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SIBERIA

Olkhon Island

Khuzhir (2006)

The group stayed in the village of Khuzhir, on the western shore of the island. It took only a few hours to travel from Irkutsk to Khuzhir, going first by bus, then by ferry, and then again by bus. It’s actually easier in the winter, when the lake is frozen, since then trucks and busses can simply drive across the lake and the small size and slow pace of the ferry isn’t an issue.

Although it’s only a few hours away, entering Khuzhir was like entering another world, especially for the students, several of whom hadn’t entirely recovered from the culture shock of Irkutsk. The village had only had electricity since 2005. There was no phone service, neither landline nor cell phone, although there was one couple with a satellite phone and intermittent Internet service. They were willing to sell access to either, but the logistics of arranging to use either were pretty daunting.

Accomodations

The group stayed at a tourist facility where there was no running water. The owners of the tourist facility received water by truck once a day (the rest of the village received it once or twice a week). The staff would bring in a pail of water. When we wanted to wash we would scoop water from the pail using a bright pink dipper, pour it into a pink container above the sink, and push up on the spigot. Water would flow out until we removed pressure from the spigot. The gray water would go out the drain into a red plastic gasoline can, which was then dumped daily.

Academics

The academic part on Olkhon was shaped by Arkadii, a remarkable Russian who is deeply committed to the environment and has unlimited energy.

Arkadii divided the group into four, making sure there was at least one student with Russian language skills and one student with a science background on each team. He then assigned each team a site near the village, taught them how to calculate the “carrying capacity” of a site and how to think about adjusting it for various kinds of constraints (meteorological, cultural, practical). Each team then had to develop an eco-tourism plan for its site.

Shaman's Rock (2009)

  • Site 1: Abandoned pier and fish factory
    Catching and processing fish had been a key part of the island’s industry in the Soviet period, but after the dissolution of the Soviet Union the factory and pier were privatized. Without state assistance, the operation proved to be unprofitable. Now, neither the state nor the private owner is interested in maintaining the pier, even though it was the only working pier on the island.
  • Site 2: Cliffs
  • Site 3: Shaman's Rock
    The Shaman’s Rock is sacred to the local Buryat religion (as are many, many other places). They would therefore prefer that people—especially women—not clamber all over it. The sign providing this information is obvious only if you approach from a particular direction, and is only in Russian.
  • Site 4: Beach

Cultural Experiences

The group goes for a swim in Lake Baikal. (2006)

After the projects were completed, it was time to experience other parts of island life. The group took a dip in Lake Baikal, the temperature of which was about 38 degrees Fahrenheit.

Later, the group visited the village cemetery and gained a sense of the history of the village—lots of deaths associated with World War II and some with the war in Afghanistan. Also, some of the crosses were not Orthodox crosses. Some commemorate Lithuanian prisoners who were sent to the island under Stalin and died there.

To the north of the village on the island are the remains of a forced labor camp. The camp functioned primarily during the years of World War II.