Our little camp in southeastern Siberia truly began to feel like a home, like the place I should be. My sleeping bag was a great bed; I was untroubled by camping night after night for two weeks. I didn’t need an inside anymore. I was out in the world, and with a group of truly great people, at that. And if you watch the world, and listen to it, you can learn some things.
Here is an assortment of what camping in Siberia taught me.
1. Life can be busy – and not boring – sans technology
The camp had no internet, no cell phone reception, and even no electricity (unless a generator was turned on). And I was busy! I honestly found it hard to find the time to do activities such as write in my journal because between working, eating, socializing, cleaning, and sleeping, there was little left. Technology can be a time suck, and, at times, an unnecessary one. I was able to perfectly entertain myself with people, a forest, and the tasks at hand. Internet and the like can be great, but they can also pull us away from the people who are present, by us.
2. Man – and technology – is everywhere
We didn’t entirely escape technology though. These days, it is quite all-encompassing. The night sky over us was beautiful. One night, some of us pulled our sleeping bags over to a rock on the river to watch the stars for a while, undisturbed by artificial lights. I saw six shooting stars. And I saw for the first time, quite noticeably, sputniki, or satellites. They moved slowly across the sky, one there, one there, circling us from above. It was remarkable to think that our presence stretches so far.
3. Manual forest labor has its benefits
We slogged through a bog, we scraped bark off dead trees, and we tried and tried and finally succeeded to fell these dead trees before debarking them. Mosquitos larger than I have ever seen swarmed around, but even worse were the vicious little ants that would reach up to attack if your hand merely swept high above them. Sound fun? Maybe fun isn’t exactly the right word, but it wasn’t unfun either.
Beyond the physical benefits of this work/exercise, there are some social and environmental benefits as well. Of course, this type of work – selectively felling trees, often dead, the only fossil fuel powered tool a chainsaw – has a much smaller environmental footprint than bulldozing a trail and using mass-produced timber to build pathways would. But this work also makes you understand the power of the forest, and perhaps, therefore, respect it more. It took us, a team of eighteen, three days to fell an already dead tree. It took additional days to shred off the bark. And unearthing a tree stump is no easy task. One dead tree part can put up a battle against five people. Maybe we should give trees more of their due respect.
4. Some people are really great
So, honestly, I can feel pretty down about people. I’m not one who looks on the brighter side when it comes to humanity. But the people I was with in the camp, for the very most part, were great. They were incredibly nice, they were funny, they were generous, they were caring. We could be increasingly goofy (whether this was caused by the isolation or the overconsumption of sweets, I don’t know) and it was all fine, everything goes, you’re taken in with a smile. I know these people are out there now, for sure.
5. Yourself is the one to be
And I mean that down to every last bit. You are still you without make-up and covered in specks of bog mud. Don’t worry so much about what you look like. Do whatever is comfortable at the time based on your own feelings, not others’. Be as goofy or as serious as you wish. Drop the self-consciousness because it is a barrier to you, that’s all. The right people won’t leave your side.
Truly, I’m still absorbing this all. But I can say this for sure: I learned a lot. I was filled with wonder. I want to do it again.
Tagged: camping, environment, friends, great baikal trail, irkutsk, lake baikal, life, olkhinskoye plateau, Russia, siberia, travel, volunteering
Leah, I enjoyed reading this. I’m just going to have to get to Siberia and Lake Baikal, and hike some of this trail, that’s all!