Wednesday, October 29, 2014

The Boat to Lake Baikal + the Village of Listvyanka, rural Siberia

Lake Baikal is located in distant and rural Siberia, the city of Irkutsk offering the closest access point, still 65 kilometers away.
Not sure where I'm going, I walk into various shipyards along the river. Guard dogs emphatically communicate I've entered the wrong area, lunging at me, frothing at the mouth, held back only by the chains attached to a weak looking structure.
Eventually I locate the boat service to Baikal and purchase a ticket. It's an hour til departure, but I remain by the dock; there's really nowhere else to go.
the riverbank headed to Lake Baikal
The boat departs, quickly the surroundings morph into Siberian wilderness, thick forests lining the riverbanks.
 Two hours later we enter into the mouth of the giant lake, often referred to as the Sea of Baikal. How large is it? Baikal holds 20% of the world's supply of fresh water, and is excess of 31,000 square kilometers. Let me put that in perspective for my fellow Americans, this "lake" is 10 times the area of Rhode Island, substantially larger than the entire state of New Jersey, and equal to the area of Maryland, and that's the just the surface of the water. Baikal is also the deepest lake in the world, extending to the depths of 1,642 meters (5,400 feet) ... try holding your breath and swimming to the bottom. I'm not sure I'd manage.
All the water in the Great Lakes combined approximates the amount of water held by Lake Baikal.
near the entrance to Baikal
 The boat drops us at the dock, via 10% intuition and 90% miracle, I find my lodgings not too far from the town's road (singular.) I shed my bags at "Olga's Guesthouse," a cabin behind an old, worn down wooden house where Olga and her family live, and set-off to explore.
An adventuresome Chinese couple and I agree to rent some bikes together for a couple hours. The quote at the second place is higher than the first so I ask if he'll match.
"Their bikes are inferior, made in China," he retorts.
"I'm, Chinese," deadpans my new friend. Clearly the vendor is never going to earn an A in salesmanship. Embarrassed, he quickly matches the price.
crystal clear water of Baikal- photo taken from road above
crystal waters of Lake Baikal

smoked fish sales by the road
We venture off together, stopping periodically to snap photos of the lake. Villagers sell smoked fish at various stands we pass, the natural asset in most plentiful supply.  The path abrupt end, mountainous forest taking over.  
me standing on a tiny pier
Thirsty? Just drink straight out of the lake. It's some of the cleanest water on earth, filtered by tiny crayfish who abound in the waters. I fill up my thermos for later, and take the plunge into Baikal and her icy waters.
swimming in freezing Lake Baikal

Recovering from the chill saps much of my energy. I walk up the hill to my lodgings, watch the sun set over the lake listening to the harmony of silence around me.
Sleep soon overtakes me and I dream of a perfectly cut stone which I skip over the lake. There are too many jumps to count, but it disappears into the horizon and I hear the echo of it hitting a rocky beach on the other side. Unfortunately, there was no one on the other side of the lake to bear witness. The area is simply too remote for that, even for a dream.  

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