Immediately after arriving at 8.30 am local time, we continue to Listvyanka, at Lake Baikal. At least that’s our plan. While we are still searching for the right tram, or at least the right tram stop, suddenly one civilian and a police guy approach us. In Russian. They want something, and then our passports, and our train tickets. We are a bit afraid it might be a scam, they could refuse to return our stuff and blackmail money from us, for example. But in the end, we get it all back. It is a bit odd how suspicious we are, but we really expect the worst at first. Robbers, cheaters, stabbers, rapists, and people trying to rip us off, that’s what we see every time we make contact to someone local. And each time we are about to be ashamed of ourselves for being this prejudiced, we are actually confirmed in our suspicion. Let me tell you the stories of how we are continuously supposed to be screwed with at this point of the world.
In Listvyanka, it starts with our hostel. The apartment we booked is not available. Although Simón says this sometimes happens when using those booking platforms, Santi is upset. He made these reservations weeks ago and he wanted us to be all together in a place, not spread on different rooms. The hostess offers us a standard room and a luxury room instead, or alternatively three standard rooms. We go for the fisrt option. When it turns out that the luxury version is the same room plus a foldaway bed, the crisis arises. While I still believe in the good in the lady and assume she gave us two luxury rooms and didn’t think this bed would be bad for us (well, she hasn’t seen what we slept on the past days, we really urge for a normal bed tonight), Santi doesn’t give in and discusses with an interpreter on the phone until we finally get a third room. At least we all have normal beds now. When we pay the common rate of 200 Rubels for our laundry to be “washed, dried and ironed”, and it comes back hardly clean, and definitely not ironed, however, also I have to admit that this lady is messing with us. That was probably the revenge. That it is not even the end we will see only a couple of days later…
The second rip-off-attempt happens at the tourist information (!) of Listvyanka. We wanna go on a boat tour, guided, it shall start at 5 pm. We pay our share, and suddenly it’s not certain anymore that the tour will actually take place. Another traveler’s couple needs a ride to some neighboring village, and therefore the boat tour will be extended to some two or three hours (and become more expensive). However, also that is not really clear yet. We wait. Also the couple waits. The problem seems to be the price: even though the couple would be willing to pay a lot if money, they would not cover the entire trip. We could pay the rest though, and then get a longer tour for an affordable price. Oddly, the price is changing all the time: Once the tourist information lady hears that we might be interested in the longer trip also, the total amount for that one is rising and rising. Also, it would not be guided anymore – it is chaotic. Maybe we would stop to see an island, but maybe we could actually not see it because we only have 5 minutes… after it becomes obvious that they just try to earn money with us instead of offering us something reasonable, the backpacker couple decides to not go with the tourist information after all and look for a speed boat instead.
Our tour, that now could take place as planned for one hour and guided, theoretically, also gets cancelled. Not enough people. We are fed up and decide to not come back in the morning for a boat tour, either. Simon is outraged, just because this tourist information lady is smiling and looks nice, she does not match the typical rip-off-profile and thus has an even easier game to play. Instead of the rip-off tour, we hike up the hill (well, ok, the others hike up and I take the seating lift, just for the better view and pictures, I swear!) to a viewing point, have some beers and amazing pictures of the sunset over the lake, for free. We also sleep like babies in beds that are not shaking, where no one is passing, where it doesn’t smell like sweat or fart suddenly. It feels almost unnatural.
Tanja, Simón and Santi are the brave ones that go for a swim in the ice cold Lake Baikal the next day, and we take a minibus back to Irkutsk which a driver drives so crazily that we make the 70 kms way in approximately 10 minutes. Roller-coaster-feeling and panicking included for free.
On the constant search for food, we walk for hours through the city center, see everything that can be seen in Irkutsk, including every single cathedral and a retired soldier who is now working at the market and has been in Potsdam twice, during war (or something, he only speaks Russian). Also the Chinese Olympia soccer team is in the city and poses for us, and when another guy poses in the background of me taking a picture of a sign that says “wanking”, a security guard in military uniform comes to yell at us and scare me off. No pictures!
The supermarket that closes at 10 pm refuses to let us in at 9.45, so instead of real food, we eat our leftovers in the hostel: noodles. Finally something normal!