As mentioned before, right after the first stage of our trip on the Transsib, we went on a hike. For this we were taken with our guide, Sergej (who was kind of mandatory, since you need a hiking permit for the Pribaikalskiy National Park – where Bolshiye Koty is located – and that way we could get that and find our way to the destination), along a road on the shores of the Angara river (the only flow away from Baikal Lake, which is actually more a barrier lake before Irkutsk at this point) to Listvyanka, a very small town at the point where Lake Baikal changes/flows to the river/barrier lake.
In Listvyanka we had a small breakfast and left our main luggage in hope that the travel agency will bring them to our home-stay in Irkutsk. Right after that we put our trousers into our socks (to prevent tick collecting) and hit the road… well, the trail. Hiking is one way to get to Bolshiye Koty, the other one is over the lake, either by ferry or by car, the later only in deep winter of course.
The first part was also the hardest. We had to hike up some very steep hill through the woods from 520 m to 867 m absolute altitude. That made us feel quite old (some youngers felt older), so Sergej took the time to explain a bit about the local flora on this mountain. A lot of stuff still seems to be used by locals for flavoring, salads and herbal medicine. We also learned why there are so many birch forests along the Transsib, they just grow fast and indicate a young forest.
Once we were at the top of this mountain chain (all without breathing gear) we could catch the first glimpse of Baikal Lake. Marvelous, but still a lot of trees between us and the water. We descended again into one of the many valleys on the shores. From there we finally could get close to the water, to your first bay. There we had a small lunch and after a while a group old elders joined us. We hiked past the on the way up and now they have catched up. We shared some food (well, since all we had was the stuff Sergej brought, they did most of the sharing) and spiced up our food with fresh bear’s garlic. We took some first photos of the lake and hiked on. That wasn’t even half of the way so far.
The next few hours we had a lot of ups and downs on the trail, but the view was fantastic on both sides of the trail. Beautiful forests on one side and the vast Baikal Lake on the other. At times you might’ve thought to be at the Croatian Adriatic. We met the elders several times and learned that the were doing their hike along with some photos that seemed like promotion as part of the Great Baikal Trail (Большая Байкальская Тропа; short: ББТ), which is being created by volunteers since 2003.
Of course we met other hikers as well, but since they were usually going into the opposite direction, we were just exchanging greetings.
After a long hike (which was actually just ~4:30 hours pure walking time, plus maybe 1:30 hours breaks, but felt longer), we arrived in Bolshiye Koty. A tiny (about 40 locals), rural, backwater (in the truest meaning of the word) settlement (village would sound too big) with a ferry stop, a research center (Biostation #1, run by Irkutsk State University), a small natural museum, one shop, as well as some small hostels and home-stays. We stayed at the Bolshiye Koty Chalet, the only House with running water. Coincidentally (?) the Chalet was run by Natascha, Sergej’s mother. She gave us a warm welcome, was very nice and – as Sergej – spoke very well English. We had a very nice room and most importantly: A shower!
After we decompressed and relaxed a little, we went to the dinning room for dinner. There we met five other welcoming people who all (but one) spoke German. Rahel and Andrea were from Switzerland (we’ll count that as “spoke German” for simplification) and a couple with a toddler who’s names we never got. Well, the first story was that they were the Au Pair of the Swiss ladies, taking care of the toddler for them, which is better than relying on social security. (I was waiting to see if the story would get a little political flavor regarding Russia’s agenda against LGBT, but they blew their cover before that.) We had some interesting discussion and exchanges with them for a while, till we parted and went back to our room. And here’s the only problem we had out there. We shrank our luggage to the most mandatory things. Nothing for entertainment like a simple book. And without internet connection… let’s say we went to sleep early.
The next day after breakfast we set out for a small hike along Baikal Lake. At some parts we encountered Rahel and Andrea, just like we did with the elders on the day before. But at one gravel beach they stayed behind, while we walked a while longer. Soon after we left we heard them screaming, for they tried to take a swim in the Lake Baikal. Apparently it was to cold for them, because from the distance we could notice their small figures taking short dips in the lake.
According to a story we heard the evening before, it adds ten years to your lifespan if you swim in the lake for one minute. Of course we were planning to do that as well, so after we figured we had done enough hiking, we went down to the next beach and rushed into the water.
OH HOLY SH****T THAT’S FRICKIN’ COLD!!! WE’RE GONNA DIE!!
Well of course we stayed there like the tough men we are but figured that ten years are enough for starters. If we want to live longer, we can always come back, so we left the water nonchalantly, let the sun dry us and strolled back to the chalet. We have no idea
how cold what the actual water temperature was, but according to some websites (it’s on the internet, so it must be true) and considering the little sunshine and time of the day, we figure something about 6-8° C.
At the chalet we had some tasty lunch (called chicken roulette, which is most likely a loose translation), said our good-byes and explored Bolshiye Koty. Not that there is much to explore, but we took some photos of the free roaming cows, visited the museum and… well that’s it, we went for the ferry. Over the last few hours some dark clouds arrived over the settlement and as it started to rain, we took our seats in the ferry and waited for it to leave for Irkutsk. During our wait and during the trip with the ferry, the weather got worse and worse. But we’ll continue at this point the next time.
To finish this post, a little something for the ladies and of course everyone else who enjoys flowers.