“I wanted to do something for Baikal, for infrastructure, for ecology, and this was a chance,” says Irkutsk native and local entrepreneur, Sergei Redkin, as he explains his reasons for volunteering with the Great Baikal Trail (GBT).
GBT is an organization whose name may seem evident at first glance. It is a trail-building establishment near Lake Baikal in Russia’s Siberia. In addition to trail building and maintenance of pre-existing paths, the group also promotes ecological education in the region.
A month spent in the wilderness of Siberia taught me much about Russian mentality. The most important aspect of Russian culture a foreigner must grasp to feel welcomed and comfortable amongst their Russian hosts is that of Russian humor.
When I arrived in north Baikal to start my volunteer work with the Great Baikal Trail, the first thing our team leader said was, “Put tents up fast; snow in four hours.”
“There’s an erergy to that island. It’s magic. You have to go to Olkhon.”
That’s all I kept hearing from Siberians when I arrived in Irkutsk. This ain’t hockey so why fight these pesky Russians?
Actually, one thing I learned from being in Siberia and the Baltic states, Ukraine – places that continue to have Russian influence, at least in language – is that a Russian is very much like an African: an over simplified term that can refer to hundreds of different ethnic and cultural groups.
Originally Published for Dispatches International
“Lake Baikal is not such a good place for a restful vacation or a place at the beach because it snows [every] four hours, it’s cold enough in the morning, and mosquitoes [are] everywhere,” says Vladimir Hidekel, a professor of ecology at Irkutsk State University. “[But] it’s good for people who understand the beauty of wild nature.”
Sunset at Ayaya Bay
In addition to his work as an ecologist, Hidekel is an outdoorsman. He works as a project leader for the Great Baikal Trail (GBT), an ambitious project that aims to develop the first environmental trail system in Russia. “People need access to the wild nature and beautiful places,” Hidekel says about the trail network.