A guest blog post by Melissa Fedak, whose personal experience of the Trans-Siberian Experience can be found on her own website
Lest we forget, we are in Siberia. Just because we had enjoyed sunny, T-shirt weather just a few days ago in higher-latitude Yekaterinburg did not mean that the pleasant spring thaw of mid-May would continue in eastern Russia.
When we met our trek guide, we were already shivering in the crisp morning air. The native was astonished by our lack of rain-gear and (only) two layers of clothing, but agreed to lead us through the neighbourhoods of Listvyanka and up a steep mountain trail. As we climbed, he kindly removed giant tree branches from our path, led us past caches of broken glass and cigarette butts (presumably left by folk in better shape than I as I was quite out of breath), and patiently explained about the beautiful, fairyland-like flora surrounding us. Cold in the brutal wind, we often cut his detailed explanations short, wanting to keep our bodies moving for warmth. He even shed a layer so we could have one more.
We reached a place in the forest where the trail started going downhill again. Our guide stopped us and said in his accented English, “We are entering a tick area. Please check for ticks every ten minutes.” He instructed us to tuck our pant legs into our socks. I eagerly complied.
I hopped around like an idiot, trying not to brush up against anything that a tick might be on and wondering what I was even looking for when I glanced down at my pants. Wouldn’t ticks be too small to see, especially while moving? Was that itch a tick??
After a half hour of hiking, I had relaxed somewhat, not having seen any of the small, black, possibly-disease-carrying bugs at all yet. A little while later, our guide amended, “Well, there are not so many ticks in the higher elevations. There are more near the lake, around here.”
Before my paranoia fully reignited, he found an example tick. Big and black with red specks, like a little spider. I was actually happy for the larger size. I knew what I was looking for now. And just as I was re-examining myself, I spotted one on my pant leg! The guide removed it smoothly.
A little further down, our fearless guide briefly left the trail (Leave the trail? Where so many ticks could be??) and mysteriously picked several green stalks out of the ground. Then we reached the clear, blue waters of Lake Baikal. Our own private lakeside picnic area. Absolutely stunning. Even the weather was not quite as cutting, though that could have been the adrenaline.
Our guide laid out a wonderful lunch of rice, sausage, and tomatoes. He took the strange plants he had pulled out of the ground earlier, rinsed them in the creek, and offered them to us. You mean you want me to eat something you picked in the woods? Then he ate one whole. “Wild garlic”, he explained. I hesitantly took a bite… and indeed! Garlicy!
Then I dug my spoon into my bowl, came out with a nice heap of rice headed toward my mouth and…
There was a tick on my hand!
Right there, between my index finger and thumb, the black critter was crawling along. I may have shrieked. In retrospect, I was glad it was still moving and had not attached itself… because then, I was told, I would have to leave it there (!) and have hospital personnel detach it (!!) The guide worked his magic, rid my skin of the tick, and we carefully enjoyed the rest of our meal and body-warming hot tea.
We took a different route back, a trail on the edge of the lake with a bit of a drop off. The view was gorgeous and the fear of falling outweighed my fear of ticks. Finally, we reached the end of the village and walked along the lake back to our hotel.
Just as we returned, it started snowing! In May! But, although our search for hot chocolate in the village was unsuccessful, we had a warm heater and our clothes and bodies were tick free. We couldn’t ask for more.
[Photo by Melissa Fedak]