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Lake Baikal in a Fishing Boat

AFTER TRAVELING for four months in the unearthly mountains of northern Mongolia, we arrived one evening at a pass from which we looked down on the oldest lake in the world stretched out below us. Startled and moved, we remembered what the Siberians had been telling us all along: “It’s not a lake. It’s a sea.”

We would have ample opportunity to discover this firsthand on our lengthwise crossing of the lake, covering a distance of more than five hundred miles, rowing the whole way. Because of our small boat, which we bought in a fishing village, and the winds that can rise suddenly to gale force, we were forced to make many detours and follow the shoreline closely. It would take us two months to work our way up the lake, a concept that startled more than one fisherman. Why spend so much time when a motorboat could do the trip in two days?

We were in no hurry. We could watch the silvery fish pass under our boat to a depth of a hundred feet. Once, on rounding a rock, we saw a bear. And seals raised their heads out of the water to stare at us with large round eyes. We enjoyed seeing the shoreline unfold, with its vistas of beaches, mountains, forests, and green prairies. After a week on the water we were delighted to arrive at a small village of omul (a fish native to Lake Baikal) fishermen.

Silent and natural, rowing awakens the senses and puts you in harmony with the landscape. Above all, it made us open and attentive to the slightest movement of the animals and humans, too, who are the soul of a wild country.

As agents of our own movement, we felt the water, the wind, the swell. The landscape enveloped us. We were one with the lake.

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