Irkutsk II

I had laughed at the suckers waiting in line for the ferry off Olkhon Island: an unbelievable queue of cars that I had scooted past on my motorbike on the way in. Now karma was catching up with me, with a busted motorbike clutch, and I was stuck on a minibus in the very same queue. Waiting to leave the island. And waiting. And waiting.

The Olkhon Island Ferry sets new records for inefficient ferries; we waited for four hours in the queue. I passed the time taking occasional photos – of people waiting, what else – and chatting to friends I had made in my few days on the island. One guy, Alex, was riding a Suzuki Safari Twin and I watched jealously as he skipped past the queue and got on the next boat.

Waiting in the queue

Five hour wait? Why not go for a swim

I had also spent an evening drinking with minibus drivers back at the guesthouse in Khuzir, and I met some of them doing the run back to Irkutsk. We spent time conversing about minibuses, predictably. One nearby was open to derision; the luggage rack had punched through the roof. Amateurs, I was told.

Finally the ferry arrived, our minibus loaded on, and we rocketed back to Irkutsk. Riding a motorbike, the minibuses are the worst for tailgating and terrifying overtakes. Now I was in one, and it was better to just not look as the driver pulled crazy moves on the single-lane tarmac road. Some of my Russian fellow passengers had put their seatbelts on; Russians never, ever wear seatbelts.

Back at the hostel in Irkutsk, I was straight on the Internet organising some new clutch plates. Amazon had a set, which I ordered, but they wouldn’t arrive for three weeks. However! One of the people following my ride report on had said was based in Moscow, so I sent him a PM asking if he knew any motorbike part stores that would stock DR650-compatible clutch plates.

Monty did better than that: he found a shop, went and picked up the plates, and organised for them to be couriered to me over the weekend – all within a ridiculously short space of time and for someone he’d only briefly talked with over the Internet. I was a little flabbergasted. Monty, thankyou. You are a scholar and a gentleman.

I therefore had a few days to spend chilling out in Irkutsk, waiting for the courier to arrive. I’d like to say I spent them engaging in a cultural and artistic exploration of the city, but in fact I rarely left the hostel except to hit up the markets for fresh blueberries and beer and replace a couple of rolltop bags that had been destroyed in the previous 20,000km of ridibg. Pavel – a friend from my last stay – was back in the hostel and wanted to improve his English, and I wanted to improve my Russian, so we spent most of the weekend swapping stories in our respective broken language (to the hilarity of the bilingual hostel staff. thanks for the support, guys ;)

Here's a photo of some pianos

Here’s a photo of some pianos

Monday evening, parts in hand, it was agreed that I would cook some Australian food when I returned from Olkhon, which on reflection may have been a small mistake. In any case another minibus was booked and I was back on the road Tuesday for the terrifying ride back to the island.

The trip back was much the same as as before, with the exception of one Australian who managed to encapsulate all the reasons I avoid my countrymen when I travel. Back in Khuzir, the clutch was swapped out to the fascination of a couple of nearby kids and I was ready to – finally – make it off the island the next day. A couple of beers at a nearby cafe went down very well with the sunset.

The ride back went well: despite my apprehension about potential rain, ridiculous bike-destroying mud etc it was a lovely warm, sunny day. I scooted past the queue – suckers! – almost got run over by an UAZ van trying to also push in front, made it on the ferry, and powered back towards Irkutsk dodging minibuses.


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