G operates out of the Irkutsk office, and via kind translation/mediation by L (as with Igor, Buryat Shaman); he’s here to talk with me on various matters associated with tramping around the beautiful, mountainous coastal land surrounding Lake Baikal. Not so much a travelogue, more everyday survival tips. Don’t worry: no stories of inter-trekking-party cannibalism, more about packing the right socks.
He’s been doing this for seven years, so you are in good, experienced hands. A friend (a fellow guide) got him involved, in a job where recommendations count more than qualifications and the traits of being “hospitable and talkative” are paramount. And of being safe too of course.
G‘s main role falls into two halves: guiding and caring, both inter-related. Essentially: taking the tourists out and bringing them all back intact and accounted for. And on these longish treks: with a meal on-the-hoof for good measure. Yes, this is no stroll around the park, we are talking one or two days here (15km and 32km respectively), lacing through coastal villages and wowing at Baikal’s high, scenic surrounds.
He confesses to concern when the camera’s come out. Instructions such as “back a bit… back a bit” may not end too well in a landscape of steep inclines and numerous opportunities for missed footing. The quest for the perfect shot seemingly overriding elementary survival instincts in a photo-shoot to – quite literally – end all photo shoots.
It comes with the territory (literally) and with a constant seasonal supply of eager tourists – I mean: if you are in the area and have a chance to hike around the incredible Lake Baikal, what are you going to say?: No?
Fortunately he hasn’t had to deal with any disasters or much risky “wild-card” behaviour from his charges. There’s something about the nature of the beast in question: the hike itself, that converges behaviour down to a commonality, regardless of cultural origins. You will step here, you will not step there, you will follow the guide – if you want to make it back safely, and lets face it most on holiday do!
There have been a wide range of cultures and countries represented on G‘s trips, he reels some off: England (the majority), Australia, Brazil, Argentina, New Zealand, Germany, Spain, China and more. He notices more confidence amongst Asian cultures than the English-speaking, perhaps that’s down to the famous British reserve? Well G, get a few pints in the Brits and then see. (Not recommended on a hike however!).
“Extreme cooking” is what he calls it – out in the wilds – converting the contents of a pot-pourri of tourist-offered cans into something over an open fire that is technically food. Ah, but that’s part of the appeal, isn’t it? The chance to relive scenes from Mel Brooks’ Blazing Saddles before returning to the square, city job?
Next time: G‘s survival tips!
[Photo by Sergey Gabdurakhmanov]