My Life as a Duck – Charlie Winston

P1020960In the train, after my morning coffee, I have fun exploring other cars of the train despite my faulty knee. I go through 5 or 6 platzkarts (third class) before arriving in koupe (second class). There’s a boring vibe here.  I prefer mine. I nonetheless go through all the train til the end, it takes a good twenty minutes. On my way back, a man stops me, he offers me a cigaret. Here we are, stuck in between cars, in one of those super-tight, super-noisy gangways. We don’t really know what to tell each other, he doesn’t speak English very well, I don’t speak Russian. He still manages to ask me several times whether I am alone, and like everytime, I get a look of total stupefaction when I give him my answer. He’s friendly, I can hear in his voice when we part that he wishes me courage. It is nice but it makes me laugh a bit, if only he knew all the situations I’ve already been in… He wouldn’t worry as much.

The restaurant car. I would test it but the menu is entirely in Russian and I don’t want a bad surprise, price-wise or food-wise…
2nd class. 4-beds compartiments, separate from each other



I have fun filming the views from the train’s window…

Arrival in Irkutsk. I take the tram, arrive a bit later in a nice hostel that just opened a few days before. It’s crazy, there’s loads of other travellers, and they aren’t all Russian!! Better, there are two other female solo travellers. Wow! I feel a bit less alone in this situation. We exchange anectodes, laugh about them… People always imagine we live so dangerously, but not at all! Finally people who understand me. The girls who work here are also super friendly, we laugh a lot, share meals. I feel good here, I decide to stay a few days, and I need to rest and take care of a few things.

I use this time to visit the city, which has nothing exceptional, but I like its tranquille atmosphere. It’s very hot, too.

This reminds me of someone… 🙂


I also visited a few museums, including the house of a decembrist (a group of Russian revolutionaries from the XIXth century) and an art gallery.

P1030078 P1030014


There are loads of wooden houses, here’s the view from my hostel.P1030087

My problem of the moment isn’t all that simple: I need to find myself a laptop. I don’t know why I didn’t do this in Switzerland, it’s supid I know, but now, my distance studies start in a few months and don’t leave me much of an option, as I don’t really feel like buying one in Mongolia. So, several hours of hassle later of which I spare you the details, here I am with a tiny laptop with a key board that is half latin, half cyrillic, with in an English system that still regularly throws me messages in Russian. I am grateful for my typing lessons back in middle school, that allow me to type without looking at the keys, because they have nothing to do with the Swiss key board… For now it’s okay, I’m handling it. It’s also a lot easier for me to update my blog, this way!

Okay, I sorted out my stuff, I now want to go see Baikal Lake, which is the biggest fresh water reserve in the world, with crystal-clear waters. I’ve heard of a unique place not from here, a big island in the middle of the lake, Olkhon. They say it’s one of the shamanic poles of the world, that it’s very nice and the atmosphere is very special there. Good thing I have some time, I thus book a mini-bus that will take me there. It is supposed to take 5 or 6 hours, I have to leave the next day at 9 and I should arrive in the afternoon. Total improvisation, I have no idea where I will sleep, they say the island is packed at this time of the year…

The next day, the bus arrives an hour late. There is a group of people inside who are already drinking, they are funny. The bus breaks down in the middle of nowhere, I wait with them while a replacement vehicle comes. There is an Israeli guy with 3 Buryat women (from the indigenous ethnic group populating the region around the lake and originally from Mongolia), and a woman from Bahrain. They are dancing on traditional songs, are having fun, they transpire joie de vivre. We leave 2 hours later. When we get by the lake, we are told that we have to wait an hour or two til we can take the next ferry. No problem, we use this time to put our feet in the water and climb on the hills around, the view is breathtaking…


Except that 5 hours later, we are still here. It’s starting to be a bit long. We decide to go grab a bit in a restaurant to pass the time. Suddenly, one of the girls get a phone call: the ferry is leaving without us!! We run like crazy people, only to see the ferry and the bus filled with all of our bags leave right in front of our eyes… Here we go for another hour of waiting. Better to laugh about it than to cry, we thus giggle and wait (almost) patiently…

P1030134 Here we are, on the island. The bus sinuates on muddy paths, it is very slow. I use this time to drink the surreals landscapes with my eyes. Everybody is starting to be quite drunk, maybe the vodka bottle we offered the rest of the passengers to apologize for having to wait for us another hour has something to do with it. It makes me laugh, I watch them all rise to Russian stereotypes…

When we get there, it is 11pm. The group generously offered me to camp with them. We find ourselves a place to set up the tents and a friendly neighbour brings us wood so that we can make a fire. I fall into a deep sleep before the others…

The following day, we enjoy the camp, go to swimm a bit in the lake. The atsmophere is joyful, tranquille. (And on the Buryat side, alcohol is still flowing from the early morning)



With Eyal, my new Israeli friend, we rent a bicycle and ride it to the top where there is a beautiful view, despite the fog. It’s very cool!


Unfortunately, time goes by too fast, and after another night on the island, I leave in the early morning. The way back will be much shorter and our few stops will allow me to enjoy the beautiful Russian views.





In the evening, after spending a few hours in the hostel trying to teach French phonetics (“au”, “en”, “on”, etc.) to the Russian receptionist (it’s a very amusing exercise), I embark for my very last train ride in this country. Next stop: Ulan-Ude.


“Train stations are emotional places. I love to watch people get together after they go out of the train, I read the joy of seeing each other again on their faces, in the way they hold each other. It’s beautiful. When the train starts, on the contrary, I see the sadness of saying goodbye, I feel it, of couples of family separating. My heart tightens in those moments; I think about my family and my friends, I miss them. Today, I received a lot of love from Switzerland, so at the departure of the train that takes me from Irkutsk to Ulan-Ude, emotion invades me in a particularly intense way, this time. I am so grateful towards the people who still think about me, lost in those far-away lands: it gives me strength, it’s what allows me to move forward when things become difficult, because I don’t have a shoulder to lean on in those moments. Thanks to them, I am never really alone, in the middle of all of these weird people around who speak another language and look at me in a weird way. I am also filled with all the encounters I am doing here. On Olkhon island, I didn’t really have a plan to sleep, I was maybe going to have to spend the night on the beach in my sleeping bag. And then, I luckily met exceptional people from Buryatia, Bahrain and Israel, who generously offered me a space in their camping. For two days, I had the impression of being part of something; I was ‘one of theirs’. I wish them all the best for what’s coming on their respective paths, they deserve it, they are beautiful people, like all the others. I don’t know why I feel so sensitive tonight, maybe it’s the full moon, or maybe it’s the fact that it’s the Swiss national day and that I am feeling a bit weird to be so far away. God knows for my birthday…”


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