Home > Cities traveled > Day 45: Buryatia, revisited

Day 45: Buryatia, revisited

May 29th, 2011

Lake Baikal from Listvyanka

I didn’t have any luck with couchsurf hosts in Irkutsk so stayed at a hostel in the center of town. This turned out quite well since I met many other interesting people, all on their own journeys. Most were passing through Irkutsk either on their way to Mongolia or coming back from Mongolia and heading to Europe. I’ve added their home city audio bytes to City Soundscapes. I wonder if I could open up a hostel in Los Angeles and what kind of people would pass through. Just kidding – the last thing I’d want to do is start my own business. I’m definitely going to try and host a lot more couchsurfers.

I spent two days in Irkutsk before heading south to the Tunka Valley to visit the lady I met on the memorable bus ride from Ulan Ude to Ulaanbaatar. I visited some small villages, Dalakhay and Arshan, inhabited primarily by the Russian Buryat ethnic group descended from the Mongols. They speak Russian as well as Buryat and are largely buddhist.

In Dalakhay, I visited the local school where I tried to get the kids to speak to me in English so they could practice it. Once they got speaking though, they were quite curious about me. I think the teacher would have preferred that they ask me questions about America but most of the questions were about me (hobbies, sports, authors I like, etc.). I haven’t done a show-and-tell since 3rd grade!

In Arshan, I did several hours of hiking and drank the natural sulphuric spring water. Spending a couple nights in this small village, I reaffirmed that I am definitely a city girl. I’ve lived in villages and peaceful remote areas before… and I think I can only take it for a couple nights before I start craving a nightclub. I’m really jonesing for a Malediction night.

However, this trip was part of some bigger plan because I had a “lightbulb” moment when I realized that my next job would still be project management (duh) and that I only had to think about which project I’d want to work on next. I’ve started to think about how I can help to connect people with similar interests around the world. Yes, I know that’s vague. Maybe to start, I’ll see if there is some way I can find people interested in visiting some of these small village schools to provide an opportunity for the children to practice speaking English (or other languages) and to share cultures. Part of me is saying, “ok, now that you know what you want to work on, get back to civilization and start working again”. But another part of me knows that there is a reason why I picked this rail trip from the Pacific to the Atlantic and I probably still have much to see and learn before it’s over.

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  1. Jennifer
    May 29th, 2011 at 18:39 | #1

    So many thoughts:
    1. Is there a difference in how you feel about a place if it’s on the ocean or not? Just noticing a calmness in posts that are in water towns. Personally, I need to know that the ocean, not a lake, is nearby. I also find that port towns are more open to new ideas and people. It could be my bias.
    2. Community building across the globe is really cool and something that I enjoy as well. Cisco, the public school systems, my friend Karen, and the laptop per child programs are all working toward this. I also meet people working on this at the Masie conferences I attend. Think more about it – it’s not just the project, but how you want to experience it, how you want others to experience it, etc. I wish I could be there to talk with you about it. Maybe in Norway. :)
    3. I love all the blues and greens.
    4. I would love to be more outgoing. I’ve missed out in places I’ve been to. I’d go back to Penzance and the isle of Wight.

  2. May 29th, 2011 at 23:01 | #2

    a.) I love that picture of the trees with the ties around them! (Why are they like that?)
    b.) I am glad that you did not fall across that bridge while driving across it…if I were you, I would have been worried!
    c.) Your photos really do surprise me — I was not expecting that corner of the world to be so beautiful!
    d.) How did you happen to go to the school? Did you get asked, or did you just think to do that?

  3. xg
    May 29th, 2011 at 23:41 | #3

    1. It’s true that I’ve been calmer in my posts that are by water but I think it’s because they happen to be in the towns that I actually have some time to stop and be by myself and re-center myself. They’ve happened to be water towns. I do feel calm when I’m away from crowds and I’ve gotten that in the solace of the Mongolian countryside, the 7th floor apartment of my friend in Dalian, and latest in Arshan.
    2. Let’s definitely talk in Norway. (I love saying that.)
    3. You would definitely have loved the crystal clear blue of Lake Baikal. It’s supposed to become the 5th ocean of the world (eventually).
    4. You can still be outgoing in the places you go to. I’m sure there is more travel in your cards. :)

  4. xg
    May 29th, 2011 at 23:51 | #4

    a.) The ties around the trees are a buddhist tradition (not sure which branch). If a person has an illness or ailment and wants to get better, they visit holy places (like the springs where I was) and tie a piece of cloth around something. It never comes off (unless the tree falls). It’s also used for other wishes like safe travels (in a lot of my Mongolia pictures).
    b.) My host actually said, “don’t be scared” seconds before the driver started across the bridge. It felt pretty stable but the wood was certainly scary. All vehicles and people use that bridge across the River Irkut to access the small village that sits on the other side. The best thing was that I was somehow supposed to know where to tell the bus driver to stop (in the middle of nowhere) from the main road. In these small villages, people catch any ride they can and just tell the driver where they need to stop. Thankfully, my host was standing by the side of the road waving down one bus after another to make sure she caught me. It took her an hour.
    c.) I think there can be beauty everywhere.
    d.) The English teacher at the school was the lady that I chatted with in the restaurant on that long, memorable bus ride from Ulan Ude to Ulaanbaatar. She had given me her daughter’s email and I decided I would try and visit her home village. I didn’t realize that she was planning a show and tell with her students. That was a special surprise.

  5. Brad Amano
    May 30th, 2011 at 17:43 | #5

    Awesome stuff Sandy! I love the panoramic photos. Verrry cool. I can’t believe you’ve only been lost 3 times on your journey so far, but it’s great to hear and amazing considering all the ground you’ve covered. Anyway, I’ll try to send you a photo of the gang, so you won’t feel too homesick/friendsick! :)

  6. Mike
    May 30th, 2011 at 21:02 | #6

    I’ve been enjoying reading about your travels, and hope you can keep posting your experiences on here.

  7. jason
    June 1st, 2011 at 13:34 | #7

    Beautiful realizations, all of it. I wonder how many of those kids will never forget this stranger who popped into their lives for an afternoon.

    So you can take the X out of the city, but you can’t take the city out of the X. :)

    I’m glad this voyage is yielding some good thoughts for you. I think your idea is brilliant and I’ll keep my mildly cynical thoughts about globalization, jobs, teams, etc. to myself. But a more worldly marketplace is where things are headed and with the right connections between the right people, it can be a win-win. While you’re out there, I hope you find many other inspirations to refine your ideas into a vision for yourself when your travels are finished.

    Don’t worry about civilization, it’ll still be here when you get back, warts, stars, and all.

    p.s. – I love your pictures.

  8. from SD
    June 2nd, 2011 at 22:26 | #8

    The school kids are cute, aren’t they?
    Meeting with an American, whose name is Sandy, will become a positive influence for them and the memory with you will be one of their treasures.
    The lake looks like an ocean. It is so beautiful.
    I love all pictures!

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