September 14th, 2008 ~ Late Night Dinner, Later Night Vodka--Arshan, East Siberia
|The gorge of the Kyngyrga River|
A highlight of this trip has been enjoying the language with people for whom English is their second. This morning Natashia and I were hauling bags of fill material (some of it Siberian granite--did I mention that I've worked with Siberian granite?). We had the bags slung over our shoulders, and Natashia said we looked like "dwarfkins." We talked about that awhile and discovered the word she was searching for was "elfs," but that "dwarfkins" wasn't bad either. Perhaps those are dwarfs who are orphans, which led to a discussion of portmanteau words--two words jumbled together to form a new one-and she was almost as delighted by it all as I was.
After the trail christening we all walked up to the waterfall again, accompanied by hundreds of our closest Russian buddies and their families out for a Saturday stroll. The open-container-while-walking laws must be very lax here, as we met lots of hikers carrying in-use bottles of beer as they scrambled up the tree roots and came too close to the cliff edges.
Svetlana descended the trail with us and we visited the booths of merchants who had set up their tables near the beginning of the trail to take advantage of the huge crowd coming to walk to the waterfall. We shopped a little, then Svetlana took John Griffith, Suzanne, Roma, and me to a traditional Buryat restaurant. The Buryat are the indigenous people of this region, their culture deeply linked with Mongolia and lands even further east than Baikal. Svetlana's striking Asian features are common among Buryat people. She was eager for us to eat some of the food of her culture. The main course was a "poisee"--a meat dumpling in a rich broth.
That done, we adjourned to a sauna down the road and sweated out the grim of trail work in a tiny room heated so hot by the wood-fired stove that I had to hold onto my ear lobes to keep them from parboiling. We ran out of there and dumped cold water over ourselves, then back in again, repeating until we were, in effect, reduced to being meat dumplings in a rich broth.
Dinner was very late—after 10 p.m., and very simple--macaroni, bread, cheese, some cabbage salad. The visiting was the spice of the meal with everyone talking and laughing, Svetlana and Anya and others who were bilingual being very gracious in filling us in on the humor of the Russian jokes.
We were still smiling from some of the previous night's Russian traditions when Anya had worn a Russian peasant dress and had offered us bread that we dipped in salt. That seemed a wonderful part of their past. (The pillow fight that broke out soon thereafter apparently comes out of some other tradition.)
With dinner concluded, Natashia led our group in vodka toasts. First we toasted circumstances—the completion of the trail work. Next we toasted nature—the mountains and Lake Baikal. Then we toasted friendship and then love. It was all very congenial and warm, and we felt we had made some very good friends.
This morning we hopped in the Homy-Mobile with Roma and motored back to Irkurtsk where we are regrouping for the next phase of our adventure. We'll be leaving Irkutsk early to backpack for three days along a 36 mile trail on the southwestern shore of the lake. The GBT would like to have us assess what they have completed and then make suggestions for work projects the rest of the way. We're supposed to walk fast and assess even faster, because as soon as we finish the hike we're to hop on the Siberian Express and make our way around to the southeast side of the lake to visit more trails there.
In short, we're doing what we're told, going where we're pointed, toasting friendships and nature. And starting tomorrow, we'll be able to get right up close and splashy with Lake Baikal itself.