I guess you might be tired of hearing about how awesome we are and how much fun we are having during this trip. So this story is a bit different, we will look at how awesome the Russian people are and how much fun we are having with them.
No…this is not biased in any way…we just have finally found a common language and can fully integrate into the culture.
Through the grapevine we heard that there is an annual meeting of the Korandovod Club, a club for the owners and lovers of Korean car manufacturer Ssangyong. The person who told us about the event is a fellow traveler from Korea and last-minute decided not to attend the event. Since we have already decided to go we just called up one of the club members and asked for the GPS coordinates.
Also…would it be for okay for us to attend without invitation?
The answer was: “There is a reason why the GPS coordinates are posted publically all over our forum!”
Got it…”Hyein, we are officially inviting ourselves!”
Plugging in the coordinates into our trusty on-board computer we get the result that we have to go to the island of Olkhon, located on the great lake of Baikal. Even better, we have always wanted to visit Baikal.
Let me set up the mood for you guys a bit better.
The night before, we spent drinking with two Anastasias in Irkutsk. Got back to our car late at night with the rain pouring buckets. Woke up in the morning to the same wall of water around our tent, folded our tent in the rain and set off towards Olkhon…in the rain.
Driving and constantly thinking that we are about to spend 6 days camping …in the rain. If you have done any camping or have just been outside in your entire life, you can already commiserate at our prospects.
To get to the island you need to take a free, 20 minute ferry ride. This is the first time that we are taking a free ferry, thank you Russia.
Not realizing the scale of the island I thought that the ferry line would be full of other members going to the meeting.
We got there and were the only ones in line.
About a minute before we were supposed to board the ferry a little Korando shows up. The car is decked out with travel stickers, overlanding gear and rescue equipment…not hard to guess that they are also going to the same event. But something tells me they actually knew about it a bit longer than 2 weeks prior.
We walk over to their car and meekly ask if we can tag along with them to the event, since we are just crashing it.
Boris (right) and Marina (left) almost laugh at me and say that everyone is welcome and we should just go together.
Turns out they are part of a team that was supposed to go to Mongolia on the way to the event, but someone…cough, cough forgot their passport. So they came here, while the rest of the “Mongolian Team” is going to arrive a day later. Check out the route in the photos above.
The asphalt roads ended 10 miles before we even got to the ferry, so you understand what happens when you mix offroading with rain?
Yup…a bunch of slippery mud, that we have never actually driven in. And being a bit on the safe side I drove super slow, while Boris in his light Korando jumped far ahead. Only to realize that he is dealing with a bunch of newbies and slowed down.
The camp, which you can see from the photo above, is about 25 miles from the ferry and took us just over an hour to get there.
Btw, when we finally arrived there in the evening…it DID NOT look all idyllic and pretty like this. It was dark, gloomy and wet.
The official start of the event was supposed to be the following day, so we naively thought we would be one of the first teams to arrive.
Nope…there was already over 20 cars there, with another 30 estimated to arrive by tomorrow. Not first, but not the last.
We parked our car, put on our rain gear and went out to say hi.
This is where it begins.
We only stopped by to say “Hi”, instead we were given a bowl of soup and some vodka.
So who are these lovely people who feed strangers? Meet Andrei and Yulia, Sonya and Sergei and the other family on the right is Irina, Alex and Olya.
We explained that we are not officially from the club, but just crashing the event. Instead of listening to any objections I was given another bowl of delicious soup and told to take another shot.
It’s kinda hard to hide the fact that Hyein is not Russian, so we had to come clean that we are traveling the world. So, after a few rounds of soup and drinks we all walked over to our Hodori to take a look at how we live.
I don’t remember what I said… the drinks were starting to kick in. These people, who know a lot about their own 4×4’s were in general agreement that we at least look a bit like know what we are doing. I don’t want to sound too arrogant, but i think everyone really enjoyed our handy work.
As i’m starting to realize, the hot shower is what really draws the most attention but you guys already know that.
This photo would have been absolutely gloomy, if not brightened and warmed up by the smiles of these girls.
The sun is setting, everything is wet and the temperatures are beginning to plummet.
As more and more people trickled in, our small group by the fire grew into a large, loud crowd of excitedly drunk people.
Some knew each other from previous meetings, this being the 9th one. For some, like us, this was the first time.
But the amazing thing…it wasn’t important. The old-timers didn’t just hang out together. Everyone mingled, everyone introduced each other.
At first i was the dedicated translator for Hyein, but somewhere in the night i was dragged to one side of the fire and Hyein to the other.
Only 20 minutes later, I realized that she was hanging out on her own, somehow managing a conversation in a mix of broken Russian and English.
This evening she learned new words like “nastoika” (infusion), “medovuha” (mead) and “samogon” (moonshine). You see where this is going already, right?
Meet the Russian teachers for the evening – Natasha (middle) and Oleg (right). Thanks guys…those are really, the MOST important words for Hyein to learn.
Boris, Natasha’s (look photo above) husband, the official funny man of the meeting. I don’t think I’ve had a single conversation with him in 5 days without laughing silly.
Since it was raining and we’ve already had enough of it in the last 2 weeks, we rented a little cabin.
The only have i can sum up how amazing the first night was… we parked our car and planned to move the bags into our cabin. We didn’t get to our cabin until late at night, it took us 5 hours to walk 200 feet. We stopped here, said hi there, drank a bit here…drank a lot there…
We didn’t even make our own dinner, people just offered us food from their tables. And this is not just for us…everyone just shared what they got.
Somehow we managed to finally get to our bed. Hyein asked me if i brought the toothbrush bag from the car…”Hyein, I’m afraid to go out, because i might not make it back by sunrise.”
Woken up by the loud banging on the door – “Wake up Ivan and Hyein.”
Shit, where are we? What is this room? I don’t remember getting here…
Slowly the memories of last night are starting to come through…Baikal, Olkhon, Korandovod, nastoika and rain, that ever-present rain.
We stumble outside from the darkness of the cave of a cabin we slept in, only to be blinded by the brilliantly shining sun and sky.
I need water, ibuprofen and coffee…all in that order. Why are there cows roaming through our camp?
Turns out that the shining sun and clear blue skies was not just my hungover imagination playing tricks on me. We learned later that week that the Olkhon Island get only about 20 days of rain per year. So that makes yesterdays events both very rare and very nice for the people living here. For us it means that most likely we are done with the rain for the rest of the week.
Maybe its the magical powers of the Island or the fact that we don’t have to see the rain anymore, but for the amount of alcohol consumed the night before…I’m feeling quite well. Maybe its the Ibuprofen kicking in.
Nothing better than a good walk with fresh air to clean out the last bits of the “samogon” and “medovukha” night.
The rain did manage to clean up the air, so that in the morning you had the most glorious view of the island, the lake and the coastline. And you are probably thinking…”omg, Ivan did you have to pose like this?”
It’s all natural baby…in the state that i was in, not much posing could have happened.
Sayana, the golden retriever, was definitely not new to photoshoots and looked her best that morning.
Sayna’s family joined us…or we joined them, for the little morning walk.
The waters in lake Baikal are amazingly clear. Standing on a little cliff you can look down and see everything in greatest detail on the bottom.
It’s also insanely cold. During the winter the top freezes over with a layer of extremely transparent ice. If you are ever in this area in winter time, i think it would be a great idea to go on a tour or just drive yourself out onto the ice.
The lake or how most locals refer to it as the “sea” greatly affects the climate of the region. During the winter it freezes over by giving up heat very slowly, moderating the sever Siberian winter. But in the summer it slowly absorbs the heat from the air greatly reducing the temperatures.
It’s so apparent that as soon as the sun goes beyond the mountains at sunset, the temperatures plummet from pleasant 20 C to bitterly cold 10 C.
Maybe Hyein did not partake as much in the drinking, strange i do remember her trying all of the aforementioned drinks. Or maybe she is just not over 30, but she looks and feels a thousand times better than me.
If the weather is good and you have a camera, there is a great shot at every point of the coast. Not much work required at picking a “good view”, you are literally surrounded by them.
Caught up with the rest of the group, the ones that woke us up and left for a woke, while we came to our sense a bit and had coffee.
I thought that people would go in for a dip, but so far the only brave being was Sayna, who didn’t seem to be bothered by the numbingly cold water and played fetch for 20 minutes.
I’m not sure whose cows these are, but they better be producing the best milk in the world if they are drinking Baikal’s waters. All over Republic of Buryati and Irkutsk region the cows just kind roam the land…have no idea how people keep track of them.
These cows have better views and better access to water than billions of people living in deserts and big cities.
Back in the camp to pay back for the welcome we received last night we thought it would be a good idea to make some Korean food and share it with everyone. Hyein recruited Irina and Kostya to be her apprentice Korean chefs and set out to making the most Korean dish we could muster with the ingredients we already got. Not a lot of kimchi choice out here.
While the rice was cooking with Irina’s help we decided to make this an international annual meeting of Korandovod. Very fitting to have a Korean citizen and flag at a Russian meeting of Korean car maker!
The main alley of the camp, some people in the little cabins, some in the tents and all the cars around in the perimeter.
The tasty Korean dish for the day is called “Rice Fist”…i’m not sure how much people liked it, but you must have a bit of Korean food at a Ssangyong meeting.
Thanks to Kostay (left) and Irina (right) for making a short time of the tedious preparation. As usual we didn’t really approach this endeavor with full thought and made too few “rice fists” and having to supplement the tasting with korean candy. Can i say thank you now to Hyein’s mom for insisting we take everything they bought for us?
Not a minute to waste at this event, we didn’t even have time to wash our dish as we were invited to go along for a ride.
Since our tent and sleeping bags were still drying from the last week of rain, we just hopped into a car with Homyak (real name Vitaliy, nickname means “Hamster”) and his wife Olya.
This being an offroad gathering, the point of the ride was not just to cruise on the freeway, while looking at the sights. First of all there are no freeways or even paved roads here. And second…the fun part is getting your car stuck and everyone coming in to help.
Unfortunately none of the Korando’s managed to get stuck in the sand, maybe the sand was still too wet from the rain or maybe its a testament to the quality of Koranado.
Only the little Honda HRV managed to get stuck and only because it completely stopped in the deep sand. In about a minute we managed to get it moving again…sadly.
Fine…no one is willing to bury their car in the sand up to the mirrors? Okay, lets just go and drive around, looking for pretty spots.
Homyak and Olya with their Korando on a cliff North of our camp.
A quick stop in the village of Khuzhir to get the famous “Omul” fish. Its endemic to Baikal and comes in a few varieties: fresh, cold smoked, hot smoked and semi-dried. We tried all of them and our favorite choice is the large fish (about 30 cm long), cold smoked, depending on the season it runs 200-300 rubles per fish. The smaller fish are much saltier and a bit tougher, so you can’t eat as many of them
Back in the camp and there is not a minute to waste. To grant good fortune and ward off evil spirits for the entirety of our meeting we invited a shaman to bless our event.
After he talked to the spirits in what i assume to be the Buryati language, while beating on the drum for 10 minutes, he gave our offerings in the forms of cookies, tea and alcohol to the spirits of the island and the lake.
A quick note if you are ever in this ceremony, when i say he gave the offerings we just poured the tea and threw the cookies with a flick of his hand all over the crowd. So if you got an expensive camera…make sure to hide it for this part of the event.
With the spirits appeased we can officially open up the 9th annual Korandovod meeting. Each year a different city organizes the event, this year the honor falling to the Irkustk members of the club.
The official welcoming speech was regularly interrupted by some fun games for adults and kids. The point of this game was to wrap a child with a whole toilet paper roll in the shortest period of time.
The winner was decided by the crowd on the fastest and neatest mummification of a little child.
This game is a great example of the general culture of the club. This is not a place for guys to get together and drink silly for a week, this is a family event. It is organized with whole families in mind, kids are part of this as much as anyone.
Yup thats the great Baikal sunset, besides the pretty colors for me it was crazy to watch the sun leaving the horizon at 11pm. And at midnight you could still see the sunshine just beyond the horizon. The only sad part being that with the sun leaving, within minutes it felt like winter.
Some time in the night of the first day the rest of the “Mongolian Team” that Boris was part of finally arrived. And look what we got here a 2013 Land Cruiser 70-series.
Due to the crazy or just stupid regulations, we cannot have these beauties in the United States. Ever since we have started the trip, I’ve been learning a lot about the Land Cruisers and their different varieties. Our Hodori is the year 2000 Land Cruiser 100, it has independent front suspension, 4.7 L gasoline V8, automatic, leather and a billion different electronics. From all the stories we have heard on the road here is the general conclusion – electronics are good for the civilized areas, like Europe and the US. There the supply chains, distribution and service centers are so well set up that you can have something fixed in a day or two. But if some little electronic module goes haywire in the middle of Mongolia, then it would be hard to get a new one.
So…whats the solution? A fully mechanical system, plus with manual transmission on a diesel – just like this 70-series. I also like the boxy look. Maybe we can figure out a way to get it to United States, if anyone out there knows how…please tell me!
The official website for the club and the reason we are all here.
Discussing the pros and cons of the two different Land Cruiser setups we both have. Ruslan (right), the 70-series owner, looked at our expedition setup and said that a lot of things are great but would not work in Russia. All the water piping that i have put in would burst during winter if not properly drained. The tent is great but in russian winter you need to have a heater because the temperatures dip below –50C in the night. I’m not even sure if our sleeping bags would do us any good. Lets hope we don’t need to actually test the limits of our gear in the cold.
The cutest member of our meeting – Salmaya the French bulldog. She was fascinated with sun reflections and would chase them madly for hours if anyone had the patience to play with her.
During the opening event we honored to be introduced to the whole meeting. Even though we didn’t register, the organizers made name tags for us last-minute and even gave us as a present two Korandovod t-shirts.
Not only were we not ignore, we were given the chance to say hi to the whole group and thank them for welcoming us with open arms.
So whats the activity for the day? There is a tight schedule for fun, we must pack as much fun in the 5 days as possible. No minute is gone without completely maxing out on this thing called fun!
Today, we are doing the tour of the island. We heard there are 2 lakes on an island that is already on a lake. Its like the Inception of lakes and islands.
And we are joining the “Mongolian Team” with our Land Cruiser. Thats Natasha, Boris’s daughter, and her son Anton.
When traveling in a large convoy the cars mostly rely on radio communication, so we were given a radio and told to come up with a call sign.
Hyein instantly thought of “Doshirak”, a korean instant food brand popular in Russia. All the Russians are familiar with it, sort of alike “cup noodles” are in US. People laughed and gladly accepted our silly call sign.
The team for the day – 2 Land Cruiseres, 1 Ssangyong Musso and 5 Ssangyong Korando.
Dima, aka “Danone”, yup just like the yogurt. Thats why we decided to go with a food related name as well.
Quick stop to check out the heart of lake Baikal.
Showing off our Korandovod gear. Thanks again for the organizers for the t-shirts and last-minute presents! The blue colors definitely made us feel part of the team.
The second stop on the route is the little lake. Yes, by definition it is an isolated body of water on the island itself. But in reality it is separated from the main Baikal lake by a thin strip of sand. This allows the lake to warm up enough to comfortable swim in.
But we didn’t come here for leisurely activities…we crave some trail driving. Low gearbox engaged and traction control beeping like mad, we managed to climb all the parts of the trail. Being the heaviest of the group and definitely the most inexperienced in this type of driving we took our time.
The trail went over a little mountain range and crossed the whole island from West to the East coast.
Traveling in a group can be some much fun, when you got a great group of people with you. Ruslan and Petya were the navigators and made sure we all knew where we are going. And all we had to do was drive and enjoy the beautiful sights.
It has been my life goal to take a dip in Baikal, ever since I learned of it’s existence. Even from Moscow its quite far away, so it took me many years of living in the States and driving around the world to cross this little goal of my checklist. I never thought I would be doing this with my awesome wife and the great group of Korandovod.
I’ve already mentioned that the waters are a scalding 10C and I’m not a big fan of swimming along ice cubes, but there is no way that i’m leaving here without at least taking a dip. Hyein, undeterred by the cold quickly marched in and plunged in the water without giving it much thought. I know that she knew if she stopped even for a second to think about it…it would be all over. Spurred on by her brave actions i plunged after her.
I’ve had the pleasure of swimming in the mountain lakes of California…but this is a whole other story. The breath escapes your body so fast that if you don’t open your mouth you risk cracking your teeth and ripping your lips. Making animal noises definitely helps in this endeavor.
Petya, you’ll get to know him more later on, went into the water, commented that it is pretty warm because he can still feel his feet and swam around for a while. We still have a way to go.
The whole team on the move.
Not seeking an easy path, Petya (yellow shirt) found a sketchy road through the forest. From this photo it doesn’t seem that scary and in reality it wasn’t really that bad. But in the moment, i thought that our Hodori is going to flip over to the side and roll down the hill.
Petya’s calm words and assurances led us through the difficult part without an issue. The car rocked and jumped at every boulder that we crawled over, the traction control system did not help me in keeping calm by making a fuss of the whole situation.
Once down with the hard section I got out, looked around only to realize that we were far from danger.
Back on the open, flat ground i thought about what happened today. We traveled 20,000 miles to meet these guys so they can teach us a bit about trail driving. And that our Land Cruiser, although very heavy, is still very capable off the road. As usual the limiting factor is the not the machine but the layer between the seat and the steering wheel (aka the driver…if you didn’t get that).
The spirits of Olkhon and Baikal pleased by our offerings and especially by our new successes in trail driving gave us another unforgettable sunset.
The sunset might have been unforgettable, but what happened after it…i honestly can’t recall. There definitely was dinner with omul and beer, but after that its a blur.
We were woken up in the morning by excited voice of people getting ready for the main event of the day – “Korando Race”.
At 11 am or about 30 minutes after we pried our eyes open, the people gather for the competition. This would be no regular race, instead of using the engine to get the car through the race track 2 members of the team would push or pull the car, while the 3rd member steered it.
Everyone from the camp came out to see this exhibition of skill and strength. Irina (left) and Sveta (center) came out to give their support.
Instead of just explaining the rules, the organizers decided to show their own strength and did a trial run for everyone to see.
Not shying away from the competition, Hyein, Dima (Danone) and Petya (Petrovich) quickly formed a team. I have to say that i would have loved to participate, but a recent twisted ankle stood in the way. Instead, i proclaimed myself the manager of the team and was left in charge of documenting this glorious event.
Obviously the team name was chosen unanimously to be “Doshirak”.
The S-shaped track started out a bit downhill and finished on a little uphill slope. This way when you are already out of energy you have the hardest part ahead of you.
As a safety precaution and mostly a distraction the driver had to wear a Kevlar helmet. Heyin said it was so heavy that it was hard to move her head in it.
And we are off, Hyein doing her best to steer as smoothly as possible, while Petya and Dima give it their all. Dima later commented that he had more trouble actually running fast enough to keep up with the car because Petya with his strong-man build kept a pace only Olympic athletes dare to go.
High on the adrenaline rush and the buzz of the competition the Doshirak team hugs it out after a succesful completion of the course.
This photo….just look at all their faces.
The officials refused to give out the times and said the winner of the competition will be announced at the closing ceremony.
But we all knew that our time was very competitive.
Alexandr Shtol giving it his all at the final push up the hill.
Some people decided to take a different approach. Homyak (left) and Boris (right) strapped themselves int and pulled the little Korando along.
The all female team made a presence at the competition, successfully finishing the track in a time that I’m sure was the best of all.
Alexandr Shtol, defeated by the hill on the first try, had to prove it to himself that he CAN do this. Here he is victoriously crawling across the finish line on all fours after the car has successfully crossed the line.
Before everyone could scurry away on their business we managed to take a few group photos. I’m not sure if everyone is here, but its supposed to be around 50 cars and 110 people.
Natasha (right) and Yaz (left of Hyein) were heading back home and gave us a little parting gift to commemorate this event.
We took the rest of the day and finally did what I thought we would be doing much more of – chilled in our tent and looked out on a beautiful view. Sun shining, chilly wind we climbed into our sleeping bags and instantly passed out.
That 30 minute nap gave us strength for the upcoming dinner with the “nastoika” and “samogon” that usually followed it.
And this is Olya and Yaz’s present, a beautiful sketch of the 9th annual meeting at Lake Baikal.
If you think that we are done…nope, this is just day 3, still 2 more days and more competitions to come.
Tune in for the 2nd episode of the Korandovod on Lake Baikal.