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Irkutsk, the oldest city in southern Siberia, has long been known as the heart of the region.
Driving through the city, one could see a lot of Soviet-style architecture. Monuments of war heroes adorned every square, and the streets had many statues of famous people.
The city had a long history and was home to many heroes. In order to win the Second World War, Irkutsk paid a great sacrifice and lost many of its people. Almost all local men over 40 years old who had gone to fight in the war had perished.
As the car passed the city’s central square, Steve stopped Hankway to buy a bouquet of flowers to put on the monument of the fallen soldiers.
First, they found a hotel, not far from the residential area where Hank and the other local guides lived.
Meteorite hunters were among the local rich, and lived in large, warm apartments, mostly two-story duplexes.
In Siberia, apartments were more popular than villas because they were convenient and warm. The local climate was too cold. In January, the temperature in Irkutsk was usually below 15 degrees below freezing.
Although they did not come as tourists, they were glad to relax and rest. Under the meteorite hunters’ guidance, they strolled around the city.
They passed Kirov Square, Lenin Square, Karl Marx Square, Decembrist Street, and some commercial pedestrian streets. Li Du and Sophie enjoyed visiting all these popular destinations.
As the core city of southern Siberia, Irkutsk was quite prosperous. People from all over Eurasia would come to visit, so the tourism industry was quite developed.
Instead of having lunch, Li Du chose to shop with Sophie for local delicacies.
Their favorite was the Kolomna compot, a traditional Russian confection made with sour apples, honey, and syrup.
This was a kind of canned food, which could be heated in cold weather so that one could warm one’s hands while eating. It was a perfect choice for a cold weather snack.
Ah Meng’s sense of smell for honey was so keen that when the tin was opened, it climbed up Li Du’s trousers.
Because of the cold weather, Li Du wore thick and strong clothes, which could bear the weight of Ah Meng. This little guy climbed up his leg, looked into the tin and licked its lips.
Li Du ate half the jar and also had some jelly cake. He then offered the rest of the compot to Ah Meng.
The mischievous little one only ate a few mouthfuls when they came across a street vendor with a huge pot of sticky honey spreading its fragrance around.
Ah Meng immediately threw the jar back, and it hit Ah Ow. The soft fruit jelly spilled out and hung from her hair. Ah Ow was very angry and lunged to bite Ah Meng.
Usually, when she did something like that, Ah Meng would retaliate. Now, however, there was pure Altai honey in front of them, and Ah Meng’s attention was utterly engrossed. It just didn’t care what Ah Ow did. Staring at the honey pot, it stood on its hind legs, put up its head and moved its nose, making a chirping sound.
This was the famous Altai honey, also known as buckwheat honey. The Altai Mountains region was the largest buckwheat source of Russia. Bees loved buckwheat flowers, and the resulting honey was delicious.
The Altai honey had a pure, deep amber color. It was extremely clear and slowly rolled around the pot, bringing out an increasingly dense and sweet fragrance.
Sophie went to buy two jars and Ah Meng tried to grab them with its claws.
The honey was hot, and Sophie tried to persuade Ah Meng to back off, but the honey badger ignored her and continued to work hard to grab the honey.
Sophie was angry. She slapped Ah Meng on the head, squatted on the floor, put the honey away and said angrily, “Behave yourself. If you continue like this, there will be no honey for you next time.”
Ah Meng squatted on the ground with an expression of injured innocence and looked at Li Du. Li Du pretended not to see and continued looking at food stalls.
Instead of the hamburgers and sandwiches common in the west, there was the triangle bun, a popular Bashkir and Tatar pastry dish that had been around for a long time in Irkutsk.
The triangle bun was small, with potatoes, lamb, and green onions as its fillings. Butter was added to the pastry, lending it a fragrant sweet smell, it was delicious.
It wasn’t enough for Godzilla and Big Quinns, however. They bought long rolls and fried pork chops, topped it all with caviar, and ate with satisfied big bites.
In the evening, Hudi, Hankway, and others took them to a bar where ivory hunters would often appear.
There were two kinds of ivory hunters: natives who went on adventures and outlaws who could not get along in the city.
Siberia was vast and had a harsh climate, so it has become the first choice for many criminals to avoid the law. The local public security was very bad, and criminals were not afraid of justice. If they committed a felony, they would run into the central and northern Siberian plateau, and the police could not catch them at all.
However, surviving in such a place was no mean feat, and the police considered it more punitive to live in the cold highlands than to go to jail.
In fact, Irkutsk, the oldest city in Siberia, had served as a place for political exiles at various points in its history.
Before entering the bar, Hank told the crowd, “There are some really tough characters in here, and they don’t think twice about playing with their lives, so let’s try not to mess with them.”
Looking at Li Du and the others with solemn faces, he added, “Of course, even if there is a conflict, you do not have to fear. We meteorite hunters are tough guys, we can deal with whatever it is.”
Meteorite hunters and ivory hunters were outlaws.
Both would disappear for long periods in the wilderness, where there were no cameras, no monitors and no one knew what was going on.
Because mammoth ivory and meteorites were so valuable, some people would not hesitate to kill for them.
Meteorite chips were generally small and could be hidden. Mammoth tusks were too big to hide, and if one found mammoth ivory, they would need to rely on intimidation to keep it in their hands. Otherwise, they could be robbed, or worse.
The moors were full of glacial swamps, and there would be no way to find a dead body thrown into one of them.
When the bar’s door was opened, a stream of hot, alcohol-imbued air gushed towards them.
Loud rock music echoed around the bar, and the dazzling lights changed colors, entrancing people.
On the central stage, a few scantily clad dancers were making suggestive movements or flipping their hair, and some big men with bottles of vodka in their hands were shouting around the stage. The atmosphere was rowdy and loud.
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