Weekend at Ольхон (Olkhon)
This past weekend, I got to go on an excursion to the Olkhon, and it was truly amazing. I learned a lot of history about the town of the island and the people who live there, and truly enjoyed the beautiful scenery. Thursday, Iraida Petrovna texted all of us and asked us to come to her office before class. When we did, she dropped a small bombshell on us - we were being given the opportunity to go on a three day trip to the island of Olkhon, the biggest island in Lake Baikal, but the trip was leaving Friday morning, cost 5400 rubles (roughly $180), and we had to let her know before the end of the day. Originally I told her I wouldn't go, because I wasn't sure I had the money. But after a quick conversation with my mom, I changed my mind and told her I would go. It was a wonderful trip. The island is beautiful, and I got amazing pictures, which are on Facebook - I took almost 200, so I'm not going to try to send more than a couple. It was very cold on the island - the temperature wasn't more than 50 degrees the entire weekend, and since it was an island, there was a lot of wind, but it was wonderful weather. Clear, sunny days - great for taking pictures.
We left Friday morning on a big tour bus with about 40 other students from other universities around the city. It took about four hours to get to the ferry. On the way, we had to stop to let a herd of cows cross the road, accompanied by a real cowboy, lasso and everything. We also passed several herds of wild horses, and I discovered that Russia has prairie dogs. Needless to say, I was pretty delighted with this discovery - Olkhon had a lot of them. So Friday we drove to the ferry, took the ferry across to the Island, and then drove to the largest village on the island, with a population of only around 1000 people - the next biggest village has a population of 150 people. We got settled into our hotel, ate lunch, and then went down to the dock and took a boat tour of around a quarter of the coast line of the island. Then we returned to our hotel and ate dinner, and were informed that at 10 p.m. there would be a bonfire and we would all be joining to sing songs and play games. At the fire, we went around and introduced ourselves in Russian, since everyone was studying Russian. There were about 28 Chinese students, 8 Austrian students, 2 Czech students, and a couple of students from Germany and/or Belgium. After the introductions, we were commanded to "Sing the songs of our people".
The Austrians went first (since they'd had some alcohol they didn't seem to mind a little embarrassment). Meanwhile, the four of us Americans are looking at each other and freaking out - we have no songs - and we couldn't even remember the entire National Anthem (America is pathetic and has absolutely no culture, as shown by the fact that we could not think of a single song to sing). Then the Chinese students sang, the Czech students sang, and then it came to us and we just looked at everyone and had to admit we couldn't think of anything. Thankfully, the Austrians decided to help us out and started singing Jingle bells (Which I don't think qualifies as a "song of the American People"). After that, we played games and generally wore ourselves out. Saturday, we all climbed into minivan/buses and went on a driving tour of all the best picture places of the island. We were shown the "Face of Baikal", a rock formation on the mountains surrounding Baikal that looks like half of a face (Pics on Fb).
Our bus driver was pretty awesome - all the roads on the island are dirt roads, and our driver decided to spruce up the drive by racing the other drivers and taking us down the really terrible logging roads because "it's faster and more fun". So we spent our ride being bounced and thrown against each other as our driver pretty much used his van as a four wheeler. We all felt like we had minor whiplash at the end of it. But I got great pictures, and had tons of fun, so it was totally worth it.
Sunday was a free day, so we explored the village and the surrounding countryside. Then we left to return to Irkutsk, but we ended up having to wait at the ferry for two and half hours. We finally returned to Irkutsk around 10:15 at night, which caused some anxiety for me, since the buses get sketchy around nine pm and I had no idea how I would get home, since I live across the river and the other three Americans all live within a couple blocks of each other. As we were waiting for one of the host moms to come pick up the other three, we were approached by a man who was completely drunk. He approached Max, the only guy in the group, and begins to talk about how they know each other, how he's having a party at his giant apartment, and how we should all go with him to his apartment to drink and sing songs with him. He talked about how Russians and Americans are similar, and repeated the phrase "We're together!" several times. Then he came to each of us girls, asked our names, and kissed our hands. We were all kind of freaked out, but when he got to me, he started talking about how he's been to America, and said something about Kentucky, which really freaked me out, because I wasn't wearing anything Kentucky related and couldn't figure out how he knew I was from Kentucky. Maybe it was just coincidence, but it was weird. Finally, Kristin's host mom pulls up, and the three of us girls jump in the car, but the guy grabs Max's hand and keeps talking to him. Kirstin's host mom asked if we knew him, and got out of the car to tell the guy off and made Max get in the car. Thankfully, she was nice enough to drive me across the bridge to my apartment. Overall, it was a very interesting weekend, and was definitely worth the money and the time away from class.