When I was about 17 or so we took a family holiday to Crete. One day my Dad and I got up at 4:30 or something to get a coach to go for a walk down the Samaria Gorge. This basically involves a long walk down a steep hillside, switchbacking down before a flatter hike out to the sea and a boat to take us back. Being adorable I decided to do ‘ski jump turns’ down this steep track. I still recall the look my Dad gave me. Let’s go with ‘exasperation’, shall we?
Anyway, 16 years and a large number of beers and pizza later Amy and I were hiking back from Bolshiye Koty. This is about a 25km hike, relatively flat by the coast of Lake Baikal and then up and over an 800m hill to Listvyanka. I’d been puffing along quite reasonably given the 12kg pack on my back (although significantly aided by the fact that it was~16C and not 28C as it had been two days earlier when we’d gone the other direction). 4 hours in we started climbing, and I was given a taste of my Cretian medicine as I turned a corner to see my far too chirpy wife waiting for me and doing a Beyoncé dance to ‘Put A Ring On It’. Despite my protestations that I did in fact ‘put a ring on it’ I endured this way too happy for so much walking dance with a look I call ‘withering joy’.
It was lovely out in Lake Baikal and a great break from the city hopping that we’d previously done. Our initial hike was knackering, but utterly beautiful. We got out to our remote destination in time for a sauna, a couple of beers and some photos of the milky way. Pretty sweet. The next day was recovery from our previous exertions, but sadly not much else. Something about the beginning of September caused the temperature to drop from 28C to 13C. Rainclouds gathered overhead and we broke out a few extra layers for the first time on the trip.
Lake Baikal is a pretty interesting place, allegedly if all the drinking water in the world was tainted, it could still quench the world’s thirst for 40 years! We filled out water bottles direct from the lake which is at best 15C. One of the slightly odd things is the total lack of traffic on the lake. A couple of ferries play their way up and down and there are a handful of fishing boats, but that’s it. It was very surprising to see no sailing boats at all – especially as it would have been perfect for sailing. Maybe they’re on the other side – at the more ‘beachy’ resorts.
Deciding that we were going to have walk significant amounts at high altitude in a month’s time anyway, we decided to trek back a day early rather than wait for the boat. This was a great experience (Amy’s taunting dancing aside) as we completed the walk in an hour and a half less, sorted our bag weightings and adjustments and enjoyed a very peaceful time – we only saw one other couple on the whole trek back. Staying the night in Listvyanka we enjoyed a nice dinner (mercifully low on dill – more on this Russian obsession at a later date). This morning (Tuesday) we were able to sate Amy’s desire to see nerpas (a kind of fat, cute seal native to Baikal) as we attended a performance of them scoring waterpolo goals, playing the saxophone, painting, and fetching plastic flowers for each other. Narrated entirely in Russian, it was bizzare, but endearing. We then hopped in a passing minibus to take us back to Irkutsk. Tomorrow we catch a train to Mongolia, saying goodbye to Russia!