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Traveling Will & Robin

Current travels: Three months in the wilderness of Siberia, Mongolia, and the South Pacific


Jul '12

Will the real Siberia please stand up?

Until now I had believed incorrectly that Russia consisted of two parts: Moscow and Siberia. The area around Moscow and St. Petersburg was the populated west, and the rest was Siberia. I believed it strongly enough that I told many of you that we were going kayaking in Siberia. But let me set the record straight. Siberia is a vast expanse of sparsely populated land in between the Ural Mountains and the Lake Baikal watershed. East of that is the Russian Far East which extends to the Pacific Ocean and includes much of Russia’s Arctic coastline. The Kamchatka peninsula and Vladivostok both fall firmly in the Far East. Since we told you we were going, Will and I headed to Lake Baikal, in the real Siberia.


Lake Baikal

Lake Baikal from Listvyanka. The opposite shore (which you can’t see) is 70 KM away.

Lake Baikal is the deepest lake in the world. At just over 5,300 feet, it’s bottom is nearly a mile away and it averages over 2,000 feet deep. It has 1,700 different species of plants and animals, and one underwater neutrino telescope.  It’s almost 400 miles long, and  has more than 600 inlets but one massive outlet. That single river, the Angara supplies all the water to nearby Irkutsk. The volume is so great that even my ultra-sensitive stomach was happy drinking it.  But the irresistible draw was the nerpas. I could just stop there. I mean, “nerpa” is an awesome enough word that I shouldn’t need to go on. But if I don’t explain, then I might lose you with the even more awesome word: “nerpanarium.”


Lake Baikal attained Unesco World Heritage Site status because of it’s 1,700 different species, two thirds of these are found nowhere else in the world, including the nerpa. I was told the seals were cute, but I was going to have to find out for myself, potentially only because getting a close-up look necessitated a visit to the nerpanarium in the lakeshore town of Listvyanka.


For those of you who remember the dolphin show at the New England Aquarium, that’s exactly what the nerpanarium was like, although we stood right at the edge of the tank. Photos weren’t allowed inside, which I support because we were so close to the animals that flashes would have really bothered them. So you’ll have to settle for my photos of the lake and other people’s photos of the nerpas. I am, on the other hand, thrilled to report that the nerpas are as squee-inducing adorable as you would imagine, with huge black eyes, large whiskers, and flippers that look enough like hands to distress anyone trying to deny evolution.



“Nerpanarium” Inside was a tank with three trained Baikal seals.

We got a few more glimpses of Lake Baikal from the trans-Siberian railway train car as we headed out of Russia. It took hours to pass by its giant southern coast. And then the train turned south, heading us toward our next country: Mongolia.

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