After a slightly fitful sleep, brought about by harsh overhead lighting and a lack of a safety harness on the top bunk constantly leaving me in a state of near free-fall, I awoke at around 08:00, and asked one of my fellow passengers if we would soon be arriving in Irkutsk. Turns out that we had about another hour and a half, which was just enough time for a group of them to sit me down and start asking questions, via an interpreter (a young Russian student who spoke some English) whom they had somehow found in the middle of the night. However, rather than the usual ‘Where are you from?’ ‘What do you do?’, ‘Where are you going?’ etc., I was asked ‘Why have you not yet married?’, ‘Are you travelling on your parent’s money?’ and what sounded like ‘Why not convert to Islam, then you can have 4 wives?’, it was certainly an interesting early morning encounter.
Upon arriving in Irkutsk we checked in at the wonderful Baikale Hostel, where it was great to see some fellow backpackers and exchange stories, allegedly things get rather less desolate the further West you travel; sadly I had less good news regarding the ‘delights’ of Vladivostok. In the evening Josh and I went to a local Mongolian restaurant, which had been recommended by Lonely Planet on the basis of being friendly and affordable (main dishes R100- R400, i.e. £2-£9). After having our coats and hats taken from us and being shown to our table we were presented with the menu, whereupon it became apparent that things had changed somewhat in the couple of years since the guidebook was written. Whilst we were indeed offered friendly service, we were also presented with a menu which ranged from R400-4000, including a selection of reindeer meat which cost more than we had spent on the trip so far! Needless to say we weren’t best pleased with Lonely Planet as we eventually persuaded the waiter that yes we would like to share a starter, and yes we were aware of how small it was, thank you very much.