I saw nerpas, and it was everything I dreamed of.
We attended the Nerpinarium in Listvyenka, and took in the show. Nerpas danced. Nerpas painted. Nerpas played a plastic saxophone. The show climaxed when one nerpa pulled a string which lowered a bouquet from the ceiling, which it then presented to the other nerpa while dancing. And then they kiss. I wept tears of childish joy.
We got back to Irkutsk after a bone-jarring ride in one of the many unofficial minibus services from Listvyanka. (The roads are fine; the suspension of your average Russian vehicle is not.) There’s not much left for us to do here in Russia except stock up on food for the 26 hours on the train to Ulaan Bataar, and take in the Irkutsk Regional Museum and Regional Arts Museum before catching the Trans-Mongolian at 10pm. We spent our last night in Russia in a tiny Irkutsk guesthouse; we communicated with the Russian owner, Galina, in rusty German, and ate pancakes for frühstück in her tiny smoky kitchen. It was great to get to Baikal and rural Siberia and take in some cleaner air, and we’ve had some interesting experiences. But both of us are ready to leave Russia, with the language barrier, ‘subject to change without notice’ procedures, meat-and-potatoes diet, and all-pervading fug of cigarette smoke. I have a weakness for seeing a moment or image and using that to sum up the essence of a place; in Russia that moment occurred for me when a young woman pulled up next to us in Irkutsk traffic, and pulled down the surgical mask covering her mouth and nose in order to light a cigarette.
Next up: 24 hours in Mongolia.