Baikal nature

As an island with very small part of Siberian forest – some similarities, some not

Eco-volunteering with Great Baikal Trail part 2

Back to the forest

A former GBT volunteer Anke who was on the Pillars of Davsha project this summer has come to Olkhon for a few days. She camped in the forest for a couple of days and another Russian biology student camped for a month. You need permission and have to pay as the national park authorities are trying to protect the park. Most places in pink below now forbidden. There’s an area at NE of forest where according to Shamanic traditions, women are also forbidden to go there at all.

The differences of opinion between those who want to develop the island and those who don’t want additional change but would probably appreciate better health…so the tension in development of sensitive environmental health that does not radically alter the environment they cherish.

We found more stones today so harder work to open up the stream beds. Hit myself on head with potalski by bending forward and then bringing it straight back up in classic cartoon style but no major dents in skull.

Sergei – who has travelled around Europe and knows English music scene very well, says the secret is to stick your ass in the air as high as possible!

You can see the white area on the trees in the background where the ice reaches so high in winter, easily over a metre or more

A discussion about tax and politics during lunch – cabbage salad, Siberian potato soup, meat / cheese sandwiches, peas/beans, tinned fish, squash caviar and biscuits/chocolate with very welcome tea/coffee/cocoa.

Met a few English tourists during evening meals in the cafe. Often on the Trans-Siberian route and making pit stop at Baikal. They have loved visiting Russia, one lady off for a last swim tomorrow.

Shared cultures evening – during British section – did some Morris dancing with toilet roll (sorry) and someone did an excellent Cossack solo! Also a quiz with Yorkshire and Cockney slang.

There was also a Moscow section which was a mix of dancing, acting and a quiz then a Chechnia talk from two trainee history teachers who visit there regularly. I learnt more than I probably ever would by visiting as a tourist. They recommend watching Russia Today for good documentaries on indigenous tribes in Russia.

Next day the weather is amazingly sunny – perfect for excursion day – buhanka safari to the north of Olkhon. The roads are tracks so you rollercoaster along but no one fell out the windows 😉

Time for a quick paddle, then back into the forest

Edging closer to the northern tip

And then we’re there. Seals are north east today so not visible but an incredible view – it’s difficult to find words to describe this endless beautiful water – impossible to imagine this as winter ice

Then an amazing lunch with Baikal fish soup – омуль – that only one tribe in northern Baikal is allowed to fish

There’s also dried smoked cheese in packets for those that want.

Time to turn south and we head along the west side briefly – it’s fantastic to see the autumn sunshine lighting up the whole forest as we travel through

Then finally back to the village with a quick stroll on a nearby beach

Then forest day and clearing more springs. There were lots of large logs which we tried to chop with limited success. A local Russian superman appeared and moved the logs like they were little twigs.

One of our team’s birthday today so we had surprise hand decorated cakes courtesy of GBT. She wanted us to tie wish ribbons at Cape Burhan based on her individual wishes for each one of us.

It’s a clear night. The only bear we will see at Olkhon are twinkling above us along with the majestic milky way. Anke saw bears at Davsha – more common on the mainland trail building projects.

Next day we help to build a children’s playground – ground is much harder to dig but by the end of the day we have a ship’s skeleton, two seesaw bases and some climbing poles

Two girls come to inspect our work early afternoon and have great fun jumping in and out of the holes.

Russian homemade пирог pie with Siberian ирга berries

A very welcome Russian banya tonight – incredibly hot – I try my hand at being банщик and some birch leaf beating but idiotically burn myself and flee the heat into the soothing evening air. In the winter they fall into the snow before going back in.

More evening games – a Great Baikal Trail game then Uno.

It rained on our last working day so we were off work until late morning. A few of us went for a swim – really invigorating – cold but not Baikal winter cold! At Christmas they have illuminated ice sculptures.

We widen a stream in the afternoon. We’ve cleared and cleaned 701 metres in total and see what the winter and spring do. Our brigadier will soon meet with the national park colleagues to review this and last year’s projects.

Final day heading back to Irkutsk. Discover that there’s such a thing as Russian reggae, on the minibus radio. A Buryat ‘Cornish’ pasty at lunchbreak

Everyone says goodbyes at different times, a few of us staying overnight. We’ve all worked really hard, a privilege to be amongst such a motivated, intelligent team – two of them already plan to come back for the winter projects.

Final hour in Irkutsk. There’s sleet so see first Siberian snowflakes from the plane window. An end and a beginning with plans to introduce GBT on and offline to our university students. Am now on VK – avery.nicola


Eco volunteering with Great Baikal trail part 1

I can’t remember which site I first foumd out about the project – did a search on eco-volunteering and Russia. Due to work I couldn’t make a summer project and nearly joined a moose project but then saw this amazing Olkhon Island one so now landed in Irkutsk, on the river Angara that leads to Lake Baikal.

GBT hostel was clean, comfortable and friendly staff.

Free map of Irkutsk so wandered out and found market. Chatted to a local stall holder who likes David Beckham. Couldn’t remember half in Russian and too tired to want to explain so bought a kilo of tomatoes, hopefully we can eat the rest en route to Olkhon.

Sitting now having cup of of tea watching a blue tit fly around some branches of a small tree in the garden.

The Irkutsk market is big and also has a large area in a building like Kirkgate in Leeds.

They also have a Kitai gorod (China town) like Moscow – our Moscow guide explained it’s not necessarily anything to do with Chinatown like London, US etc – possibly more around who was trading in old central area from which city grew in all directions.

Met the rest of our team, we chatted over a tea or two then loaded up and set off.

I have a warm, friendly Buryat/Russian/American translator whose English is great. At lunch stop he recommended Поизе buryat dumpling with soy sauce. And went nicely with tomatoes!

The landscape is stunning with endless forest then valleys with farms. I saw two bear shapes but we passed by too quickly to identify if they were or not. There are warning signs for people on the edge of the road.

The Buryat ‘Olympics’ are held near Irkutsk. Lots of horse riding, buryat fighting, wrestling, bow and arrow, circle dancing and eating.

The actual capital of Olkhon region is not on the island, set against the rugged landscape which became more pale and rocky the nearer the coastline of Baikal.

Everywhere has Shamanic spiritual areas with graves or other areas. It’s important to give white food and drink so we added some milk and bread shortly after arriving on Olkhon.

They are trying to control the rubbish left by tourists as well as preventative action.

Main transport on Olkhon is via minibuses known as buhankas because they are shaped like the Russian bread loaves on wheels. They fly past as we head towards the village. We are staying at Nikita Homestead, after unloading we head out the back path to Cape Burhan

Lake Baikal is enchanting, always different every time you look.

Cape Burhan one of nine sacred places in Asia.

We wander to get bread and pass an ice fishing vehicle which has a tent so you can sit and fish on the lake during winter. Cows and dogs wandering around

8am next morning. AC/DC thunders through our bedrooms, loud enough to wake Scala…and ourselves into action. Exercises, breakfast (blini & homemade jam, eggs/omelette, salad, fruit) then a health& safety tools briefing “the circle of death” and we’re off to the forest

Walking into Siberian forest.

Starts to look the same but when you look closer it changes. Hearing birds after stopping for a minute. We pass cow teeth and later some alive ones munching.

We looked at some of previous project then split into groups. Main task for this week is clearing, cleaning and restoration of interconnecting streams to the spring heads. Watching the water emerge and flow as you clear a section. Rain softly falling and some early signs of autumn

Evening early reflection – friendly, patient, open and relaxed attitude with fab Russian team. They had much more direct discussion and feedback than we might have in a typical English session.

Tired in a good way. One of our team lives in a city and sees bears in the forest all the time. She has been near them (less than a metre) since childhood and never had any time when a bear tried to attack.

Rain too hard the next morning so Baikal talk and then museum visit.

25 million years old. 336 son rivers and 1 daughter river flowing in/out of lake. 20 metres ice in winter, over 200 birds in winter. Trails – asked by national park to make – some path, some will be bridges. Typical 200metres – 2km in a project but sometimes less.

250 km of Baikal length, 1km to seabed then another 6km further down. Not good infrastructure, Lots of dams, Mongolia building hydropower station but will reduce water.

Sponge naturally cleaning water, bacteria attacking sponge but bacteria also being attacked so nature sorting.

Use English icebreaker to get across lake.

Our brigadier said he met Putin at a nature centre on Lake Baikal last year and shook his hand. Excited reaction from the rest of the team “how long until you washed your hand again?” Couldn’t hear answer in clamour of voices 🙂

Olkhon museum found over 20 different nationalities, 18 known on island now.

In Soviet Union, three temples destroyed but since restored. Russian Orthodox church also in Khuzgir.

Salisbury illusion

Craig Murray whose analysis is incredibly helpful called out the ongoing racism towards Russia and Russians in the light of new media attention.

I have yet to see any evidence presented of a nerve agent poisoning. Why so many Oxbridge graduates fail to describe Russia and Russians beyond the confines of Dostoyevsky or Tolstoy novels is really odd. As I haven’t read or watched films of them, my experience of Russia and Russians is based on actual interactions not fiction.

But if we’re going to write Russian fiction and call it a Salisbury poisoning then let’s set the scene – I’ve done previously in several posts but to sum up – policing and health services in Salisbury under extreme financial pressure and threatened with potential closure. Repeated unexplained changes of personnel in investigations into the behaviour of the Conservative party, also in Avon and Somerset. A dodgy ex official spy who works when the conditions are beneficial to him personally.

So about a week before the said poisoning – people who have expertise in making former KGB colonels appear out of nowhere, produce a Sergei Skripal who may or may not be this person. Who knows why. Who knew at that point that a BBC producer Mark Urban was also in close contact with him about a book. I guess it helps add to dramatic details or red herrings.

At the same time the new head of Avon and Somerset which has a recent turbulent history of changes of personnel at the top is moving into the new position with the pressure ss above.

A navy chemical training is nearing its end on Salisbury plain.

Then two people who apparently fit the description of Sergei Skripal and his daughter are reported as having been poisoned in Salisbury. Witnesses originally talk then disappear and some how the Salisbury illusion begins properly as the two people are taken to a hospital.

A nerve agent appears from somewhere or nowhere and is somehow attached to the two people who have been taken to hospital. No proof is given and the investigation already been managed by counter-terrorism. Local Salisbury residents report with symptoms to the hospital.

However a letter then appears in the Times which has the name of the hospital consultant treating peoole who said that three people being treated for severe poisoning but not caused by a nerve agent.

[I have now checked this letter with two former hospital consultants who believe that it does sound exactly like a letter a consultant would write and also that it is common when an incident occurs which is not easily explained, that people present themselves to hospital reporting symptoms]

There is no mention of the consultant or the letter in the mainstream media yet Salisbury residents are worried and likely Russian citizens in the UK who are hearing about unexplained attacks on Russians in the UK.

Well if you’ve spent years denigrating Russians and presenting only the views of a wealthy minority in the media, why would you care.

If you publicly laugh at the misfortunes of others in Parliament on a weekly basis, why would you care about Salisbury residents either.

Why would you also care about telling everyone in the world, the precise location and activity of some of our secure military facilities but I guess that’s a minor detail. They get a nice bit of funding anyway and so do Salisbury hospital.

So establish the evidence of this incident before adding more Russians to it or it is nothing but an illusion.

And as before, many can benefit from this alleged incident but who was most easily placed in the contexts surrounding it too – to carry it out – either an actual incident or an illusion.

Aeroflot 4/4 flights were great

Impressed with Aeroflot all round.

We had unexpected sleet this morning at Irkutsk (so got to see first Siberian snowflakes) and the de-icing took a little longer than expected.

Great flights again, really comfortable and looked after well. We got lucky with transfers because of coming into Sheremtyevo late, we didn’t have to change terminals.

What Aeroflot also did well was have a series of staff, some with flight numbers on cards, asking where we were going and directing us so hopefully everyone made it through to their connecting flights.

Will be writing a GBT (Great Baikal Trail) full post (for website) this weekend and a separate non official post with a couple of extra reflections not relevant to project, when back home.

Autumn in a Siberian forest – Irkutsk region

Everything is simply stunning – trees turning yellow, gold, orange, red. When we were heading to Olkhon 10 days ago, it was all still green.

Some of our group had flights so no time to take pics – instead of blurry photos, a blurry video


Great Baikal trail hostel kitchen

Everyone friendly as always

Sanctions on Syria: the criminal, silent, killer


In Gaza

In 2016, I visited the centre depicted in the linked RT news report on the effect of western sanctions on children with cancer. At the time, the director told me they were trying to help 240 children, were underfunded and in debt, the people working there were volunteers, and (at that time) were facing constant power outages, as was the norm in Aleppo due to terrorists outside of Aleppo controlling the power plant.
Formerly, cancer patients in the north of Syria had excellent treatment at the Kindi Hospital, a massive complex that was respected throughout the region. It was truck-bombed by terrorists in late 2013, completely destroyed. In November 2016, I met and interviewed the former director of Kindi, Dr. Ibrahim Hadid. He emphasized how he tried to get the attention of international organizations both when the hospital was initially occupied by terrorists, and later when it was destroyed. He…

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Moscow and DICATS

Lovely morning in Zaryadye Park. Met an art therapist academic in Alexander Gardens and we may have possible Russian hive site or several presentations.

There are lots of options for introducing more of Russian expressive arts therapies to a wider audience. She has organised international symposiums before and can also connect with a possible European hive site and at least one Latin American therapist academic as well.

We will explore the logistical challenges of the hive site over the next month.

Also a sunflower outside the Kremlin. My personal view is that there’s a cheerful one sometimes living inside the Kremlin too.

Moscow magic

First time flying with Aeroflot. Flight very comfortable, stewardesses lovely.

Moscow warm and sunny, unfortunately a long transfer hitch (from UK based company) but friendly eventual replacement then rush hour in sunset. Moscow looked a bit Istanbul from outskirts, lots of apartment building going on.

Thought Novgorod Kremlin was big but Moscow Kremlin is


And unexpectedly very beautiful. Unfortunately arrived too late to get into SpasskayaTower Russian military tattoo and see UK, Russian and other bands but may try for tomorrow.

Exploring North Asia

I met my landlord’s mum who has just come back from a trip to Russia and Mongolia. She loved both countries and said everyone was really warm and friendly. She enjoyed spending a night in a yurt.

There were a couple of yurts at a tepee village where I once spent bits of a summer, but I didn’t assemble one. Helped to put up a large tepee – getting the smoke flap right was more fiddly than the poles from what I very vaguely remember. I don’t remember any travellers or residents there from Asia except one Japanese man. Can’t remember if yurts mentioned in Origin of Tepees.

Another girl moving to China today from Mexico via London and has friends in south Russia and Mongolia. Her friends are looking forward to new train travel from Beijing to St Petersburg when train lines available.

Was talking with a friend about how in 50s – 70s, people used to travel to Turkey, Iran, Iraq, Syria then walk or hitch rest of the way. I had an uncle who biked (motor) to Asia around that time, no photos unfortunately. And one woman cycled to and around Asia on her 59th birthday in 1999/2000, she had only ridden 25 miles before. She has written a book, can’t remember details but will post if I find.

Russian language travel tip #2

Following on from not mixing up Пышка (sort of donut) and пушка (gun) which is a Simpsons episode waiting to happen, another two words that are probably best not to mix up

Трудный (difficult)

Трусы (knickers)