|Intro to the group: Zach, Brandon, me, Haley, Daniel, Adam, and Steve|
June 7th is City Day in Irkutsk, and I was sad to miss it. I’ve never been in Russia on a public holiday with celebrations and it looked like it was going to be a big one! It was their 353rd year as a city. However, our program thought it would be best to let us “escape the madness” so we went to Lake Baikal.
Lake Baikal is pretty impressive. It is a UNESCO world heritage site. If the entire human population was to need to live on the freshwater in Lake Baikal alone, it would last 50 years. There are over 2,000 endemic (native only to Baikal) species in/around this lake, including both plants and animals. It’s about an hour drive or so away from Irkutsk. The river that flows through Irkutsk is the only river out of 334 that flows OUT of Baikal rather than into it.
However, we weren't just driving straight there. We were stopping by two museums along the way. The first was the Taltsy Museum of Architecture and Ethnography, which even lonely planet calls “impressive.” It is essentially an open air museum of structures that were in danger of being demolished in the surrounding region, but are of great cultural importance, so they were simply moved, refirbed a bit and made into a tourist trap. A fun and very enlightening tourist trap, to say the least.
It was a brisk summer day (read in the 50s) when we got there with our tour guide. It was pretty cool to see all of the structures and learn a little about how traditional houses were built in Siberia. The families would often sleep on the chimney/fireplace for cooking because that at least stayed warm. They were tiny log cabins with itty bitty doors and windows (not because people were shorter or anything, but because they were smart and knew that smaller doors meant less heat would escape and they would be warmer.
We got to learn fun facts, like in the olden times, homesteads were taxed on the number of yards they had, so families would build the house together and mom and dad would live with son and wife (and you thought modern Mother in Laws were supposed to be bad…)! Also, the number of barns you had and if your inner yard was covered in wood were status symbols. Or the fact that the windows were originally made out of this clear mineral found locally whose name totally escapes me.
We got to see a school, church, fortress, houses, and even a Mongol round house. However, the most fun part was the swing set they had that a bunch of college students (ahem, me included) decided would be fun to play on right next to the small children- definitely got some weird looks. But it was pretty awesome. You really would need a friend to play with, or it would be super difficult.
Then after a quick bite to eat (did I mention how delicious blini/crepes with condensed milk are? No, well they are AWESOME!), we headed out to the Baikal Museum/Research outpost, dedicated to the scientific research on Baikal. There are a ridiculous number of endemic species in Lake Baikal and this museum/research outpost is dedicated to them. The most famous are the nerpa (нерпа) seals. They are the only freshwater seals in the world. They look a little bit like a giant torpedo.
After the museum we went up a ski lift to see the lake from the top. It was pretty awesome views and made me extincted for the hike!
Then we bought some food to make for dinner, followed by just relaxing at the hostel. The boys decided they wanted to jump in Lake Baikal, so we made a quick excursion to do that…across the street from the hostel. It was a kind of early night, since we had to be up the next day bright and early for our 9:30 am 18 km hike.
See you around the globe!