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

Пака!

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