After our 36-hour train trip making a big loop from Irkutsk to the northern end of Lake Baikal, here we are in Severobaikalsk. A small, quite uninteresting place, apart from it’s nice lakeshore with a small beach (although we saw nicer beaches on the Eastern shore).
When we arrived at the train station 3 days ago, a lady with a single golden tooth started talking to us in French. It was Dora, originally from Moldavia but has been living here for 25 years, struggling to make ends meet (as a lot of people here) and renting out a room in her apartment. As she’s the only French-speaking person in town (probably in the whole region), she also tries to take care of all the French and Swiss tourists that get lost in this little part of the world. She had just been hosting 2 young students from Fribourg and offered her room to us. Well, it’s no luxury… the beds could be more comfortable, the bathroom is simple (but there is hot water), and her son smokes in the toilet, but we accepted anyway. Yesterday she bought the first washing machine in her life (for our standards, a really bad quality one, not much better than handwashing, we had to wash our underwear twice…) and she was so scared to use it. After we had assured that we had used about 30 different washing machines in our lifes and always managed to make them work, she accepted that we use it and show her how it works.
Two days ago we visited a small hot springs village, 45 minutes from here on a bumpy, non asphalted road (but the driver was driving almost normally). The so-called “spa” was actually just a small wooden house (as you can see on the picture) with 2 changing rooms and a terrace with two small hot-water pools, and a lot of mosquitoes. One of the pools was so hot I only managed to go in until my knees, although Miguel managed to go in all the way. The other one must have been around 40 degrees. Russians love this kind of thing, believing strongly in the healing power of such places.
This reminds me of one of the village schools in Buryatia, where one of the teachers proudly told me that they now had a “health education programme” in the school. Oh, how interesting, I thought, what’s that all about? Well, actually it was just about taking the kids to the hot springs nearby….
Anyway, after soaking in hot water for an hour or so, being eaten by mosquitoes and having some surprisingly nice food in a cafe nearby, we came back to Severobaikalsk in the same minibus, which was over-full this time. Miguel had about 3 cm on a bench next to a fattish lady, I was sitting on the floor. But it was the last bus for the day, so no choice.
Yesterday has been rather lazy, sitting by the beach, swimming a bit (Lake Baikal is pretty cold), taking care of our suntan, and later on sitting on a terrace eating grilled meat next to a group of middle-aged ladies, celebrating something and all being completely drunk on vodka. Unfortunately this is a very common picture in Russia, with usually a couple of kids completing the picture (they are the only ones that are not drunk…). I’m getting tired of it, really.
Tomorrow we will continue our trip on the so-called BAM, the Baikal-Amur-Mainline, a train line further north than the “classic” Trans-Siberian, built mainly by Stalin (and a lot of Gulag workers). The nature is supposed to be beautiful, lots of mountains.