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The Travel Journal of Jacqui and Lars

 

Russia - 17 August, 2003

 

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Location Latitude Longitude Elevation

Travel Distance

Start Listvyanka (home stay) N5150.800' E10452.370' 457 meters .
Listvyanka pier . . . 5 km (by car)
Ferry on Lake Baikal . . . 15 km (by ferry)
Port Baikal . . . .
Circumbaikal train ride . . . 220 km (by train)
Irkutsk train station . . . .
Finish Irkutsk (home stay) N5217.461' E10416.812' 433 meters 5 km (by car)

Total (by train):

7,342 km

Total (Mongolia):

2,880 km

Total (Kamchatka):

1,339 km

Total (other):

314 km

Total:

11,875 km

 

Weather: Overcast and cool.  Brief rain showers in the morning.

 

 

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As our ferry does not leave until 11 AM, we can have a nice relaxing start.  Which is nice, as it gives us time to enjoy the large and good breakfast prepared for us by our host.  We have stacks of blinny, and cakes and eggs and a salad.  The jam is home made and is delicious - we must make a big dent in her supply.

 

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She then gives us a lift down to the pier - it is a couple of kilometers away and would make a nice walk along the lake shore, but with the rain, it is better to drive.  Other than the weather, the drive along the lake shore is only disturbed by the outrageously ugly huge homes recently built by the new wealthy Russians (mafia we are told).  We can only hope that not many more of the old, wooden houses are torn down to make room for these monstrosities.  We arrive at the pier at 10:30 AM and buy a few light snacks before boarding the ferry.  We had debated buying some of the smoked omul, but we have no where to put it.  They would stink up our bags.

 

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After paying our fare, the ferry heads off, a bit late, into the lake and towards Port Baikal on the other side of the head of the Angara River.   Lake Baikal needs some describing.  It contains nearly one-fifth of the world's fresh water supply and is the world's deepest lake - 1,637 meters at its deepest.  The lake was formed through the collision of two tectonic plates that left a rift 9 km deep.  During the last 25 million years, over 7 km of sediment has built up on the bottom.  The lake will continue, however, to get larger and deeper as the two plates are currently slowly separating, breaking the Asian continent into two.  It will then become the world's fifth ocean.  We were just hoping that our rusty and well worn ferry would not sink and send us to the bottom of this icy lake.

 

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After about a thirty minute ride across the lake, we arrive at Port Baikal.  Our train is waiting for us there.  We have no tickets, but we are told that we should be able to buy them onboard.  At first, it seems like a problem as they only let on those with tickets, but finally we are allowed to board and grabs some seats and pay for them.  We decide to sit in second class - it turns out to be the best place.  Not as crowded for most of the journey.

 

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Our circumbaikal train departs shortly after noon.  We will be traveling along the old track that was completed in 1905.  When the Trans-Siberian trains first started running, the passengers and trains had to be ferried across the lake to the other side to carry on their journey.  This, however, proved to be a problem.  The lake freezes over for many months in the winter and storms at other times would make the crossing impossible.  The strategic importance of building a track around Lake Baikal was realised in 1904 when the Russians could not transport troops to the front during the Russo-Japanese War.  They tried to lay tracks across the frozen surface, but the ice cracked and the train crashed through and sank.

 

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So, this track that we are currently on was built at huge expense and effort. This remaining 94 km of the track goes through 39 tunnels and over more than 200 bridges.  And it turns out to be a fantastic and thrilling ride.  The weather has improved and we get some views of the lakes.  This is purely a tourist train (filled with Russian tourists - there are only a few foreigners) and it takes quite some time to cover the 94 km.

 

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We make frequent stops along the way, many times in the middle of nowhere.  We can walk down to the water's edge and stick our toe in (too cold for much more than that).  Some stops are at the edges of tunnels and we can walk into the tunnels.  Or check out the nearby forests.  It seems many of the locals take advantage of the stops and go and hunt for mushrooms.

 

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We also stop in some villages and can wander around the old, wooden houses.  We are actually quite surprised that the locals have not begun to sell some local produce, such as berries or jam or mushrooms, to the tourists that pass through. As we go along, the train also makes frequent stops to pick up additional passengers (hikers and campers) along the way.  A few got off, but many more got on.

 

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As we slowly chug along, we can at times look into the lake and far below the surface.  The waters of the lake are incredibly clear and remain so, other then for some highly polluted areas around a few of the towns on the shore.  The train winds it's way along the cliff faces that must have been so hard to carve out of the rock.  One can see why they wanted to avoid building this stretch if they could.  Along the way, we make a couple of trips to the small dining car to get some beer and snacks.

 

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Just before 8 PM, almost eight hours after pulling out of Port Baikal, we arrive at Fulkuk and then Slyudyanka at the western end of the lake.  While the train carries on back up to Irkutsk, most people seem to get off here.  We sit back and wait for the train to leave as a few people join the train here.  We have a very drunk couple come up to us and insist on sharing their fresh, raw omul and lousy beer with us.  They would not take a polite no for an answer and even tried forcing us to drink the beer.  After a while, they left us alone.  As it is the end of a Sunday, there are quite a few people who have had too much to drink on this train.

 

We have almost another three hours to go to get to Irkutsk.  We are really getting to know this stretch of the trans-Siberian - this is our fourth time on this stretch of the track.  This a pretty quiet ride and as it has gotten dark, there is not too much for us to see.  We arrive at the Irkutsk station just after 11 PM.  We had arranged to be picked-up as it is so late at night, but they had not arrived yet, so we waited by the front door.  A few bums and drunks and bums harassed us for a smoke or some money, but it was not too bad.  Not the worst train station we have been in at night.  Artem finally arrives (our train apparently arrived early) and we hop into the car and make our way to the home stay.

 

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The home stay is a short distance out side town, so it is not the best location, but the family that we are staying with is very nice.  Despite it being so late, Tamara and her son Sergey welcome us with tea, bread and jam.  Well, not really jam - just fresh strawberries that had been pressed.  It was fantastic - hope we did not eat up too much of their supply.  Then it was time to head off to sleep.  It had been a long, but fun, day.

 

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