We wake up leisurely with Nate and I eventually waking up Svetlana and Vasily. Then a calm breakfast before leaving for the Hydrofoil to Listvyanka. We thought we were waiting for a ride, but we were supposed to be walking to the dock. We arrive just as the hydrofoil is loading...but all is well. We made it. It was a beautiful boat ride despite threatening rain. Champanski on deck helps. When we arrive in Listvyanka, a car picks up our bags, and we walk to the Izba where we will all stay together. It is decent, clean and in one of the most beautiful spots on earth. Everywhere there are beautiful fields of the pink and white flowers of potato plants. Water is brought from a well down the street, and the outhouse seems OK. After a huge small lunch we go to watch the start of the regatta which will sail for 10 days up Baikal. We present a Sheldrake Yacht Club burgee to boat Aris. Pre race activity at the dock looks much the same as in the US but definitely no high tech racing gear is used. After the start of the race, we walk along the shore of the lake and then over a steep hill through the forest. We see the Larch trees for which the area is known. The hike is a bit much for some but we all make it eventually. The reward was a stop at Riva's rooftop bar for a Piva (beer). Back at the house it is time for a banya. Dry sauna, bucket of cold water over your head, steam sauna, another bucket of cold water, then more sauna and Victor beat us with birch leaves soaked in hot water. And of course more cold water after the birch beatings. Then Irina gave us a massage - wow! After a late dinner we go outside and sit around a campfire. Natasha (Victor's partner and our cook) and I talk. She has studied some English but refuses to speak it. I try my hand at Russian, but often turn to Irina for help. Natasha and I have much in common. After a late night walk to dip our toes in Lake Baikal, we finally drop into bed. Another incredible day.
There are supposed to be two small boats to take us across the lake to a campground, however, the boats do not show up. Victor negotiated a ride for us aboard a passenger ferry. After leaving all other passengers at Port Baikal, Captain Sergei let us drive the boat! We presented him with a Sheldrake burgee. He left us on a rocky beach by pushing the bow of the ferry up onto the shore. After climbing a steep and muddy cliff which was wet with rain, we walked through attractive camping areas with platform tents and then to a rustic lodge. The proprietors prepared a huge and delicious lunch of Lake Baikal specialties such as salted omul (Nate's favorite), fried omul, borscht, delicious bread, tomatoes and of course, vodka! Now it is pouring out so we relax and play pool. Later, when the rain slowed down, we went for a walk along the Siberian railway, and into one of the tunnels. When we return, Nate and Andy relax while the girls go for a banya. After the heat, the first two dips were in an icy stream, but the third and forth dips were in Lake Baikal! I finally swam in Lake Baikal, and now I know why people look at you funny when you mention wanting to do that. It was also raining during all these dips. We wash up with soap and hot water, and return to the group for chai (tea) before we leave. The Ferry Neptune has returned for us with Sheldrake burgee flying. The captain gave Nate the company flag with the letters VSRP which stand for East Siberian River Ships Direction. We return to our house in Listvyanka for a good supper of spaghetti, omul, tomatoes and the usual miscellaneous stuff. After dinner, Irina played the guitar and sang her beautiful songs. Then Victor and Nikolai played the accordion. To bed by midnight.
In the morning, we pack to leave this nice place, and after breakfast, go to watch a video at the neighbors house about a yacht available for charter. Something we'd love to do on another trip here. Then we all walk back to the little church to buy souvenirs and birch bark pictures. The artist invites us into her nearby cabin - great herbal smells and a historical samovar which is in Pam's birch bark picture. From here, we walk to the 19 bed hospital for a short tour. There are 4-5 beds per room - no hospital beds or hospital atmosphere - more like a dorm room or hotel. There are great views of the lake from the hospital. The equipment is minimal, and medical care and supplies are quite limited, so any patient who is very ill is sent to Irkutsk. They explain that the system for medication is that the doctor gives a prescription to the family who then tries to obtain the needed medication, brings it to the hospital and provides it to the nurses who administer it. Back at the house we have a great lunch of fish soup, salad and bread - PERFECT! Natasha has been cooking for days. I make her promise she will write to me in English, I will write to her in Russian. On the way out, Natasha gives me a book of Russian poetry which includes two poems by the Artist / Architect / Ladies man / Poet whose house we visited earlier. Next we go to the Lymnology Institute to hear all about Lake Baikal by an English speaking guide. There is an informative exhibit of many of the endemic species. Now off to Irkutsk in a ride from hell with a maniac driver. We stop and tie ribbons on the trees following the Buryat tradition for insuring happiness. When we return to Irkutsk for a very short hour to unpack, pack for Ulan Ude, shower and off to Anatoli's house for dinner and toasts. None of the families have hot water today, however, Svetlana heats water on the stove for us. Thanks, Svetlana. Dinner is delicious and includes Russian salads (chopped vegetables like carrots or beets), meat balls and potatoes, "pirogees" and "fiddle heads" (ferns that tasted like mushrooms - delicious). Finally, we go to the train - we have 2 cabins for 6 of us. After two bottles of champagne the train goes on but I crash.
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