A few days at lake Baikal

Trip Start Jun 01, 2010
Trip End Mar 11, 2011

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Where I stayed

Flag of Russia  , Irkutsk,
Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Our alarm beeps around five o clock, not that it had to as I was pretty awake. I did not got much sleep this night as the train was particularly noisy. Both Australian couples as well as us depart the train here in Irkutsk. When we exit the station we see on the board outside that the temperature is minus four degrees Celsius. It feels bloody cold and we are worried about our plan to go diving here.

Each goes his own way, but the fisherman couple are picked up by the same driver and guide as us. We all are driven to the town of Listvyanka. We are arranged to have a home stay here for two nights, the Australians have a hotel here by the lake. Our guide was Lena (same name as in St Petersburg, different person) and she came along with the driver to help us out. The drive to the town is around an hour, and it is pitch black outside so we don't see much.

But as we reach the lake the sun rises above the mountains on the other side. It is a beautiful sight, the skies are clear and we can see the full mountain range of the Khremet dahbar range behind the deep waters of the lake. We are lucky as its seldomly so clear.

First we drop off the Australian couple at their Hotel and then we are dropped off at our home stay/ pension. We got a home in the middle of the long stretching village. It is not quite as authentic as we expected. Books and brochures warned us about wooden houses with no doors and a toilet outside. The house was not like that at all. It had two floors, and the top floor was clearly recently added. Also the 'state of the art' bathroom was a recent addition to please the tourists. Our room had French doors, not a curtain, it must have been an en suite living room in the original house. Our hostess, Olga, spoke a little English. Just enough to tell us how late breakfast was and to close the door or turn off the lights.

Lena stayed with us for a bit to help us getting around the house and to answer any questions. Around ten o'clock we went out for a tour around the village with Lena. First we walked back to the hotel of the Australian couple as they were to join us. After that we walked for about half an hour to the Baikal museum. The museum was really small but quite interesting. On the first floor they had a lot of information on the Lake, on how it is the biggest fresh water lake in the world (measured in content) holding twenty five percent of the world's fresh water supply, here is an idea for export. On the bottom floor they have a few aquariums filled with fish from the Lake, and even a couple of fresh water seals which are like many other species unique to the Lake's ecosystem.

After the museum we headed out to the central village around the area where we were staying. Here we visited the Sankt Nicolais church, which has been moved, twice, from its original location near the Lake to the higher grounds on the village. After the tour we had a small lunch in the cafe around the corner from our guest house. They served a salad of Omul (local lake fish) with unions and a dash of soy sauce which was delicious. The Omul served raw could be served in any sushi restaurant. I found it very similar to herring the way we eat it in Holland, raw with a little onions. But the Omul gets a lot bigger. It would be a spectacular idea to import these fresh water herrings to Holland and raise them in the Ijsselmeer. But somehow I think they would not taste as nice as from the fresh and clean waters of Lake Baikal.

During lunch we decided not to go diving the next day as the water is just too cold and we both have no experience with dry-suits. So Lena arranged a boat ride for us for the next day.

The little cafe is located in the middle of the village and is actually a collection of businesses. It is an Internet cafe, a little liquor shop, a restaurant and a coffee shop. After our lunch we walked north up to the little village harbor. The wind picked up and was blowing the cold air from the waters, it was getting pretty cold. At the harbor we found a little tourist market and some other hotels and restaurants. All very small of course. Reaching the end of the village we turned around and headed back to the house. Here we rested a bit as the train ride and our little excursion has been quite tiring.

Around sunset, and before dinner, we headed back out to make some sunset pictures of the Lake. Dinner was a home cooked meal by Olga, it was simple but nice. Olga made us a dumpling soup and a little salad. Before bed we took a nice shower in the 'state of the art' bathroom. The fixtures were of true Russian quality as one shelf came down when Linda tried to put a small bottle on it, and I was afraid to close the shower cabin as it felt like crumbling in my fingers. But still we survived, and so did the bathroom. We went for an early night as there is not much else to do in the home stay.

And there came the surprise. The beds were as hard as a solid plank of wood. Actually they were solid planks of wood covered with a centimeter thick blanket that supposed to be a mattress. Next to that I barely fitted in the bed, or actually I did not fit in it at all. So my night was extremely uncomfortable, and silently I was wishing I was back in the train, where at least the bunk provided me some rest.

After a broken night we woke up to a lovely sunrise. We hung around the house for the morning having our breakfast and feeling like zombies. Around twelve o'clock we were picked up for our boat ride. It looked like the captain of our boat was a bit late or forgot the ride as he and his first mate hurried to the boat while we waited for a bit.

The boat that took us for a ride was a very old iron fishing boat. First we went south with the wind in our back. It was kind of comfortable on the front deck of the boat where we stayed to enjoy the view. The boat drove to the Baikal port. This is where the initial tracks of the Trans-Siberia express stopped, and people had to take a boat to the other side to continue the journey to Vladivostok, The train was also transported on a boat to the other side of the Lake. Luckily they don't do that anymore as we would have to extend our visit at Baikal Lake for another 5 to 10 days. This is how long it usually took to move passengers and train across. At the port our boat turned around, with the head in the wind. This was less comfortable, so we sought shelter in a little tent at the back of the boat.

Back at the harbor we first went to the hotel across the street. This is the only place in the entire village where they have an ATM. After that we went to get some food. The options are pretty limited, but we found a northern Chinese restaurant close to the harbor. The lanterns that they hung up for mid autumn festival gave the place away.

The food was decent, we ordered some Omul salad, hoping for something as nice as the cafe the day before. We also had a beef dish and a vegetable dish which were both quite nice considering the availability of the necessary ingredients. But when they started mobbing the floor whilst we were just done with our meal, we decided not to go for desserts.

We walked back to the home stay where we rested for a bit. Around three o'clock we saw a couple of backpackers arriving at Olga's place. We were quite surprised that she had room for more people. But she did, the poor buggers were put in the little room behind our room. This room did not have any doors, and the beds were actually couches, as they told us later. We chatted for a bit.

Before dinner our banya was ready, this is a Russian sauna / bath. Olga had a classic one in the back of her garden, and today we were scheduled for one. At the homestay it is either a banya or a shower, but not both at the same day. Something about water being expensive, which I don't get as they are sitting next to one fifth of the world's fresh water.

After the banya it was time for another home cooked dinner made by Olga. We had fried Omul and a boat load of potatoes. It was nice, but I am kind of done with the Omul for now. Too much is too much. We felt that we needed a drink to conquer our wooden plank beds, so we headed out to the bar around the corner for a beer or two. The backpackers joined us and we had a fun night as we chatted a bit and drunk a couple of pints. It turned out that the guy was from Finland and the girl from Austria, but she moved to Finland a while ago.

Back at the home stay, the night was painful again. Tomorrow we will have a good bed we hope, as we have a night in a hotel in Irkutsk.
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