So, after the night from hell, none of us were in the greatest of moods once we arrived at our first proper stop on the trip. Especially when there was clearly little to no snow. However, that exhaustion gave way once we were actually out on the platform and met up with Honcho no. 2, Dimitri.
Dimitri took us to a bus, and then asked for our passports and 250 rubles. I had to borrow cash since after last night I was down to my last 100 rubles in hand, and went to get us registered. Took about 15 minutes, during which, we all had a good long joke about how we’d just arrived in a Russian city and handed money and passports to a man we had literally just met. Thankfully he returned and the joke remained funny.
The drive from the station to the lake took about an hour, but honestly couldn’t tell you anything because like everyone else, I spent my time sleeping on the bus. Though difficult to complain to Dimitri, who’d just come off a 24 hour shift at his other job, and would be going back once he was done honcho-ing us after 3 days.
Was awake just in time to get the first real look at Lake Baikal though:
This is the deepest freshwater lake in the world. There’s enough water here to hydrate the world’s entire population for the next 35 years. And (normally) gets so cold here that in January, the entire thing freezes over with close to 2 metres of ice. Kind of sad I’m going to miss that – the water’s so clear it must be amazing to see.
However right now it’s just pretty, and we get a decent enough view from the chalet we’re staying in (non-moving accommodation for the next 2 nights!). And best of all? Showers! 2 of them! We got an hour and a half to freshen up, and each and every one of us were bolting for hot water. Now very frustrated with my hair – got it clipped before I left, but knew it wasn’t cut short enough. Might see if anyone in China or so is willing to clip it.
Once we all felt like human beings again, Dimitri took us on a walk along the Lake, and into a small cafe for Lunch. I took a chance on the omus – a fish caught from the lake – with boiled potatoes. Tatties turned out to be fried, but I wasn’t complaining, and the fish was lovely. Wasn’t anything to write home about, but after days of microwaved red meat it was wonderful to have something different. Sadly my risks on dessert weren’t so well matched. Picked a spongy/creamy looking cake, and it was nice right up until I took a bite of something distinctly peppery and lost any desire to finish it. The others tried this little ball of cookie and coconut and caramel that I wished I’d chanced.
After lunch was more walking, heading towards what was probably a ski slope most of the time. Normally at this time of year, the weather is close to -20 and there’s several feet of snow on the ground. However the heatwave of the summer seems to have continued, and it was fluctuating between -5 and 5 degrees. So what little snow they DID have…was melting half the time. On the plus side, at least I had enough layers, downside, I wasn’t seeing the snow I’d been expecting.
We took a one way trip up the slope on a chair lift, then had a drink in the cafe up top before making our way down. By this point it was time to head back and get ready for the evening’s entertainment. Namely, a sauna and dinner.
Nobody really knew what to expect when it came to the sauna. Only one of us had ever done it before so we were going in with bare facts. Everyone made the mutual decision to wear swimsuits (with the exception of one brave soul who hadn’t brought one), although our honcho went with nothing but the traditional towel. They also took a bottle of beer a piece, and I was quickly regretting not bringing a drink myself – it was HOT.
It was the train cabin taken to 11. I wasn’t the first to snap, but after about 10-15 minutes I’d had it, and bolted out into the cool air for a few minutes. However, the trick to sauna’s are to go in and out for the heat changes – and since this was a traditional sauna, when I heard Dimitri pick up the birch branches, I slipped back in to watch the show.
Basically, someone takes a bunch of birch branches (with leaves) that have been soaked in water, and slaps them against your legs and back while you lie down. After a few minutes, you stand up and he repeats the process. Then you leave the nice warm sauna, face away from the good birch man…who then takes a bowl of ice cold water and splashes you with it before you flee outside to roll in the snow. We didn’t have snow, so we settled for cold air.
It is a LOT of fun, and you do feel great after the sauna. However after about an hour we were all done, so crawled back into the chalet to shower and have dinner. Felt a little bad for the woman who’d cooked it – by the time we were ready and in the kitchen it was 10pm, and one member and our honcho didn’t show for at least another half hour as they were the last out. That said, meal was fantastic. Little salad followed by a chicken and potato type soup and little vanilla cream-cheese like pastries. I wasn’t that hungry, but the food was too good not to eat up (and I’d paid quite a bit for it too).
Ended up in bed just after one, with knowledge we were to be up for breakfast at 10. Relatively certain everyone is going to struggle with that.