July 21, 2016

Day Sixteen — Epic Odyssey

Lake Baikal is today’s mission. The bus picks us up at 9 a.m. for the one-hour drive to the settlement of Listvyanka, where we board our boat for the three-hour lake tour and lunch. Our expressive guide, Galla, welcomes the group and entertains us during the drive with interesting information about the city, the region, and the lake. 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 3,000 people visit each day, making it one of the major tourist attractions of Russia. The boat is a beautifully restored vintage 1930 cruiser. The lunch is a feast that includes the famous local Baikal fish, omul, along with beef, salads, fruits, vegetables, potatoes and dessert. After cruising for an hour, we dock at a village perhaps 20 km north to explore the shore and take some photos. We meet a gentleman coddling a 4-month-old baby mink and take some group shots, along with aerials from the drone. About that time, Eagle decides to “take the plunge” and strips down to his skivvies before wading from shore into the icy cold waters. Not to be outdone, Ryan leaps off the boat, followed by Eric, then Daryl and finally, Kerry — the five polar guys! After the tour, we depart for the airport, say farewell to our guide, Galla, and embark for the three-and-a-half-hour flight to Yakutsk (UEEE). Just as we are about to upload our flight plans, we are notified that the airport is closing for an hour. So our departure is pushed out until 5 p.m. We cool our heels at the FBO, ready to launch in quick succession just as soon as the airport reopens. We finally arrive at Yakutsk around 10 pm, quickly unload and board our bus for the short drive to the quaint restaurant, which had graciously stayed open just for our group. We have the restaurant all to ourselves and enjoy a family-style meal of delicious local specialties. We arrive at our hotel around midnight, greeted by life-size replicas of a woolly mammoth and its calf. Then, off to bed for another fast night’s sleep.