The following day, we hiked across the island from West to East, and back again. Our companions were Guillaume, Andreú and Son, and we took a picnic. It was quite a long woodland hike – 30km in total. When we reached the other side, we naturally went for a swim, then ate our lunch and our trusty boy scout quickly rustled up a fire for us to warm ourselves by. It was a beautiful spot and great company, and we found ourselves wishing we had a tent. We were pretty tired that evening. We had been joined by a fun French couple from Lille, Laura and Raph, who had hitchhiked most of the way. After Son’s Korean tuna and rice soup (yes, I ate fish again!), I played chess with Michael. He behaved a little like a Bond villain, rubbing his hands and saying, ‘Oh be careful, be careful Lucy… I will take the queen, yes, I will take the queen and then you will be sorry!’ I lost quite badly, in spite of being the daughter of a Liverpool under 12s chess champion, then we had a practice game where he gave me some tips and talked about moves…but I lost again! I have resolved somehow to become a chess master and beat him one day, mwa ha ha haaaa! (Evil Bond villain cackle). Whilst we were playing, Son was serenading us on guitar. He had taught us some Korean songs on the walk – one about Seoul, and one Busan song about a seabird. WE got the tune of the Seoul song, but the Korean was a bit beyond us!
For our final day on the island, Luke, Son and I took a bus excursion from Nikita’s to the north. We were out for most of the day, stopping at intervals along the coats to look at the beautiful scenery and go for short walks. The driver didn’t speak much English, but it seemed like there were some legends surrounding some of the places we visited – it would have been nice to know more. At the Northern-most tip, there were more shamanic ribbons and piles of stones. I put a stone on a pile, threw a few roubles down and tied a piece of greeny blue plastic bag (in the absence of ribbon) around the shamanic post. I tied a pretty bow because I felt my material was a bit substandard, but I think bows aren’t the done thing! For our lunch break, the driver had built a fire and cooked us omul soup (the Baikal fish). I ate it and it was actually rather nice! I am growing up a little perhaps…
On the last beach we came to, there was a very angry dog. It was attached to a chain and you could just get past out of its reach whilst it strained and snarled at you. Having run this gauntlet, I was then beset by 2 snappy little handbag dogs, that were trying to bite my ankles, but I made it over the fence unscathed! We had our final swim in Lake Baikal, under the gaze of a busload of disbelieving Chinese tourists!
There was another French couple in the house when we got back; the girl was a bit unwell, so we didn’t get to speak to her much, but her travel diary was amazing – lot of beautiful pictures, really creatively put together. Not like my scrawling mess and verbal diarrhoea! That evening I learnt a new game from Laura and Raph – I forget its name, but each player has a tower of three dice and you have to flick them one at a time to try and occupy the three beer mats in the centre of the table. You can also knock other people’s dice off the mats if you’re skillful. I definitely need more practice! We played a couple of other games – Dobble – a symbol matching game where you had to call out names of matching pictures, that I was terrible at despite being a native English speaker (Andreú was definitely the master) and a Korean drinking game called 31. We played it to use up the horrible sweet muscat wine I’d bought the first night to cook with. You start by making fists and sweeping your arms round in a stirring motion, shouting, ‘Beskin… Lavins… Thirty… One!’; which is apparently an American make of ice cream! Then you go round the circle shouting out the numbers 1-31 in batches of 1-3 numbers. Whoever ends up having to say 31 drinks a shot. If you don’t want to drink, you can nominate a ‘dark knight’ who has your drink for you, but can then give you any task at all to do. I made Luke speak in an Australian accent for the rest of the evening, which I regretted!
The next morning, we bid a sad goodbye to our new friends and the island and the funny shy dog. We had a drowsy bus journey back, and Son, Luke and I returned to our original hostel in Irkutsk.The evening was spent getting clean, which was lovely, washing clothes and chatting to other travellers, including a young Chinese man who gave us some tips about where to visit in China and how to count on your fingers when it gets over 5! That night, we said goodbye to Son, who would be heading in the opposite direction. We’re both sad to see him go, but hopefully we’ll be able to meet up in South Korea when we’re there. And play more ‘Beskin… Lavins…. Thirty….One!’