Sunday, 2 October 2011

Healing in Listvyanka

And we're back - after three blissful days in a log cabin on the shore of Lake Baikal, letting our poor bodies recombobulate. And I do mean 'on the shore' - this was the view from our cabin:

A cabin set into a forest-covered hill in the Baikal National Park:

Our cabin's the one behind the massive flowers
It really was the most perfect place to recuperate - a little village on the shores of the oldest, deepest lake in the world.

I know lots of you read this blog for its educational value, so for those of you who haven't heard of Lake Baikal, here are the key facts:
  1. It's big.
  2. Like, really, really big.
  3. Huge.
  4. You probably can't picture how big it is (even though I literally just showed you a picture).
  5. Try this: picture the biggest lake you've ever seen.
  6. Now make it bigger.
  7. Bigger still.
  8. That's how big it is. Probably.
  9. Unless the biggest lake you've ever seen is in fact Lake Baikal.
  10. In which case, you're now picturing a lake which is way too big. So picture it again, but take it back to its original size.
  11. That's exactly how big Lake Baikal is.
That about covers the essentials. Except to say that Lake Baikal contains one third of all the fresh water in the world. One third. And my goodness is the water fresh - it's one of the clearest lakes on the planet.
They pretty much just bottle it and sell it
It's already bigger than all the Great Lakes combined, but still getting bigger all the time. The tectonic plates beneath it are moving apart a few centimetres each year (which is pretty fast for tectonic plates), so that in time it will become the world's fifth ocean, cleaving the continent in two.

When I grow up, I'm going to be an ocean
Perhaps even more extraordinary - two thirds of the fish and plantlife in Lake Baikal are found nowhere else on earth. This diversity has its downsides: it makes ordering in local seafood restaurants extremely challenging.

Um... got any cod and chips?
We'd had some pretty high octane plans for our time in Listvyanka - quad biking, horse riding and various other excursions - but in our fragile state, we took things rather easier. Mostly we just ate incredibly fresh fish, and marvelled at the beautiful lake.

Marvelling, not jumping
They're not kidding
The local delicacy is omul fish (found nowhere else on Earth, naturally) - a white fish which tastes a bit like salmon. Little kiosks selling smoked omul are everywhere - though I didn't snap a picture of their wares, so this one from Wikipedia will give you the gist:

File:Omul Fish.jpg
Like this, but with about 4 million more fish in every direction
About the most active thing we did in the last three days was hop on a fishing boat (for a modest 250 rouble fee) for an hour long cruise along the lake. The fact that we could contemplate getting on a boat tells you how much better we were feeling - though Sammy was a little chilly.

Sam in a hat on a boat
On our way back, we watched a Russian tourist get his 4x4 towed out of the lake, with him and his entire family inside. It's not as though there was a road nearby or anything - this took a conscious decision to drive directly at the lake. You have to wonder what he was hoping would happen. (Something completely amazing, presumably.)
I totally meant to do this
Back at our log cabin, Sam and I also had our first Russian 'banya' - a true Slavic tradition. It's essentially a very hot, wood-burning sauna. Unlike your average sauna, though, you pass the time by beating yourself with dried tree branches (leaves attached) which you've dunked in water. We chose silver birch branches, though other trees were available.

Rinse, beat, repeat
And of course you leave the heat from time to time, to dunk yourself in a pool of ice-cold Baikal water. It may all sound a bit bonkers (and it is) but after our first banya experience we felt (for the first time in days) absolutely brilliant. Naturally I took lots of photos of our naked banya adventure:
It's for your own good
So that was Listvyanka - peace, fish, water, recovery. Did we ever need it.

If you only see one pre-oceanic, 30 million year old lake before you die - make it Lake Baikal.

Number one, so why try harder

1 comment:

  1. Glad you found the best possible location for R&R! It looks heavenly.