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.

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