We tried and failed to make it to Bolshie Koty, the 12-mile hike along Lake Baikal. But it was still, as Mark put it at one point, “insanely beautiful.”
We’d read about this hike to Bolshie Koty in our Lonely Planet where there was a lot of excitement about the Great Baikal Trail – a hiking trail they’re building that will eventually circle the lake – so I just kind of assumed a marked trail, or at least some place that indicated where you started. Nada. We took a bus into Listvyanka – which on a beautiful Friday in late spring was quite the lively place – and we’d ask someone about the path. They’d kind of just point up the lake. “That way.”
OK, so we started. Nothing seemed right, though. As beautiful as it was, it just didn’t seem possible that the trail would be this intersecting warren of little paths, some going along the lake, some going up the steep hill. So we tried one route for a while, then tried it further up the hill. At times it was distinctly dangerous; one small slip and you could fall a long way.
After two hours, when we hadn’t seen any sign that we were even on the trail – if there was a trail – and hadn’t seen another soul – if there are souls… – we had this crazy idea: Maybe it wasn’t a good career move to get lost in Siberia. Maybe we should turn back.
Giving up is something of a sacrilege. But at this point in life maybe I’ve learned that giving up might be smarter than, well, getting lost in Siberia. We’d tried every possible path, and couldn’t see that anything made sense. After two hours, there was no reason to believe we were any closer to our goal than when we’d started.
So we turned around. Mark went back to the hotel to do some travel planning (it’s a lot of work figuring out where to stop and where to stay and how long to spend…) and I did some exploring. I tried every possible variation from our starting point in Listvyanka to see if we’d made the wrong turn. We hadn’t. If there was a trail, we had been on it.
Fast forward to dinner. Dave and Hannah of Canada, train, and beer fame were joining us in Nikola for dinner and vodka. They brought a new Russian friend, Anton, and Andy & Jackie (Brits who’d also been on the Beijing-UB train) were staying there, too, so mayhem seemed likely. Before all that got started, though, Dave tells us that they’d done the full 12-mile hike. They ended up following a local guy who was hiking there – it was his town – and so they knew they were on the right path. Damn them! Chances are we’d been on the right path, too, but with no signs and no evidence we decided not to risk it.
Dinner was all you would expect it to be in Russia with seven people, two-and-a-half liters of vodka, and a guy turning disco lights on and playing drums. I paced myself well and did not fall for the Russian’s insistence that when someone toasts you must – must! – empty your vodka glass. It just seems as though contracting out control over liquor volume isn’t smart. And if I were going to do that, I sure as hell wouldn’t contract it out to a Russian! As it happened I was sober enough to veto the exciting but ultimately loony idea of going down to the lake for freezing-cold midnight swim. Nothing good was going to come of that except a great story. I’m fine this morning. Mark’s OK, too, but Dave and the gang are hurting.
Favorite moment before breakfast. It’s 8:15 AM and the cat is howling. Howling. She’d spent yesterday sleeping on the heated bathroom floor, lying on a towel. I check in the bathroom and there she is, but there is no towel on the floor. So I put a towel down, she climbs on and immediately quits howling.
Favorite lines at breakfast. Anton, the Russian guy, to the hotel manager, “I usually don’t drink.” Mark translates for us, but no one believes Anton. That was not the vodka-pounding of an amateur. Dave, the Canadian who occasionally rocks a skirt. “Why did I take my underwear off last night?”