The BAM’s Baikal Babies

The BAM's Baikal Babies
Severobaykal'sk, Russia

Severobaykal’sk, Russia

Fresh from Baikalskoe on the marshrutka that bounced us all the way from floor to ceiling on a road that made the permafrost highways in Alaska look straight and level, I was full of beans and energy from a solid day’s hiking the shore line of Baikal (and forearms burnt to prove it) when I arrived back at the Baikal Trail Hostel and had a good chat with Ervgeny’s daughter, Alyona, who helps manage the family hostel business, when she’s visiting from her town on the southern shores near Irkutsk. A delightful woman, with a soul and open spirit just like her father: warm, confident and giving.

Alyona told me of the amazing pioneering spirit that brought her mother and father to Baikal in 1976. They were BAM workers lured by this Soviet nation-building endeavour of mammoth proportions. She a bridge engineer and he a rail engineer. Her mother was then pregnant with Alyona’s older sister, Anna. And Severobaikalsk was nothing more than a camp for rail workers in the inhospitable Siberian taiga. Alyona spoke of the dream they had, lured by the lake that is a sea to many. And she and her sister alike both remain attached to the Lake, their life force, as well.

Ervgeny and his daughters are all eco-conscious people. In his late 60’s he rides his mountain bike around Severobaikalsk’s summer streets, by turns dusty and swollen with muddy waters. And earlier he came in saying to his daughter Alyona that he’d been out looking for environmentally-friendly detergents for the hostel. This is something I’ve not witnessed before in Russia. And Ervgeny was conscious of the eutrophication processes happening as phosphorus and nitrogen were increasingly being added to the Baikal waters.

Ervgeny is also a major supporter and believer in the Great Baikal Trail (GBT). He regularly hosts volunteers with the GBT organisation as they pass through Severobaikalsk to the various trail development and maintenance areas. In fact, while I was south in Baikalskoe a group of volunteers spent a night in the hostel before going out to their various wilderness postings around the northern lake. And I saw one group as I finished my hike this afternoon.

Both Alyona and Anna have children of their own now. They are BAM babies too in a sense. But possibly given the strength of the environmental ethos that this family has and the dream of a healthy Baikal that they nurture in their hearts and actions, they are really in fact ‘Baikal Babies’ through and through.

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