The east shore of Lake Baikal, like always, was shrouded in mist all the way up above the peaks. Out on the water in the morning, the wind bit with a determined late season chill.
The captain stood broad shouldered, square-faced and hale with a crew-cut and a Reebok jacket, and I liked him right away. Not a lick of English, but he made us coffee with water from a big painted teapot below decks and offered pelmini that we coveted but politely refused. Couldn't be sure we wouldn't be eating his own lunch.
Over the weekend the jetty at Listvyanka had been packed with trinket vendors and mongers of exotic Siberian fish like omul and grayling. On Monday morning it stood deserted except for a bibulous bottle recycler and three or four ships' mates and dockhands, loitering around stale cigarette butts and wrappers.
The new week crept up in autumnal dampness, the clouds in stratified layers. Surveying the dock and our little ship, the Poruchik, the Gilligan's Island theme edged into my head. Ours was a four hour tour – a simple west to east crossing of one of the world’s great lakes.
A white, blue and red tricolor flapped above the Poruchik, a deisel-burning forty-foot cruiser with two cabins below decks and a separate galley and mess. Must have started life as a fishing boat before they retrofitted it for charters, with benches, tables and chairs, and there were liqueurs and vodkas and a TV below.
Larch, pine and beech rounded rocky outcrops up the hills along shore. After an hour the Poruchik came alongside a settlement called Bolshoi Koti, the last, tenuous human imprint. From there, north for six hundred-odd kilometers of lakeshore, primeval forest reigned impenetrable.