The Fury Of Baikal

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July 26th 2010
Published: August 2nd 2010
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Lake Baikal, the oldest and deepest lake on this planet, as well as providing about 20% of the world's freshwater. Its deepest point is about 1600 meters. Apparently there are 1, 700 species of animal and plant, two thirds of which can be found nowhere else in the world. As a result it has become a Unesco world heritage site.

I went into town and caught a micro-bus to a village off the eastern shore of Baikal, called Goryachinsk. The driver, some big angry man, was giving me shit about my backpack and wanted me to pay for another seat to put it on, but I insisted I'd just hold on to it. I placed it back on the floor when he went to the driver's seat. The town was nice and from what I could see and compare, typically Russian, with small wooden houses dotted along the few roads. Many people come to Baikal during the summer months to vacation, especially from nearby cities like Irkutsk and Ulan-Ude but also as far as Moscow. I began walking down a road, but it turned out to be the opposite of the lake as I found out when I asked a local couple walking by. They spoke surprisingly good English and walked with me to the shore and even helped me carry some things (I had a few bags of food), and then I scouted out a place far from anyone else. I walked around a tiny beach and found a tiny and remote peninsula jutting out with white clean sand and decided it would make a great camp site. The weather was perfect, the water stood deathly still and doubled the sky immaculately. I didn't have cooking equipment, instead I ate beans, bread, corn and the like. Then came a glorious sunset and of course huge fire that resembled a signal fire more than anything else.

At around one AM I put the fire out and went into the tent, and that's when the wind suddenly picked up. Not just a breeze either but some of the strongest gusts I've ever felt in my life! My tent began to cave in, this was the one I picked up in Mongolia, and didn't exactly have the greatest faith in it. Then my tent began to move, even with me and my bags inside it! Rain was falling heavily, thunder boomed like a sub woofer, and when I looked out lightning filled the sky and was striking the lake itself, in fact it struck several times too close to the tent. Yeah I felt pretty safe in my tent by the shore! The sandy beach was the worst place to put the tent pegs and I may as well have not pegged it at all. Even the rocks I had placed on the outside were useless against the shifting sands. So I ran out, grabbed the heaviest rocks I could find and threw them into the tent. Everything, including myself was soaked. Although the tent was secure, I was worried the material would rip apart, or that lightning would take a direct hit at me, or that the tide would creep up and wash me away...

Morning came and it was another beautiful day, albeit a little windy, but no one could have guessed what went on the previous night. Happy I survived, I enjoyed the rest of the day relaxing, swimming, eating more canned food, and drying out my stuff. That evening I made an even bigger fire with the ample wood available around me and hoped I wouldn't have to deal with anymore weather bullshit.

And alas, I didn't have to worry as that night was as quiet as a mouse. I packed up and made my way back to the village. Met some folks with limited English, who were intrigued with me and how I came to be in Russia. Maybe it's because they don't get too many tourists here but this group of young people just couldn't get it as to why I was in Russia or why I was traveling at all. Also met some dude I could hardly understand, but he got across he was from Kyrgyzstan and then showed me some small hot springs from which people were drinking the sulfuric water. He filled a bottle for me and I'll admit, it tasted like ass but I thanked him for the effort, then walked out of the town and hitchhiked back to Ulan-Ude.

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