08 Oct 2012 Trans-Siberian Express – Part 6
Off to a Siberian Village on the Shores of Lake Baikal
Kay and I enjoyed Irkutsk and its pleasant atmosphere of a university city. But after a couple of days, we were off to Bolshoe Goludnoe, a Siberian village on the shores of Lake Baikal, not far from Irkutsk. Once again, we had pre-arranged this through Monkey Business who had taken very good care of us so far.
Lake Baikal is the oldest and the deepest lake in the world which contains 1/5 of all the fresh water in the entire world. Even though the weather had been hot during our Siberian adventure, the depth of that lake and the amount of water ensured that the water was constantly freezing cold.
My first impression of our new homestay was that village homes seemed more spacious than city apartments. These were actual houses rather than apartments. Our homestay had a nice large country style kitchen – the kind that has a big kitchen table where everyone can sit while Natalia, the lady of the house, cooked meals. That kitchen was a far cry from the tiny kitchens we had seen at both previous homestays with Elena and Irina.
Besides having a big kitchen, the village home had more rooms and each room was larger than anything we had seen at our previous homestays. Like in Irina’s apartment, we had a bedroom that didn’t function as anything else, but this bedroom was substantially larger than the one at Irina’s. I guess people can take advantage of the abundant space in Siberia and build larger dwellings.
A major difference, though, was that Natalia’s Siberian home had no indoor plumbing in her house. Her husband had rigged up a way to have water in the house for washing dishes. He had installed a sink without the regular pipes. High above the sink was a place to put a bucket of water that had a hose coming out from the bottom. This hose had a lever that allowed water to flow through when it was open.
Underneath the sink was an empty bucket that would catch the water when it came through the hole in the sink. So Natalia could fill up the sink, wash dishes, and then let the water drain into the bucket below. Very ingenious and handy.
The bathroom, though, was another matter all together. No indoor toilet – just an outhouse for that need. I’ve done enough camping and traveling in places where toilets were not available that I wasn’t bothered by having to use the outhouse. But it was a bit inconvenient for my middle of the night trip to the ‘bathroom.’
There was one main similarity between Natalia’s home and the other homestays we had experienced. Natalia’s house was full of stuff – once again, old newspapers, old magazines, figurines, things that didn’t seem to serve a functional or artistic purpose any longer. There wasn’t an empty spot anywhere, but we weren’t surprised by this since we had already noticed it in our previous homestays.
There was plenty of empty space outside though, and we took advantage of being in the countryside to do some long walks – through the village, through the nearby forests, and along the shore of Lake Baikal. It felt so liberating to be out in the countryside for a while with its fresh air and wide open spaces.
In addition, the homes we saw were so charming, especially the window shutters which were often intricately carved and painted bright colors. We had already seen similar homes from the window of our train as we sped past, so now I was happy to have the opportunity to see them up close and take some photos.
My favorite experience in our Siberian village, though, was in the banya, the Russian version of a Finnish sauna. I was told that most homes throughout Siberia have a separate building on the property that functions as the banya. Unlike a Finnish sauna, it is used for many functions – bathing, washing clothes, washing hair, or just sweating your way to health and beating yourself with birch branches.
I don’t generally like saunas or steam baths. I’d always found that I couldn’t stay in either one for more than a couple of minutes. But the banya was different. The heat came from a stove that sat on one side. There were two rows of benches – one higher than the other. That much so far is similar to a sauna, but in addition, you took a bucket of freezing cold water into the banya with you so that when the heat got to be too much, you put a dipper into the ice cold water and splashed that water over your body. The contrast between the heat from the stove and the cold water on your body created a really invigorating feeling that I loved. I began to understand why Finns often jump into cold water or snow after coming out of a sauna.
I loved our stay on the shores of Lake Baikal, but now we were off to Ulan Ude to the east of Lake Baikal and the site of a Buddhist monastery. I’ll tell you all about our visit there in Part 7 of my posts about my Siberian adventure. See you soon.
About the author:
Kate is a seasoned traveler and tour director who has lived on the island of Java for the past 30 years. Java became her home when she took a 3-month work assignment to train Indonesians on word processing equipment in Jakarta, and she fell in love with the adventurous lifestyle that she found there. Although she continues working as a tour director in many countries of the world, she now spends most of her time writing in her home/office in Yogyakarta, Central Java, which she shares with her three Dalmatians. You can visit her at KateBenzin, at her blog Traveling Forever, or follow her on Twitter or Facebook.