Friday 4 Aug
How does the bishop move again and the Provodnitsa of Pong
Lucky us again we landed the provodnitsa cabin (only 2 bunks not 4) on the 2 1/2 day train to Irkutsk. Not sure how we landed this because you can't technically book it. We were at first dismayed that we would have no companions on the trip - we had had such a positive experience on the last train. Then we realised that hang on - this was 1st class privacy at 2nd class prices. What a coup! We also did not need to worry about the company either as almost as soon as we sat down we had our first visitor wanting to practice English! We had only been on the train 5 minutes but word had got around somehow that there were foreigners in the provodnitsa cabin!
The big downside to this train - and I mean BIG was the smelliest provodnitsa/person on this planet. She was 30 stone plus and smelt of very old dried fish of some sort. We had never smelt anything like it before - it was so powerful that every time she walked past our cabin we dove for cover in hysterics. Apart from this sport we played backgammon (of course I am the reigning champion), chess (Andrew beat me - must have been fluke), cards and read books. It is amazing how much of this we can do without getting bored. I think the braincells are slowing down to a quiet hum and need less stimulation. A day back at work at this stage would probably cause an explosion of some sort.
We are now in Irkutsk - famous as being a territory in the game Risk - which is a small, friendly place near Lake Baikal. It is good that it is small and friendly as we actually managed to get lost again looking for the hostel (we are running at 100% hit rate at getting lost) at midnight. We luckily asked the right person for directions who spoke perfect English and physically accompanied us to the right place and phoned the hostel owner on his cell as it all looked dark and locked up. The owner arrived in a fluster - Jack Shermoff apparently well known in these parts - there was a reason why it was all locked up - there had been a confusion with the booking. To cut a long story short we are now staying at Jack's house. He very kindly gave up his bed and is sleeping in the lounge on a couch. Travelling often shows us the best humanity has to offer.
Tomorrow we leave for 3 nights at Sunny Hostel, Olkhon Island on Lake Baikal. Lake Baikal is the world's largest fresh water lake, holding 1/5 of the worlds unfrozen fresh water supply. It is apparently naturally stunning and chilled.
Just what we need... more chilling....