Lake Baikal

13 Jul

As a child, a revered adult once told me that what I was seeing across the San Francisco Bay was China. I believed it for many years and even have memories of defending my firm belief that had been so sure in my mind to all my well oriented friends. Their claim was that it was San Francisco, mine was China. Currently, while writing this and looking across Lake Baikal, I am the closest to China that I have ever been. The distanced mountains are still not China, but maybe this time China would not be too much of a stretch.

 

Tree and our translator/guide/friend from Irkutsk walking towards Lake Baikal.

 

We made it out to Baikalsk, unfortunately for this trip, what has become our furthest point east..  132 km from Irkutsk and 785 from China. I had anticipated this town to be the worst off of the ones we have visited.  The only stories I had heard of the town were of pollution and a factory that had closed and reopened multiple times within the last twenty years.  But that is just from the one sided, and unfortunately most publicized point of view.

 

There is an on-going battle here in Baikalsk. The paper mill is the main industry, argued to be a major pollutant of the lake and surrounding environment. The battle has been between the factory and environmentalists for more than 40 years. On one side a protection of the lake is demanded, and on the other jobs to support families are demanded. Some scientists say that the lake, being the biggest (and oldest) in the world, can clean up the pollution itself and is not damaged by the factory at all. However, others are saying that the jobs at the factory are the worst paying and most dangerous in the area.  Only those who do not know any better or do not have any other option work there. However, those are jobs for an entire community.  As a supplemental industry, tourism is currently in the process of being developed.  Ski resorts have opened and promotions of the lake are made to help bring in some extra money.  Nearly everyone we met tried to help us with accommodation or various other aspects of tourism.  One of which ended up being on of the most important and dearest friends we have made this trip.  

Our first night in Baikalsk, we went on a little adventure to see the lake.  We ran into a group of children playing a game involving a cart, a giant mud puddle, and some bottles.  The task was to fill the bottles, make it across the imagined lake, and then pour water from the muddy pit to create a waterfall and fill a hole about 15 meters away.  We played with them for a bit, photographing them as they completed their mission.

 

The big crossing. Kids near the lake trying to get across a much smaller and muddier lake on a cart.

 

Rough waters. Sometimes it is hard to get across a big mud pit, especially when you have precious, water-filled containers.

 

Victory. A boy shortly after accomplishing the task of dumping water into a pit for another victory in their neighborhood game.

 

After playing for a while, the kids packed up to go home, this boy in particular kept showing off how he could skid on his bike. Photo by Tree Gore.

Later in the evening we ran into another group of kids.  We were at a kiosk looking for a map of the small town, to the amusement of the giggly woman working.  The kids approached us, having seen foreigners with cameras.  They insisted on photographs being made and teaching us how to play hand games such as rock/paper/scissors.  The great thing about small towns is, well, how small they are.  Meeting these kids on the street, we became friends with them not just for the 10 minutes we talked to them, but each time we ran into them for the rest of trip.  Many times they would stop us to say hello or shout our names and wave from bicycles across the street.  That is one reason why I think small towns are quite wonderful.  It is easy to get to know everyone there, and once you do make friend with them, you actually see them again.  It makes maintaining friendships a lot easier.

 

Neighborhood friends hanging out around a kiosk one evening in Baikalsk. We ended up being good friends with the one on the left, as we seemed to see him everywhere while there. Photo by Tree Gore.

 

Trying to show us how to play various hand games such as a version of rock/paper/scissors. Photo by Tree Gore.

 

Later on, one of us will write something of a bit more substance regarding the handful of interviews and events that took place in Baikalsk.  In the meantime, I’m going to end here, leaving you to think that all we did in Baikalsk was play with kids in the streets.

 

 

No comments yet

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


*

*