‘Twas a coldish day in May, 2017, and I was staying for a few days in Irkutsk, Siberia, Russia, Northern Hemisphere, Earth, Milky Way Galaxy. When I say cold, I mean around 10 degrees, maybe a couple more, maybe a couple less. It’s hard to say, because in Russia, every day is cold, right?
Of course, being in this region I wanted to visit the famed Lake Baikal, an ancient lake that at its deepest is over a kilometre and a half from surface to bottom. That’s right – deepest lake in the friggin’ world! Over 31,000 km2 too. This is one hell of a lake.
Being a tourist of limited means, I had little option but to take a mini-bus to the lake as my helicopter was in for a service and I am yet to perfect the art of teleportation. A 60km ride to the lake, to a touristy little town known simply as ‘Listvyanka’. No, it’s not a Russian webpage where people can compare their lists of favourite things such as ‘Favourite things to do when it’s minus 30’, it’s a small but growing town on the lake’s shores.
The bus sped off to Listvyanka. The road undulated and turned, the forests wanted to show signs of life, but it hadn’t been long since the snow had melted and it was a struggle. I was dropped in what was supposed to be the middle of town. To one side of the road, hills, building works going on, many houses too. The closest town to the city of Irkutsk, this was where the Irkutst-ians headed when they wanted to visited the lake of which I have already mentioned.
Hence I was expecting a little more organisation, but it was May and the season hadn’t started. Which season? I don’t know. I just write this shit.
The aim was to do a little walking. I was of the impression that there were a few hiking trails in the area, and what better to do around such a pretty spot? Well, considering the water was probably just a few degrees and that made swimming an unattractive option at best.
But where I was, there were no trails to find. So I walked through town, and found a place for lunch. A Shashlik place. Some might call them skewers, some ‘meat on a stick’, but for the Russians they are definitely ‘shashliks’. This was on waters edge, and it was pleasant enough apart from the ‘smoking anywhere is encouraged’ policy which seems to be the most popular policy in Russia and indeed much of Europe. The fire was low and the meat took a long time to cook, but I didn’t mind, I had diary writing to do and a fun little cricket game installed on my phone.
After lunch I walked onwards. The road got less ‘roady’ and more ‘tracky’. The trees here had leaves. Perhaps they were evergreens? I don’t know, I am very few things, and of those ‘few things’, horticulturist is not one of them. There was a camping area, aha! And then an expensive hotel I had read about in a book. Planet of the Lonelies I think it was. Then the track wound up the hill.
I was there to hike, and so up the track I went. It took me through what seemed to be the back yards of a couple of house, where I was greeted by friendly dogs who wanted to rip my legs off. And then into the forest! I kept comfort in the fact that I knew there was really only one track, that would turn into road, when I needed to get back. I took less comfort in the fact that I had no confidence the return bus would leave around the time I was told it would.
The forest became denser, and then I heard it. SNAP! A sound. A crack. This was Russia. NO – Siberia! That meant I could have a very unwelcome bear encounter. Or indeed one with a wolf. Did they have wolves in Russia? Probably, although I have no idea. Maybe, it was a werewolf! And the sound was really close. Don’t move Andrew! Your life might depend on your ability right now to convince the wild life that you are a tree. All it would take… oh, no I just stepped on a small tree branch. Crisis averted.
I tried to balance the time I was taking on this unknown path which was steadily heading in an upwards direction with the time required to get back for the bus on the basis that it wouldn’t take as long to get back as I would be heading downhill. What I wanted was a nice spot to get a couple of photos overlooking the lake from the very top.
There was some sort of telescope thing at the top of the hill. I had seen it from below. I presumed, I hoped, that the track was taking me there. And then, suddenly, I WAS there. There was a fence, a gate, I went through. Did I jump the gate? No, it was open. There was a white building and then this sort of really high building which was thinnish up some steps. The telescope, no doubt. I climbed the steps, and I started snapping.
And then – a man yelling! He was 30 metres away. He was waving his arms at me. Why? Was it a warm, local greeting? Ummmm no… he seemed to want me to get the hell out of this place. The adrenalin started to pump. This was no telescope I surmised – this was indeed a top secret military establishment, and I was trespassing. And who, logically, trespasses in such a place? Well, as far as I could reckon, only SPIES! They though I was a SPY!
[warning – some or all of the next paragraph is somewhat if not totally exaggerated so far beyond the truth that it is possibly completely made up!]
I fled. I had no choice! Out of the building, out of NOWHERE, three dozen men with either machetes or machine guns and giant rottweilers descended upon me. I calculated my odds of survival in a Siberian Gulag – they weren’t, you know, great. So I RAN! As fast as my legs could carry me. I saw what looked like a weak point in the fence, and made for that, but before I could get there two soldiers and eight dogs cornered me. What could I do? Although I have never studied a martial art IN MY LIFE I jumped in the air to avoid their hail of bullets! I landed on the other side and promptly knocked the soldiers heads together, naturally they were out cold. But the dogs…. Snarling, vicously barking as they salivated, closing in on me. I thought quickly, picked up a 7-Days croissant out of my pack and threw it over the fence. Not even dogs can resist such a tasty treat! Using my newly found dexterity, I ran and jumped. The dogs were on hind legs at the fence. One foot only firmly plonked on one dog’s head allowed me enough leverage to clear the fence.
I dashed back to town so fast I actually got there before I’d initially crossed the gate into the military establishment, and therefore it had never happened and no-one was looking for me. (yes – like in Superman when he reverses time!) I was able to slink into the bus, which I had to wait for for quite a long time because of the whole time-reversal thing, and relax on my way back to Irkutsk. Whew! Another close call.
But these are typical days when you live a double life – as Andy, intrepid backpacker!
Thank you for reading today – I really was told to leave – and I did, not quite as dramatically though. May the Journey, and the Adventure, Never End!