|Ulan Ude turns out to be a little gem with lovely old Russian buildings slap bang in the center of the city. We start off in the auto sector which pleases Kev no end. This time we have our first invite to stay with someone which we are forced to turn down as this is the only town big enough to registar in (something we have to do within five days), we need a hotel to do this but we find one easily. In the lobby are two large Canadian canoes Kev gets all excited thinking they do river trips, the rivers have been amazing and we have often wondered why we haven’t seen any boats on them, he quizzes the security guard but no joy.
Finding a ATM that will actually give us any money proves difficult, we ask a lady in the bus queue who initally says take the bus I motion is it walking distance and she promptly abandons the queue to personally lead us to one also leading us into a large pedestrian shopping mall not far from our hotel. We make the most of this and have a pizza, fast food for the first time in about six months washed down with a beer, it’s great! After we stock up on money, water and food (you should have seen our faces when we went into the supermarket like a child in a candy store, you know you’ve been somewhere remote when Russian shops are better stocked than anything you’ve seen for a month, Mongolian shops only stock pasta,noodles,bread,vodka,sweets and cakes) we return to the hotel. The canoes, it turns out they belong to four Canadians who shipped them to their starting point (great lake in the north of Mongolia) and are finishing in lake Baikal. It’s great to hear their tales of Mongolia, they ask us how long our border crossing was. Oh quite long I say about 5 hours, it took them two days, you heard right two days. They were not allowed to cross by river as they had to be stamped out and in, so organised a taxi to collect them just before. Whilst they were strapping the boats to the roof they watched the spectacle of the taxi driver doning five pairs of jeans and four sweatshirts, stuffing more anywhere they would fit. He even asked if they wanted to wear any. After over five hours of queuing they were turned away to try again the next day so he sweltered in 25deg heat for nothing. Watch out when you buy your clothes in Russia they are probably third hand already as they come from China presumably the same way.
After showering and washing our clothes, a saga in it’s own right, as no hot water in our room. Kev gallantly walked the ten flights of stairs down to the lobby hardly any Russian hotels have lifts, he managed to procure the key to a room on our floor, this it seems never has anyone sleeping in it but is sited next to the boiler and so nearly always has hot water. After catching up with things we bump into the Canadians again and chatted until the wee small hours so the lot of us didn’t leave the hotel till midday all heading for lake Baikal. We’re headed to island of Orhlon for a welcome break.