September 28th, 2008 ~ Irkutsk ~ The Last Day in Siberia
|GBT Seminar Lunch|
The two-day seminar of the Great Baikal Trail Association continued through yesterday in Tankhoy. There were plenty of spirited presentations about trails and discussions on the subjects of pathways and ecotourism. GBT members see the development of a Lake Baikal trail system as a key to attracting visitors to the national parks and reserves, and they have much to say about how that might be accomplished.
Last evening evolved into a wonderful, relaxed time featuring singing of Russian songs. John Schubert and I had our penny whistles and were able to contribute duets of Irish folk tunes. Several of the GBT young people were good dancers, including one who was not shy about launching into Riverdance-style moves and a Russian Cossack dance with his arms crossed, his knees bent, and his feet kicking out in front of him.
About 1:30 in the morning a handful of us put our packs on our shoulders and walked through the darkness to the railroad station to catch the train back to Irkutsk. We remembered that we'd had just one minute to get off the train when it had stopped in this little town three nights earlier, and knew we would have to be just as quick getting on.
The train rumbled to a stop exactly on time. The door of the sleeper car opened and our group began to scramble aboard. Still on the platform, I stood behind John Griffith as he waited for the stairs to clear, and suddenly the train began to move. All I could see in front of me was John's gigantic backpack filling the train car stairwell and hanging out over the platform. I jogged alongside the train, got my hand on the handle next to the stairs, and shouted for John to get moving since my ability to keep up with the accelerating train would soon be sorely tested. He was good enough to shove his way on in. I managed to swing onto the bottom step and then I was aboard, too, thankful I'd watched all those Indiana Jones movies and so knew how to leap onto a moving train.
Inside a long, airy building were counters loaded with jars of honey, crates of dried fish, piles of sausage, and much else that makes up the diet of the Lake Baikal region. A dozen women standing behind buckets of yogurt urged passersby to take samples. The clerk at a bakery stand sold me a flaky pastry filled with thick, sweet cream.
Tonight we gathered at the home of Natashia's parents for a farewell dinner. A number of the GBT members were at the dinner to celebrate with us. The table was filled with grilled chicken breasts, small slices of ham, boiled potatoes, and salad. We relived the highlights of the last three weeks, and the home filled with warmth and laughter.