !!
Currently I am staying at the Yakmobil site in Ulaanbaatar, where I am preparing for the next step.
In 2.5 years I have now covered more than 71,000 km., starting with my maiden trip to Morocco that took a full year.
Then, after a short stay in the Netherlands, I drove through all the Balkan countries and spent a winter in Greece, before leaving for Mongolia.
Now winter is approaching again, the nights showing a light frost. Leaves are falling and the daytime temperature hardly rises above 20 degrees Celsius.
I will leave Piggy here during the winter with Yakmobil to get a ‘total make over’.
On 21 September I fly to Jakarta and 2 days later to Makassar, the most important city on the island of Sulawesi, taking my bicycle.
In the coming months I want to cycle through the Indonesian archipelago to Irian Jaya. How this is going to work out, I will find out along the way.
A new adventure is waiting for me.
In the spring of 2019 I will return to Piggy in Ulaanbaatar to continue my journey on four wheels
TAKE LOOK AT THE IMAGERY AND FOOTAGE OF MONGOLIA & RUSSIA