Thursday, January 29, 2009

From the Shores of Lake Baikal...

Greetings from Lisvyanka!

Today was, in a word, awesome. Towards the end of yesterday our guide arranged for us to go dog sledding at noon today, which, after breakfast, was exactly what we did. It was unbelievably cold when we set out, well below zero with the windchill and we were walking straight into that wind. So, so cold. So so so so so cold. The fog on Ed's sunglasses turned to ice within moments and when our hands were out of the gloves to adjust something they went numb within moments. Cold. After what seemed like an eternity walking into the cold cold wind (have I mentioned it was cold yet?) we reached the dog sledding place.

Here we not only got to ride in, but also drive a dog sled for a 5 km run. The dogs were extremely friendly and just overwhelmingly excited at the chance of running. There are 54 of them in little huts and each one of them is barking constantly; totally frustrated when they don't get chosen to be hitched up. Eight dogs are selected and harnessed up over about 100 feet of rope at intervals (except for the two closest to the sled) with the best and most clever dog at the very front. As my driver explained to me in half-decent English, it is important to stagger by gender as the males will fight to try and outdo one another if they are next to each other. The males are important for the run however as they have greater strength, but the females are equally as important as they have greater stamina.

The trip took us about 20 minutes and was a ton of fun. We both of course managed to flip our respective dog sleds and fall into the snow, but I gather that happens a lot with people who don't do this with some regularity. The trick is, that when the dogs turn left or right, you two lean left or right. Which totally defies instinct as you naturally want to lean away from the rapidly tilting sled in an attempt to stay upright. a mistake. So, the things one learns in life.

After this we took a hike into "town" and went to a hotel with the only ATM in all of Lisvyanka; because everything in this place runs on cash and as citizens of this 21st century world, Ed and I assumed we would find an ATM everywhere, or that credit cards would be accepted. Turns out that isn't the case. At any rate we had a pleasant and much warmer walk to the marina (yay walking with the wind!) and happened to run into the two Aussies from the train, Matt and Linton. At some point along the walk back we convinced them to come snow mobiling with us. It took about 20 minutes, two cellphone calls, a lot of hand signals and one of three Russian words we knew to get a guide to take us on a two hour excursion into the forests of Siberia.

The Australians hopped on one while Ed and I grabbed our own (us being too tall to share and all). My badass vehicle managed to die everytime they started it, which didn't particularily seem to bother the guide or his coworker any. Damned Russian technology. However, I discovered if I just keep revving the gas it will all be OK. The trip itself was amazing. We headed way out into the forest and stopped at a completely secluded point. The guy took this opportunity to suck down a pack of cigarettes while Ed, Matt, Linton and I took some pictures, laughed about how much fun we were having and share some Pringles (courtesy of our Australian comrades).

Then it was back on the road! Or rather path. The trip back was amusing in that myself and both Australians mangaged to fall off our respective snow mobiles while trying to navigate the ruts in the road and Edward managed to completely kill his. As we speak his vehicle sits abandoned and alone about 20 km outside of the town (I guess they'll deal with it in the morning). In case anyone was worried, falling off of a snow mobile results in a person going from driving it, to leaning away, to sitting on the snow slightly confused. Totally painless and not at all dangerous. At least here.

The views were amazing. We snaked our way through the trees and covered a great deal of land. We were surrounded the entire time by leave-less birches and tall, sky-scraping pines. Looking out through all the trees and seeing the light stretch past the branches was really, really beautiful. Ed managed to convince the guide to take a third stop so he could hike about and take some pictures. (I remained on my snow mobile revving it wiht the hopes that I would not end up like Ed's ride...alone and abandoned 20 km from civilization...Damned Russian technology).

All-in-all today was really very special. The rest of the night consists of eating dinner and taking another trip to the banya (the best way to a deep deep sleep). Edward is in the dining room drinking tea and writing a few postcards. He sends his regards to everyone. As I'm writing this I'm trying to get a video to load of our walk out on Baikal yesterday. In case the sound doesn't transfer it's just me talking to all of you and showing everyone the sights of the lake. I took more video footage today when we went out but I won't show that because A. it will take forever to load a second video and B. it shows ice cracking which might not totally convince Mom and Dad I am capable of making halfway decent decisions. (Really, I am).

Good morning, good afternoon and goodnight to all of you. I will write again tomorrow from the Victory Hotel in Irkutsk.


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