Special Places: U Olgi
When I look at the map on my wall, I can’t believe the places I’ve been. Yes, much of Africa and Asia remain bare, and still there is so so much of Central and South America I am dying to see, but I’ve been to some pretty neato places and done some pretty neato things. I’ve done cartwheels in front of the moai of Easter Island, I celebrated Holi with Indian kids in Mumbai, and I went for a couple of body-numbing dips in Lake Baikal. Almost daily, I’m plagued with the thought of all the things I want to do and see and experience; life is just so short. “So many trips, so little time,” I quite often lament to my boyfriend. Despite that, I remain firm in my gratitude for what is behind me.
I’ve been to some pretty special places.
One of those places was Kuzhir, on Olkhon Island. Find Lake Baikal in Siberia, and there, you will see a fleck of land. That’s Olkhon Island. I spent 4 magical nights there a couple of summers ago at a homestay referred to just as “U Olgi” in my guidebook. When you go there, you will find no signs or names directing you to its location. What you will find is rustic fences and a smiling lady by the name of Olga.
Most people who visit Olkhon Island are drawn to stay at Nikita’s Homestead. While I can’t blame them (on first glance, the website is pretty ballin), I’m glad we didn’t stay there. We stopped by a number of times to meet up with friends staying there, and it felt like a hippie commune. That’s all fine and good, but it’s not my scene. Every time we were there, it was packed and busy and bustling. It wasn’t what I was seeking in Siberia…
Olga’s was much more quiet. Much more serene. Much more like a home. In the few days we were there, it began to feel like that.
We spent our days leisurely. We woke up, took time for homemade breakfast, wandered around the town, toured to Cape Khoboy, went swimming in the freezing waters of Lake Baikal, and met up with friends in the evening for sunset beers punctuated by the musical stylings of a traveling Thai man and his guitar. Life there was simple and quiet and good. Visiting Olkhon Island was a highlight of my trip through Siberia, and staying at Olga’s no doubt influenced my feelings on the matter.
Being on an island in Siberia, you can imagine self-sufficiency is paramount. Olga’s compound had an extensive garden, chickens and lots of chopped wood stacked all over. All of the meals we had there were homemade and tasty, by far the best meals I had in Russia. They were not complex or elaborate, and I could tell that ingredients were reused over the course of the week. I was impressed by the creativity given the constraints of no nearby supermarket and the island’s distance from, well, everything.
Here’s a look at what we ate there:
What do you think about the looks of this grub? Would you tuck in?
Next, the bathroom situation.
I can’t imagine visiting in the wintertime (actually, I don’t think you can) because everything is outside. I know how cold Canada can get in the winter, so I can’t imagine trying to brush my teeth outside before bed in Siberia!
There were also two outdoor toilets, one squatter and one Western style toilet. This was a big deal when it was installed only months before we arrived.
Oh yeah, and did you want to shower? Well you have to head through the garden to do that. But don’t worry, the slow dripping water has some sort of heating mechanism to save you from Baikal-like temperatures.
And here are a couple more photos of Olga’s compound:
The Need To Know:
To stay at Olga’s, simply arrange this with your hostel while in Irkutsk. They arrange the transportation to and from the island. Note: this will be bumpy.
All meals are included with the price! I don’t have my guidebook with me to double check what it says about cost, but search online and you will find nightly prices around $20-25, which is pretty decent for budget travellers.
Beware there are no ATMs on the island (or at least there weren’t when I visited), so try to anticipate your costs before you go. Budget for snacks (and beer!), any day excursions and souvenirs too.
The internet is also nonexistent on the island. Say goodbye to your contacts for the duration of your visit to the island. If you are craving somewhere isolated that will force you to disconnect and unwind, this is the place for you.
Would you like to visit Olkhon Island?