In the next couple of days, I noticed that the "conference" would be better termed an eco-tourist trip on a high level, where we would occasionally stop to witness a performance by a local shaman, meet for traditional fermented mare milk drinks with local administration, or visit a Buddhist monastery. At one point, native girls in festive national garb jumped from the bushes on the side of the road to perform a national dance, at another - a shaman was waiting for us at the curb to lead us to a sacred place in solemn silence. The purpose of the conference, it turned out, was not purely academic: it was to boost the flagging post-Soviet economy of Tunka through promoting cultural and eco-tourism in this picturesque region. Shamans, the organizers thought, were the perfect tourist attraction while "the cultural links between ancient America and Siberia" would bring US interest and investments.
The bus was like a big organism, a beehive, except that it was the opposite of a beehive, reaching the heights of anarchy and chaos on the last day, the day when Mongolians were supposed to perform. No one took responsibility to make decisions about food and we ended up arriving on the ritual spot--so called "shamanic cape" on lake Baikal-- hungry. The beach was completely crowded with campers and beach-goers. This was not surprising per se, as usually shamanic places in Buryatia are the most picturesque ones and since there are no laws yet protecting sacred places, they are usually the ones also liked by campers. As I was climbing up the cape, I heard our organizer, trying to pull together our grumpy and hungry bus crowd, yell in her usual commandeering voice, "Shamans, over here!" NEXT