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Green winter in Siberia

Posted on 18 Aug 2013 | 6 comments

We learned from Vitali that Russia has 2 winters: a white winter and a green winter and we had arrived in the green one… Whilst we did have some beautiful days around Lake Baikal, we understood what he was saying as we also had a couple of cold and rainy ones.

Even though we had lost quite a lot of days waiting for Lara to get fixed in UB, we decided to go to Lake Baikal anyway and not cut it out of our trip as we both had been looking forward to going there a lot. It is the world’s deepest lake (nearly 1500m deep) and contains more fresh water than al of the Great Lakes (US – Canada) combined! Apparently we were camped on the warm side as the slow current brings the warmer water up from the south of the lake along the eastern shores. I don’t think I want to feel the temperature on the west side as it was cold enough already.

churches instead of temples in Russia

churches instead of temples in Russia

weird driving in pine forests after the emptiness of Mongolia

weird driving in pine forests after the emptiness of Mongolia

We arrived at Lake Baikal late one evening after an easy border crossing at Kyakhta (we have written about the Mongolia – Russia border crossing if you want to know more about it). It’s light here until well past 11PM and we found a camp site on a sand spit in between a small lake and Lake Baikal. We had made it! It was a beautiful wind still evening and we enjoyed a gorgeous sunset whilst cooking and eating our dinner in our mozzie tent.

finally Lake Baikal after a long drive all the way from Mongolia

finally Lake Baikal after a long drive all the way from Mongolia

that's the top of our awning - full of insects!

that’s the top of our awning – full of insects!

Our next night was spent on the shores of Lake Baikal again after a short day driving, we deserved an afternoon off. We had to move camp once as our neighbours decided to play music so loud after we had set up camp that we couldn’t hear each other speak anymore. But the camp at the second place was perfect.

Jon braving the cold temperature of Lake Baikal for a quick swim (wash)

Jon braving the cold temperature of Lake Baikal for a quick swim (wash)

another campsite at Lake Baikal

another campsite at Lake Baikal

cooking with a view (ugg boots not for warmth but as mozzie protection)

cooking with a view (ugg boots not for warmth but as mozzie protection)

our first campfire of the trip! A bit weird with the sun not setting until well after 10PM!

our first campfire of the trip! A bit weird with the sun not setting until well after 10PM!

we even took some time to relax at Lake Baikal

we even took some time to relax at Lake Baikal

The next morning we got the kayak out again and went for a gentle paddle on Lake Baikal. It was sunny and wind still, perfect! It all looked so beautiful. We even jumped in for a quick swim and washed our hair.

our morning paddle on a wind still Lake Baikal

our morning paddle on a wind still Lake Baikal

I don't think we've ever washed our hair so quickly... the water is freezing!

I don’t think we’ve ever washed our hair so quickly… the water is freezing!

On our way to the Holy Nose peninsula we stopped for lunch in a restaurant just off the main road. We had wanted to try the smoked Baikal fish called omul and the first 2 restaurants where we stopped didn’t have it. We were lucky they didn’t as the sister of the owner of this hotel spoke perfect English, enjoys an outdoor lifestyle and has a husband with a garage in Ulan-Ude. Maria told us all we needed to know about the peninsula, the hikes we could do and the hot springs.

Maria speaks perfect English and becomes our travel advisor

Maria speaks perfect English and becomes our travel advisor

fantastic first Russian meal - smoked omul, potatoes and vegetables

fantastic first Russian meal – smoked omul, potatoes and vegetables

A few hours later we finally reached the national park as we had to wait for more than an hour until we could board the little barge that runs cars across the river Barguzin. It only takes 6 cars at a time and we were number 27 in line. We were lucky then, on the way back it took us 4hrs before we could board (48 cars in front of us plus locals who keep cutting in!).

on the little ferry

on the little ferry

We found a lovely campsite by a small lake just after entering the NP and this time we didn’t have to use the mozzie tent. The mozzies were huge and bad, but when you’re covered up and covered in Deet for the uncovered bits it wasn’t too bad.

the entrance to the National Park on the peninsula

the entrance to the National Park on the peninsula

The next day we started on a section of the Great Baikal trails from Monakovo to Zmjeenaya where the hot springs are. Unfortunately we soon realised this was a bit too ambitious and we turned it into a loop back to the car. Just as we turned around we saw 2 guys we had past earlier: Ivan and Alexander. They both spoke English and we had a quick chat in which they invited us to visit them in Korolyk, a little village on the peninsula. They were staying there whilst doing a project for uni.

wet and windy day for a walk on the Great Baikal Trail

wet and windy day for a walk on the Great Baikal Trail

chipmunk!

chipmunk!

beautiful part of Russia

beautiful part of Russia

pretty flowers

pretty flowers

tent with stove! (or sauna?)

tent with stove! (or sauna?)

We drove out there and also met Vera (their teacher) and Artem. We joined them for a cuppa, cake, biscuits and some stories and before we knew it we were staying for dinner and spending the night with them in the national parks hut. They were all from the geography department of Moscow’s State University and it was great to talk to them and, lucky for us, they preferred beer or wine over vodka too!

Vera having a cuppa - check out the mug!

Vera having a cuppa – check out the mug!

Artem cooked an awesome meal over the open fire in the garden, Jon went off to get some beers in the local store with Ivan and Alexander and I talked with Vera. We talked a lot about all sorts of topics around a flickering campfire, even sang some songs whilst Ivan played the guitar. A shame the stars weren’t out to play too, but a fantastic evening nonetheless!

Ivan and Alexander picking the fish for dinner

Ivan and Alexander picking the fish for dinner

campfire, stories, songs, rain, some beer, some wine and great company - a great night!

campfire, stories, songs, rain, some beer, some wine and great company – a great night!

Baikal beer

Baikal beer

Artem cooking a fantastic meal on the open fire in the garden

Artem cooking a fantastic meal on the open fire in the garden

Jon eats porridge (kasha) for the first time in 10 years and decides it's not so bad after all...

Jon eats porridge (kasha) for the first time in 10 years and decides it’s not so bad after all…

They invited us to join them on a boat to visit the hot springs the next day, but the hot springs were not meant to happen for us. The next day it was pouring with rain and we all decided not to go. Very sad, as we saw the postcard of how it looks on a gorgeous sunny day… we’ll have to find some other hot springs somewhere else.

Then came the hardest part of traveling. Saying goodbye. It’s always sad to say goodbye to new friends, especially people who have opened up their home and heart to 2 complete strangers. People who invite you into their lives, even if it is only briefly. We leave with phone numbers, email addresses and some great memories. We’ll have to make sure we visit Moscow so we can catch up again!

Artem, Ivan, Jude, Alexander and Vera

Artem, Ivan, Jude, Alexander and Vera

We spent our last night camped on Lake Baikal closer to Ulan Ude as we lost the 4 hours waiting for the ferry. The next day we shop and go to a garage to drill out a bolt with stripped thread before driving onto the border again. The same border as a few days ago, but now we go back into Mongolia. (we have written about the Russia – Mongolia border crossing if you want to know more about it)

beautiful drive back

beautiful drive back

6 Comments

  1. Beautiful photos J&J! Jon still looks pretty dubious about that porridge though 🙂 Sounds like some great encounters with beautiful people – always the best travel experiences! BIg love from here!

    • Thanks gorgeous! Where is here?! Back in Oz now? Have you done a Tuesday night run yet ;-)?
      We’ve had more porridge on the trip already since then – can you believe it?! Big hug, Jx

  2. Looks fantastic, so green! Reminds me a lot of Germany. Love the morning paddle picture with the fog.
    Did you give Vera that mug or was she in Brisbane?
    And I think I am having some porridge now after seeing Jon eating some. 😉

    • Vera had been in Brisbane, it was her mug! Unbelievable!
      Enjoy your porridge, I’ll email soon! Jx

  3. Looks like you are continuing to have a fabulous trip!!! You can keep your mossies but the rest of this post looked amazing 🙂

    • Ha, yeah they were so big! One good thing about big mozzies though: easy to find and kill…
      Are you gonna build a house now? Hope I won’t loose you as a neighbour! (And hope the rest of your day will go better than the start!) jx

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