Green winter in Siberia
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!).
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 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.
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!
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!
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!
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)