Day Sixteen — Epic Odyssey
Irkutsk/Yakutsk, Russia — Lake Baikal was today’s mission. The bus picked us up at 9 a.m. for the one-ish hour drive to the settlement of Listvyanka, where we boarded our boat for the three-hour lake tour and lunch. Our expressive guide, Galla, welcomed the group and entertained us during the drive with information about the city, the region, and the lake. The banana-shaped Lake Baikal is the largest, oldest, and deepest freshwater lake in the world. It is 1,637 meters deep and 636 km long, with 2,000 km of shoreline. It is home to 3,500 species of life, some of which are unique to this lake. Over 3000 people visit each day, making it one of the major tourist attractions of Russia.
The boat was a beautifully restored vintage 1930 cruiser. The lunch was a feast that included the famous local Baikal fish, omul, along with beef, salads, fruits, vegetables, potatoes and dessert. After cruising for an hour, we docked at a village perhaps 20 km north to explore the shore and take some photos. We met a gentleman coddling a 4-month-old baby mink and took some group shots, along with aerials from the drone. About that time, Eagle decided to “take the plunge” and stripped down to his skivvies before wading from shore into the icy cold waters. Not to be outdone, Ryan leapt off the boat, followed by Eric, then Daryl and finally, Kerry — the five polar guys!
After the tour, we departed for the airport, said farewell to our guide, Galla, and embarked for the three-and-a-half-hour flight to Yakutsk (UEEE). Just as we were about to load our flight plans, we were notified that the airport would be closing for an hour. So our departure was pushed out til 5 p.m. We cooled our heels in the FBO and were ready to launch in quick succession just as the airport reopened. We arrived around 10 p.m. and quickly unloaded for our transport directly to the restaurant, which graciously held our dinner reservation for us. We had the restaurant to ourselves and enjoyed a family-style meal of local specialties. By midnight, we were at the hotel, greeted by a life-size replica of a wooly mammoth and its calf. Then, it was off to bed for another fast night’s sleep.