Feeling 'At Home'
Walking along the main street.
Picnicking on Lake Baikal.
A Siberian sunset.
September 23, 2006
I thought I was upset about our train ride coming to an end. But I realized I was wrong…
It was extremely nice seeing something other than a train cabin, a train hallway or a train platform. After all, those were our three
options for the past fifty hours. And the last one (the platform) was only enjoyed every four or five hours for about twenty minutes
at a time.
Don’t get me wrong. At the time it was excellent. But now being in a home. On a bed. Sitting at a dining room table and eating a
meal. Being able to pull things out of my suitcase. These are all things that are very much appreciated right now.
After about an hour’s drive from the train station in Irkutsk, we ended up at Rita’s house which is just meters away from Lake
Baikal in a town called Listvyanka. If charming little wooden Siberian houses are your thing, this is a town for you. This is where our
homestay is for the next two days.
A little piece of trivia: Lake Baikal is the world’s deepest lake – about 5,371 feet deep. That’s over a mile, people! Another piece of
info: if the world ran out of drinking water, this lake could supply the world’s entire population for the next forty years. I’m no
expert…but that sounds like a heck of a lot of water to me! Just thought I would share these fun facts for those who are interested.
I cannot stress how nice it feels to be in a home. In an actual bedroom. I knew about this homestay but I had something entirely
different pictured in my mind. Because we were going to be out ‘in the middle of Siberia’ I was thinking that we could possibly be
without electricity and some of the other comforts from home. I was totally wrong. It is so comfortable here. In fact, it is almost too
comfortable. I took two naps today! Because it is pretty cold out here and raining a bit, my body has slipped into winter mode. Don’t
get me wrong – I didn’t hibernate all day today. I did get out and about and walked along the lake into town. Strolled through some
markets. Hung out along-side cows. Yup, more cows on the streets out here. But unlike in India, these cows have a little more meat
on their bones (no pun intended). It is nice to see healthy cows. Healthy cows mean happy cows in my book. In India, I had gotten
so used to seeing the outline of their ribs that it no longer phased me. But those days are over, I now see. These cows are filled out
One difference I have noticed with homes out here is that bathroom set-up. There are no toilets within the house. We go outside to
use them. And bathing is an entirely different thing out here as well. We sit in a banya (the equivalent of a sauna) for a while and
then bathe either using a bucket filled with water or we can use the showerhead that is built into the wall of the banya (apparently
this showerhead is somewhat of a treat and not every banya has one). Because of the warmth of the banya, I actually took my first
voluntary cold shower…and boy did it feel good!
And as for the food situation, I think Rita had a bit too much time on her hands before we got here because we are getting fed way
too well. I actually know it had nothing to do with actually having too much time and more with the fact that it is just the customary
thing out here to serve a lot of food. The motto of this area should be ‘Eat, eat’. For breakfast we had lemon cake, bread with cheese
and salami and biscuits. For lunch we were served a hearty soup - which I assumed was our meal. I was wrong. We were then
served a sautéed fish fillet and an excellent cucumber/tomato/dill salad. And then came dessert of more lemon cake and biscuits.
For dinner we had plate-fulls of mini-pieroshkies (ravioli-like things) and tomatoes with an excellent cheese on top. And then more
biscuits and small cakes for dessert.
September 24, 2006
Today was our day o’ hiking out here. And, for once, the weather gods decided to do things in our favor. We awoke to cloudy skies at
9am and the sun made those clouds disappear by the time 11am rolled around. All was good in Siberia.
Sasha – the man of the house we were staying in – was our guide for the hike. We hiked to the top of a mountain and through a
Siberian forest before we ended up at a beach on Lake Baikal for our picnic. We laid on the stones (and some brave souls even
numbed their feet and legs by entering the water) while we waited for lunch to be prepared. There are no words to describe how
great it felt to have the sun beam down on us.
On the route that we took back to the village, we had sweeping views from above the lake for almost the whole duration. This made
it challenging as to whether to look down and pay attention where we were stepping or to look out at the crystal-blue lake. What is a
person to do??? In this situation, it was definitely the smartest idea to look down. This was one of the more challenging hikes I have
done - not in terms of steepness but because the leaves on the ground were all slippery due to the rain yesterday. In normal
situations, it is no big deal to slip and fall here or there. But the fact the ‘path’ (that is a pretty generous word for it) was maybe one
foot wide and one entire side dropped off almost all the way down to the lake, there was definitely reason to worry about a possible
slip. I was just thankful that nobody in our group had a fear of heights. This would have definitely put them over the edge (just
realized the pun – not intended at all).
Before we knew it, we were back at the village. We would realize that Sundays in Listvyanka clearly go into full swing. The
picnicking tables were all filled with people hanging out and drinking their beer and vodka. People sat all along the beach doing much
of the same thing. The general consensus was to head to the bar on the lake and grab some well-earned Baltika 7’s (their local beer).
The main street that was so empty when we left for our hike earlier in the day was now almost impossible to navigate our way
through with the traffic of all of the cars. Of course this wouldn’t be a problem for us. We got to the bar, grabbed a great table and
put back a couple. Slowly people started heading back, one by one, to use the banya. I was more than happy to be the last one in my
house to use it – after all, that meant that I wouldn’t have to rush my time knowing that nobody was waiting for me to finish. It
turned out I was able to see the sun set over the snow-capped mountains while in the banya. Sooo beautiful. The only thing that
ruined it a bit was the fact that I was more than ready to pass out. But I couldn’t because Rita was serving us dinner as soon as my
banya was over. We were far from being a fun group. Personally, I just found that it was taking so much effort just to speak.
Everybody decided to go to the bar afterwards. I had no idea how they were going to do it. Was I the only person that the beer took
a toll on a few hours ago? I gladly opted out of the bar in exchange for curling up in my warm bed.
I can’t even believe that I am journaling right now. I guess it has just become a habit. But now it is time for some shut-eye.
September 25, 2006
I woke up today with a big headache. A really big headache. And I don’t like it. I just ate breakfast and popped an Excedrin
Migraine. The pain in my head is slowly going away. I am hoping that in twenty minutes it will be a thing of the past.
In a few minutes, we head out of our lakeside town and into the bright lights and big city of Irkutsk. Okay… So there probably aren’
t many bright lights and it is probably far from how we view a ‘big city’. But I am in Siberia. So I am now speaking strictly in