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Meet the guides: interview with Arina

One of the top five things guides enjoy is answering tourists’ questions. Stay curious and make your ExploRussia guide happy.

Today Arina, ExploRussia guide, is giving an interview on Irkutsk and Baikal.

a person standing on top of a dirt field

Arina, how long have you been working as a guide, and who inspired you to be a guide?

I’ve been a guide for 3 years. I’m 23 now. When I was 15 I went to Cambodia, and we had a great guide there. She had visited almost each country of South-Eastern Asia by that time. She was an amazing person and inspired me to be a guide. At least I started to picture myself as a guide.

We know that you are passionate about dancing. What dance is Irkutsk associated with for you?

Irkutsk is a Russian town. So I associate it with polka which has some particular regional movements. When dancing people put their feet up high, because there is a lot of snow in Siberia, spread their arms wide to embrace our vast spaces. It’s a kind of traditional dance of the 19th century here in Irkutsk.

a group of people walking in the snow

What do you love about Irkutsk?

I love our town because it still keeps its face. When you come to some cities, you can see their faces and feel their own souls. Irkutsk is one of them. This small provincial town makes you feel cozy unlike Moscow with its disappearing face and soul, which is getting lost among huge amount of people and historical buildings being demolished.

When you think of Baikal, what three associations cross your mind?

Strength. Power. Purity.

What is your favorite season to spend at Baikal and why?

I like warm weather, and in winter, I always feel cold. But Baikal is great no matter the season. Every month the lake is different and you are impressed in so many different ways.

What local museum do you like?

On the way from Irkutsk to Listvyanka there is a really nice open-air museum Taltsy. It is located on a huge territory on the bank of the Angara River. You can spend the whole day there. I recommend visiting the ethnographic zone dedicated to local peoples such as Evenks and Tofalars. There are still some people in Siberia who preserve their unique lifestyle and try to live like this. I find it interesting because I am Evenk by one fifth.

What local dish do you enjoy?

Sagudai and blini with sour cream, or with honey, or both. (Laughing) It would be a nice experience to remember. I’m not really a fish person, but still, I enjoy sagudai with local fish. Oh, by the way, blini in Taltsy museum are almost the same like my granny used to make. But at home, we didn’t use to have them either with sour cream or honey. We used to eat them with Siberian jam, because Siberian grannies make so much jam that you have to eat it all the time. (Laughing)     

Do you remember the first time you saw Baikal? When did it happen? What did you feel?

I don’t remember that first time. I spent my childhood living in Listvyanka, so I used to see Baikal every single day. When I came to Maloe More (the strait of Lake Baikal) for the first time, I didn’t feel anything special. It was nice. Nothing more. When I was 16, I came back to get to know Baikal better. I had been living at Maloe More for almost a month. Every day I felt amazed by its beauty. By that summer, I had seen Baikal for so many times, but it was the first time I realized what it really was. I couldn’t help surprising how beautiful, powerful, and unpredictable the lake was.

Are you concerned about the future of the lake? What exactly makes you feel this way?

Yes, sure I am. For example, today I’ve read an article about the landfill on the shore of Baikal, where the water bottling plant was forbidden to set up. This landfill is very dangerous for the ecosystem of the lake. There are several serious problems we must solve to keep Baikal alive. I guess there must be another article dedicated to this topic. Just one more thing I want to touch upon is the way local people treat the lake, not all of them of course. I don’t understand the reason why people can’t collect the rubbish they leave. All of us should follow a simple rule “Leave no trace”. Our visit must leave no trace.

There are a lot of local legends about Baikal. Some people still believe that one day Baikal will get so mad about misusing of nature by humans that he will rip out the sacred Shaman rock, and the whole world will be flooded. Do you believe it?

I’ve never thought about it. But I believe that all the spirits that inhabit the territory of the lake are mighty enough to protect Baikal before the lake has to go to such extremities.

a woman standing on a beach posing for the camera

Why should people see Irkutsk and Baikal?

Irkutsk has an interesting history. It used to play a great role in exploring the eastern part of Russia in the 18th century. And it’s still important for our country. Unfortunately, our rather small town won’t amaze you by posh architecture, but it still preserves beautiful wooden houses richly decorated with meaningful laces. Irkutsk has been moving its own path of development since it was founded. It has been living its special life. The people from Irkutsk still live in different tempo unlike the people from the European part of Russia. By the way, Irkutsk is supposed to be a gateway to Lake Baikal. I recommend having a walk around Irkutsk to slow down before heading to the lake. It’s a good idea to get ready before you see that old and wise man.

I guess, I travel pretty often, but I haven’t seen a place more beautiful than Lake Baikal yet. Because the lake combines both beauty and energy. It’s difficult to realize how huge it is.  It could take you hours and hours to get to the point. Wherever you go along the lake, it will be different. Baikal has something special for all of us. We just need to find it. The most wonderful thing about Lake Baikal is the wishes you make on its shores will definitely come true. My own experience proves it. Get your wish list done and come here.

Written by Marina, a local guide