Last night we watched “The Long Way Round”, the documentary where Ewan Mc.Gregor and a friend of his film themselves as they drive on motorbikes from London to Magadan. They have two support vehicles, a camera man, and his celebrity status to help them. Otherwise they suffer through similar situations as we did so far. And they also cheat by putting their poorly chosen super heavy motorbikes on trains and trucks to get through the particularly challenging bits.
We tied my metal frame backpacks to my bike’s luggage rack after the hotel breakfast this morning and rode off toward the Baikal Lake. The backpacks held up well, though we mounted them a bit low, so I had to go extra slow in the corners so as not to scrape them on the asphalt. This will have to be improved upon. The weather was chilly in the morning but by the afternoon the sun came out and it turned into a very nice ride; the road was perfect save for a few rough bits.
The lake was a bit disappointing. It is interesting to note that this is pretty much exactly what Mc.Gregor says about it in his film when he goes to see it. Basically it is an enormous and completely wild lake. But because it is so huge one can not really appreciate its size; it is larger than what is comprehensible. It might as well be the ocean. What is off-putting is that it is very hard to get to. There are railroad tracks between the road and the lake, and one has to search hundreds of km-s of coastline for the odd spot where there is a tunnel under the railroad tracks that is not flooded with water, such that one can go under the tracks and walk down to the lake. I do have a few photos of the lake itself and the forests and the railroad tracks which I will add tomorrow. It was really very scenic in a few places though I doubt I have captured it very well — there are probably far better pictures on the internet already.
There are of course a number of villages along the shore, but most of them are inhabited by extremely impoverished people who probably have very little appreciation for how scenic their environment is, and I am pretty sure they very rarely desire to go down to the lake shore. Instead most of them seem to try to sell suspect looking fruits and vegetables to passing motorists.
Really, it is just industrial railway dock yards surrounded by shanty towns. Admittedly, many of the hovels have intricately carved window frames, but that is literally just window dressing. I am sure that the couple of scenic buildings one sees in tour guides really exist, but those few buildings being depicted are the ONLY good looking buildings, and 90% of what one sees is simply absolute squalor. I guess I would make a poor ethnographer, but I am not comfortable photographing the homes of really poor people, so I did not.
Anyway, we stopped over lunch at a conveniently uninhabited stretch of lake shore, and ate some cans of fish with cookies … the same stuff we always eat when we’re between hotel rooms. That was around 3pm. We then set out to drive on until we find a nice camping spot, but by then the sun was shining so much and the road was so nice we did not stop riding until we arrived in Irkutsk around 8 PM. There we checked into a hotel room, because the one thing better than camping out at lake Baikal is not having to camp at lake Baikal. Sorry if this disappoints our dear audience, but sometimes a hot shower and a warm meal is really hard to beat, even by the largest freshwater lake on earth.
Tomorrow we will try to figure out this Trans Siberian Railroad thing, and maybe visit some museums here.