100 Things to do Before you Die
This is one of the top 10.....
Today was up there with one of the most amazing any of us has ever spent. Leonid from Bailkal Explorer (wwww.baikalex.com) collected us from the Angara Hotel at 10am and we drove 300 km north. The landscape became increasingly barren and mountainous. As this region is extremely dry and windy, and it is unseasonably warm, some areas did not have much snow cover. At other times we drove through quite thick patches and once had to engage 4 wheel drive to get through. I was rather worried about this long road trip, knowing what Russian roads and drivers can be like, but the 1st 200km of road was very good and to my relief Leonid was an excellent and careful driver. The highlight was the 8km drive across the frozen ice to the island. We expected it would just look like a snow covered road, but it was clearly a thick layer of ice (about 50-80cm) and was actually quite unnerving. I asked Leonid if a car had ever fallen through and he said "Oh yes, a couple each year and people are killed". Great! He then said we should leave our seat belts off in case a quick exit was required, and said sometimes they also keep the doors open for that reason. We got out for photos and had to walk very gingerly on the slippery surface. Road rules don't apply - they can't be enforced as it is a lake, not a road. However he said people generally "don't joke with the lake". We saw several other vehicles, probably fishermen checking their nets which they string between holes in the ice, kilometres apart.
Tonight we are staying in a guesthouse in the largest village on the island (pop. 1200). It is fairly basic. The reason for no running water is the pipes to the outside loo freeze in winter, so just the "long drop" is available. However due to the inconvenience of rugging up if one needs to make the 50m trek up the backyard past the chooks during the night, there is an emergency Porta Potti (chemical toilet) in the bathroom. There is electricity (since 2005) and a combination of wood stove and electric heater means it is very cosy inside. Dinner was a tasty meal of the local fish, omul, washed down with vodka. I am in a fair bit of trouble with John and Wally. They had decanted half a litre bottle of vodka into a mineral water bottle to save space. I forgot and topped it up with more water..... We drank the first toast this evening and a look of horror crossed their faces as they swallowed. Fortunately they had been to the local store and we had a backup supply. Breakfast is at the incredibly civilised hour of 10am. It doesn't get light till 9am ( this may be my chance for a sunrise blip?) and sunset is about 7pm.
A few facts on Lake Baikal. It is 640 km long, up to 50km wide, 1640m deep and holds 20% of the fresh water on the surface of the earth. It is said a dip in its icy waters prolongs one's life by 15 years. On our last visit I had a paddle so hope that does some good.