I had intimated to M. that our plans for a three-day hike had to be downgraded, and since the next day walking was still a challenge, she kindly agreed that we could go back to Lisvyanka. We’d go there on the 6pm boat, spend the day hanging around the docks, then take a minibus back to Irkutsk on Monday. We spent Saturday wandering around Bolshey Kotie, which didn’t take very long.
We stopped at the cafe/store, drank Nescafe and a teenager put on stirring Russian movie music. After a brief walk (I refused to call it a hike) into the nearby state park and back, it began to rain.
The tiny wooden museum and library were closed. We chatted with a French hiker who’d walked here that morning, and met him again at the cafe, where we sipped more nescafe and ate Mars bars. The cafe/store was obviously the village hub; a few locals stopped by, a few hikers also came in. The owner, a middle-aged woman dressed in flowered work clothes, puttered back and forth between the wooden kitchen and wooden counter stacked with souvenir spoons and models of Nerpa seals, the seal indigenous to Lake Baikal. At one point she reached under the counter and pulled out a new ipad box, looked at the ipad inside and put it back again. There’s that division of labour again.
We got to the docks an hour early and chatted to the French guy, who was on a year-long voyage through Asia and Europe (not the first person we met on such an epic trip). Somehow, in the 15 minutes before the ferry left, the dock filled up with people. We had seen barely 10 the whole day; now literally hundreds were queuing behind and ahead of us. Ticket-holders got on first, the rest of us shoved aboard afterwards. Some were obviously tourists; others seemed to be locals, identifiable by their all-adidas outfits and weathered complexions.
The guesthouse in Lisvyanka where we were staying was rustic – the floors sloped, the toilet was an outhouse, there was a sink with a tank of water above it and a spigot tap. The yard was a garden and building supply dump, with a small yappy dog chained to a small doghouse who wagged its tail hopefully when I looked its way; and a giant, furry dog in a big cage who came out and rubbed against the fence. He could’ve leaned on it and it would’ve given way – indeed, new wood reinforcements at the top suggested that’s exactly what happened.
We went for dinner at the “Chinese food restaurant” on the main road, and paid far too much for egg-fried rice and chicken wings (I was not going to subsist on rice), then Toronto prices for two pints of beer at a nearby cafe. I could hear some other travellers speaking in Quebec accents, and I was happy when two boisterous teenagers came in with half-drunk bottles of beer, skipped M. and my table, sat down next to the Quebeckers and announced “I am Russian!” Having just dropped $60 for dinner and drinks, the evening wouldn’t have been complete without a much-needed shot of something, and I bought some Armenian cognac – not the cheapest stuff either, I wanted the world to recede a little. A man urinating outside his Toyota Land Cruiser, in the middle of the road to our guesthouse, added urgency to that mission. Our little room slanted precipitously; at one point in the night I woke up on the verge of rolling off my bed, but at least it was clean, new and we were the only guests. This trip was becoming the voyage of much-needed drinks.