At the Chinese border I am a little bit nervous because I have overstayed my visa by a day. The official calls his colleague for support but eventually they let me pass. Probably only because they simply didn’t speak english.
It takes some time to get used to see so many european faces here so far in the east of Asia. But in the countryside people of Mongolian descent dominate, the Buryat.
In the first village I storm straight into the first shop and hold up the objects of desire as if they were trophies I just won: dark bread and cheese!
OK, let's be honest, cycle touring is a dangerous thing. Hazards lurk at every corner. Today for example I bought an orange drink in a little village shop. A little bit further on I have a break and drink the whole liter bottle. When I want to continue… woah, what was that? In wide curves I stagger all over the road. A quick check on the bottle confirms, that I have indeed bought an alcoholic beverage. The next hour, while certainly funny is really dangerous as I take on the road in wide swings.
Every afternoon it is getting really hot, almost too much. Every lake or river I pass or cross is being used for a quick swim to cool down my body. With all that heat, it is no surprise that every afternoon also big clouds build up and quite a few time I get a refreshing shower while I ride. Do you know that smell of a summer rain, when the water vaporizes as soon as it hits the hot ground? Indescribable!
The ferry across Lake Baikal that I want to take runs only once a week, so I am a bit in a hurry to catch it. Still I do not want to follow the main road to Ulan Ude but a road further north. Had I known that this would add another 200km on sandy dirt tracks, I am not sure I would have taken that route. Had I also known what landscape I would pass through, I would have certainly chosen that route. It is pure wilderness. Flower meadows that stretch to the horizon and are as colorful as I could not imagine them, dense forests of birch and pine trees, small and big lakes and rivers. Every 50-100km there is a little village with these typical block houses.
When people see me here, they don’t point a stupid smartphone unasked into my face to take a shot of the exotic foreigner, as it has become a bad habit in so many places. People want to talk, they want to know what I do and they are fascinated. They shake my hands, clap on my shoulders and give me a hug.
The mayor of a little village gives me the berries he just found in the forest, someone bought a full bag of food for me, just like that. I feel like I am carried by a wave of warmth as I have not experienced it at many other places. The Buryat here in Siberia have a big heart and they have it at the right place!
After Ulan Ude I head north over a little pass to the east coast of Lake Baikal. At first I am surprised where all that traffic suddenly comes from. But then I realize, it is weekend and everybody is on the way to the lake, EVERYBODY. When I reach the lake I can not trust my eyes at first. Everywhere people camp, barbecue, drink. It is one giant outdoor party that I happily join. After the weekend I have the lake almost to myself again.
Camping while cycle touring is not always idyllic and nice. Most nights I literally spend in the ditch, behind a earth wall or in a damp, dark forest. Not so in Siberia of course. Almost every day I camp next to a river or lake. Camping at Lake Baikal is the Champions League. Hundreds of kilometers of undeveloped, very sparsely populated coast line on a crystal clear lake with drinking water quality. It just doesn't get any better. That this lake contains one fifth of the worlds (unmelted) fresh water is almost unbelievable.
After 14 days in which I cycled very long distances I reach Ust-Barguzin just in time for the ferry that goes across the lake every tuesday. There is certainly plenty of time for cycling at the moment, currently it is about 19 hours of daylight!
By ferry I go to island Olkhon on the other side. That here on the deepest lake in the world we actually get stuck on a sandbank and it would take the captain almost an hours to wiggle the boat free again is somehow ironic. On Olkhon I finally enjoy a well deserved break and explore the island.
After Irkutsk I head back to Lake Baikal that I am now following along its southern coast. In the front row the railway lines of the Trans-Sib has jumped queue, relegation me into second row. But I soon find out, that whenever the rail crosses a stream there is also a track under the railway line leading to the lake shore. So I still find a fantastic campsite every day and nothing is stopping me from going for a swim in the evening.
When the road finally leaves Lake Baikal, I am not just ready to do that yet. So I and a little side trip at the Selenga delta. I camp on a great beach just behind an orthodox monastery. In the evening some locals visit me and are curious where I am from. Finally they give me a nice smoked Omul (a fish that only lives in Lake Baikal). The following day I ride through many of those small villages.
Colorful wooden houses with carved windows line the road. An old man waves from his bench „atkuda vi?“ (where do you come from?) „Shveytsariya“ I call and wave back. Someone on an old 'Ural' (a Russian motorbike with sidecar) rattles by and curiously looks around, women sell Chanterelles, Blackberries and Strawberries that they have collected in the forest. It probably looked pretty much the same in those villages 50 years ago. Hopefully It still will in 50 years to come.
Just in time I find out, that since a couple of weeks I don't need a visa for Mongolia anymore. Now that is some good news indeed. So I take the road south of Ulan Ude towards the border. On the way I meet two french cyclist. While they complain about the bad and sandy roads my eyes and smile get bigger and bigger. In the last couple of weeks I clinked glasses for Russian-Swiss friendship so often, I think that should hold for some time.