This narration is about a trip that Quang and Dick Francisco took from Beijing China across Manchuria, Siberia, Russia booked via a Monkey Business Train excursion. The trip started on the 13 of May 2004.
Part 2: The wonders of Lake Baikal
The scenery adjacent to the China Russian border for a hundred miles each way was quite flat without any sign of animal or human habitats. The border was easily distinguishable by the barbed wired no-mans land and the sentry towers on the horizon.
We disembarked from the train at Irkutsk and were greeted with a warm smile by Lena holding a Monkey Business sign. She was our guide for the next three days and directed us to the waiting van. The first stop was a successful stop at the local ATM. We were then off to our homestay 110 km away on Lake Baikal. There we were greeted by Misha & Faya Mahgaskin. Their humble but ample home and hospitality was a splendid experience. The food was Siberian and delicious. We experienced a tradtional Russian sauna banya which was a little bit of peace and tranquility during our stay there. Of course we had to celebrate our first use of a Siberian sauna with a shot of the local vodka.
Quang & I got up early and went for a walk just at sun up. We found a newly constructed Russian Orthodox Church on the beach. It was a quaint setting to say the least. A neighbor’s dog decided to escort us on our little morning jaunt that included a small boat harbor. A huge rusty and dilapidated derrick had been constructed to lift heavy marine equipment onto small ships that may have frequented the harbor at one time and probably had not been used for at least ten years. Could this be a symbol of how the economy of Siberia and Russia has become?
Mr. Mahgaskin now raises, maybe, 20 head of sheep and has a milk cow. He does not have any other source of income anymore. Mrs. Mahgaskin has a part-time music teaching job at the village school along with her homestay work. They definitely have a garden for further subsistence. They no longer can collect unemployment, medical benefits or social security. We were told that this is the way of life throughout this region of Siberia.
Later that morning we had a very adequate breakfast and Lena took us on a hike up into the mountain pasture where the sheep were grazing. The view of the new church on the beach plateau below and the snow capped mountains across Lake Baikal 22 mile away was appreciated.
We then went on an 8 km round trip trek to a fishing/retreat along the gravel laden shore line. We were greeted by the sound of hunting dogs as we approached the pine cabins. We had a lunch of local Baikal fish and a venison stew. The return leg was tiring and we were pleasantly surprised to see Mr. Mahgaskin in his Minsk sidecar motorcycle coming towards us. Quang did not hesitate to get in. We have a classic picture of Quang in this beat up Old Czech sidecar motorcycle. Lena & I arrived home shortly after and we all enjoyed another great Siberian meal and separate saunas.
In the morning we were off to Irkutsk to visit the significant sites of the city. Many fires through the ages had destroyed the town and a century ago a decree went out that the public building had to be constructed of masonry. We were not able to see very much due to the short time before boarding our train. We went to the local market and stocked up on local sausage, cheese, bread and salami. We found some more packaged soups and bottled water (or was it vodka) too.
We has booked into first class for the journey through to Moscow which basically meant that we were the only ones in the compartment. OK! The sound of the non-welded tracks was definitely the same. The view from the train was more forested landscape with small cities passing by in a blur at 120 km per hour. Sometimes the train got up to 140km/hr. Pretty soon these cities were marked with empty factories at an alarming frequency. The factories had been empty for quite some time due to the degree of deterioration.
More modern equipped large farms were now becoming prevalent since spring was definitely in the air. The trees were showing more leaf and flower buds. The outskirts of oncoming cities were abundant with household gardens being prepared for planting. You could see whole families busy with the tasks of preparing (subsistence) gardens.
In our next segment we arrive in Moscow. to be continued.