We arrived in Irkutsk off our two-night train journey and headed straight to Listvyanka, a small village on the shores of lake Baikal. We stayed for four nights in an apartment with funky wallpaper and groovy lampshades. It also had beautiful views of the lake from the kitchen window.
Other tourists stayed in the three-bedroom apartment for a night at a time, but most seemed keen to get back to the city, whereas, we were very happy to stay by the lake. We did very little – most days we walked along the lake towards the village (about 1.5km walk) and found a place for Pete to skim stones along the way, I liked to sit down and just stare out at the great expanse of water and all the different shades of blue. In the village we bought provisions and then took them back and cooked.
We managed to feed a couple of hungry vegetarians on our second night. On our final night we bought some whole, smoked omul fish at the market and cooked them with some vegetables, lemon juice and rice. The omul fish is native to the lake. It has a mild flavour and is really popular in all the restaurants. Sitting having our dinner in the kitchen overlooking the lake was perfect.
One afternoon, on our ramble along the lake, we came across the most amazing picnic I’ve ever seen. They had flowers in the middle of the table and three-tiers of fruit on one of those cake stands that if you’re lucky you’ll find in English tea-shops. The happy group was willing to have a photo taken.
I was also excited to see some stars; more than I’ve seen for a long time. It doesn’t get dark until after midnight but we made a special effort one evening and were greatly rewarded.
It has been fantastic to get away from the cities and I’m keen over the rest of our journey to keep doing that whenever we can.
Lake Baikal is big. We visited the Baikal museum and I wrote down some stats while I was there. I’m not normally into numbers so much but these are kind of impressive.
The lake is 636 kilometres long (that’s about the distance from London to Aberdeen in Scotland and 100 km more than the distance between Brisbane and Rockhampton). It’s width varies between 27 and 80 kilometres and it’s maximum depth is 1637 metres (making it the deepest fresh water lake in the world).
The volume of Lake Baikal is what I find most impressive. It’s also the thing that I find most difficult to comprehend. I have trouble grasping the concept of even one cubic kilometre. If I imagine myself walking for a kilometer, then turning right and walking for another kilometre and then walking vertically up for another kilometre I can almost comprehend one cubic kilometer – I mean if I can walk vertically up I can do anything right? So already I think of one cubic kilometre of water as being “a whole lot of water”. But 23000 of them – nope, no chance – sorry, I’m out of the game.
Susan put the volume statistic in perspective for me. She read that if all of the world’s fresh water supplies ran out except for what’s in Lake Baikal, there’d be enough water for the world’s current population to survive for 40 years. That is of course assuming that the water is distributed evenly which sadly would almost certainly not be the case.
Another important thing to know about Lake Baikal is that it can leave a guy like me with one hell of a sore arm. All that water surrounded by all those flat stones just begging to be involved in a comparative study of skimmability (I think it looks better with two m’s). We spent a lot of time on the lake shore and it’s lucky for me that Susan likes to sit and look out over the water for hours on end. I don’t want to give the wrong idea though – I didn’t spend all my time throwing rocks in the water. I reckon I spent an almost equal amount of time looking for the perfect stone.