Skip to content
Advertisements

BREAKING BARRIERS IN SIBERIA, ON THE SHORES OF LAKE BAIKAL

Northern Lake Baikal

Northern Lake Baikal

Mare and I seek some shade on the porch of a small store, in the remote fishing village of Baikalskoe, Siberia. We are thirsty and exhausted from an exhilarating hike along the mountainous shore of magnificent Lake Baikal – the oldest (25 million years) and deepest (1600m/5,200 feet) lake in the world.

Baikalskoe Village

Baikalskoe Village

This portion of the Great Baikal Trail, which will one day circle 2,000 miles around the lake, twists through virgin forest, and onto steppe like slopes that disappear over craggy cliffs. Bays along the way appear Caribbean, as the visibility of this water is up to 42m/137 feet, but frigid, as the ice roads over the lake melted only one month ago.

Hiking a section of the Great Baikal Trail

Hiking a section of the Great Baikal Trail

This peaceful 300 year old Siberian village was the only seal hunting and seal fur collective in the northern Baikal region. Today, fishing is the primary source of income for the fifty or so inhabitants.

Trouble Brewing

Trouble Brewing

Back on the porch, a man approaches with a fresh fish in his hand, an omul, which is endemic, and a distant relative of the salmon. He says something in Russian. I shrug and laugh. Mare tells me, “He said Vodka.”

I gotta get Ron out of here!

I gotta get Ron out of here!

He smiles and lifts up his shirt, to reveal a full bottle of vodka in his pants. In an instant he secures glasses from the store, sits next to me on the floor and pours shots. Ah, my first taste of the Russian vodka ritual. You do not leave until the bottle is empty.

If this does not sober him up nothing will

If this does not sober him up nothing will

He makes toasts in drunken Russian. I respond in inebriated English. Laughs sound the same in any language. Drinking half a bottle of Vodka could lead to a body hair contest?

Mare takes me to the lake, for a sobering dip in the ice cold water…because we have a date for dinner…in a family’s house.

Which house is it?

Which house is it?

These wooden houses, made from logs and ornate trimmings, display traditional Russian architecture. All of them use blue or green as the primary accent color. We roam the dusty streets, dodging cows, in search of our dinner. “It has a green gate,” Mare says. “They all have green gates!” I respond.

Cows

Grandma Gertrude flags us down, and serves delicious fish soup, with fish and rice stuffed rolls. Dinner is topped with tea and wild blueberry tarts. Sweat pours from us, as we eat hot soup in this hot house with no running water.

Keeping an eye out

Keeping an eye out

We have discovered warm, friendly, hospitable people, beneath that cold Russian veneer. Strangers help us at bus stations, folks invite us into their homes for food, and we have witnessed neither violence nor hatred. We’re glad to have jumped off the Trans-Siberian RR, and onto the BAM (Baikal-Amur Mainline) RR in order to explore Northern Lake Baikal.

Waiting for the bus

Waiting for the bus

We catch the one daily bus, from Baikalskoe Village back to Severobaikalsk, to the comfort of Baikal Trail Hostel, where Anna has registered our visas and purchased Hydrofoil tickets for us. Thank you Anna, and son, Misha, for making us feel at home.     Ron Mitchell

Our gracious hosts, the lovely Anna and the very smart Misha!

Our gracious hosts, the lovely Anna and the very smart Misha!

Advertisements
18 Comments Post a comment
  1. carl #

    What a vast and Beautiful place. A far simpler life that looks as if it hasn’t changed in hundreds of years…still eating “Fish Head Soup” How did you ever get a photo of two Russia Bears…do they always show the fur on their stomach during mating season.

    June 29, 2013
  2. Ann Smith #

    Beautiful. It’s lovely that you find people who will take care of you all over the world. This is what the Dalai Lama has tried to tell us. Thanks for sharing.

    June 29, 2013
    • Ann, we find that to be true in most places. So many folks (with good intentions) told us how afraid they were that we were traveling in Russia. Misguided perceptions of fear do not lead to good things. I hear that Mongolia is even more hospitable. We will see in a few days!

      June 29, 2013
  3. martiwrites #

    I am soooooo loving this!

    June 29, 2013
  4. What a sign of unity between people…you two are our best ambassadors.

    June 29, 2013
    • Larry, I think that we do okay, stumbling around…we are all the same when you get down to it.

      June 29, 2013
  5. Mary Anne Legarski #

    Great adventures….the State Department could benefit from a chapter of your lives. This is the way we break down barriers and form relationships with people. Safe travels my friends. xo

    June 29, 2013
  6. Ma & Pa #

    It is beautiful to see how loving and caring all people basically are deep within. It is heartwarming.

    June 29, 2013
    • Hey Ma and Pa, yes…once we get over our awkwardness and engage with people, the warmth comes out naturally.

      June 29, 2013
  7. Carole Cruson #

    Sounds like a fun and interesting place. Stay well and keep us updated.

    June 30, 2013
  8. Sandy Feneley #

    This has made me think I might put it on my bucket list. It is my most favoured place in all the world and your photos are masterpieces. I am not sure I could eat a whole fish in a bowl of soup and hope they have sauerkraut soup as an option. I worry I will not be safe there but it looks as if there is no where safer. I hope the Lake is protected as we do not want it ruined like the Aral Sea or someone putting a giant straw into it to bottle its water. Also if one took the train one could bring a lot of things to the schools, like books etc. Would that be acceptable or is the internet now the only thing that is needed? You are both very brave people.

    September 30, 2014
    • Thank you for your kind words, Sandy. don’t worry, they serve borscht soup everywhere and it’s delicious, if you like beets! There is a lot of movement to protect the lake, but then again, Russian leaders can pretty much do what they want. Folks do not have very many things in rural areas, and I would guess that any gift would be appreciated. The train offered several days of relief from some fairly difficult travel, I say difficult only because of our total lack of understanding the Russian language. In terms of safety, we never felt threatened in any manner. Be aware of your luggage as you normally would, and the main nuisance would most likely come in the form of a vodka-ridden Russian man! We have a dream to take the Trans-Siberian from the eastern border during winter to see Lake Baikal iced. Check out some internet photos of the lake during winter and you’ll know what I mean. We may have to hit the lottery to fund that one, though!

      September 30, 2014
  9. RB #

    Killer photos Ron! here is my Baikal story … Dangerous Trekking Around Lake Baikal- the world’s largest body of fresh water hope you enjoy my pics and story man. Cheers!

    February 21, 2016

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: