Thursday, December 1, 2011

Nobody F&*%s with the Jesus

You know who else walks on water?
Lake Baikal is over 70 kilometers (43 miles) long. It plunges to 1.6 kilometers deep. It holds 25% of the earth’s freshwater. And it holds it at a numbing 9° C (48° F). So when we arrived on Olkhon island the prospect of swimming was low.
Decidedly uninviting.
Beautiful?  Yes
Icy?  Yes

You want me to swim? There?
But we'd heard a rumor about a bayna on a nearby beach. A banya is a traditional Russian bathhouse. Its like a steamroom, but typically lined with aromatic woods, and includes a bundle of birch sprigs and leaves that you beat yourself (or your friends) with.
The bayna
Preparing the bayna
Despite it being a cold rainy day we headed down to the beach to seek out this alleged bayna, its 100+ degree heat, and possibly overheat so thoroughly that we would consider diving into Lake Baikal. Well, we found it. With its cheery beach umbrella and tiny wooden benches. But no one had thought it could be real, so no one had a bathing suit on. Fearing that this would be our only chance, and despite the sub-50 degree farenheit weather, we stripped down to our unders, and hopped into the hot, steamy banya. Meanwhile the girls sat outside the bayna drinking beer. I may have even given the whole beach a show when I ‘accidentally’ yanked down Brian’s boxers as he was heading into the banya. Ooops.
What the hell?  Probably not going to get another chance to swim off Olkhon Island again...
Plus, what a festive umbrella!
So, while I stripped down, Erin and Natalie cracked open the 2-liter plastic bottle of Zatecky Gus,
you know, the fine Russian beer.  Jesse was busy with her single ruble bills.  It was my finest Chip'n'Dale moment.
And after that, well, it was time to get in!  Once inside we (me, Brian, and JJ) poured some water over the hot rocks, slapped each other with the birch switches, and waited until we were unbearably hot. It didn't take long.
The bayna, ready for action (exterior).
The bayna, ready for action (interior).
Our veniks, switches of birch we hit each other with to improve circulation and fully experience the banya ritual.
Brian hits the rocks with some more water.  The steam was sooooo hot.  It was unbearable near the stove.
1) You can see why Jesse was so busy with her single ruble bills;
2) You can see the sheen of sweat and steam from the incredibly hot bayna; and
3) You can see how cool CZ and his water-proofing is!

OMG.  So hot, so hot, so hot, so hot.  Let me out.
Within minutes we were completely overheated, dizzy, delirious, and dreaming of an ice bath.  Counting to 3, we threw the door open and made a run for it. Into the icy Baikal waters. And it felt great. For a moment, And then it felt cold. Deeply cold. Dunking your head was like putting your entire body into a vice, the water surrounding and suffocating you. And so, almost as fast as we ran into the water, we ran out.

Out the door.
The air was cold.  But felt great.
And then, it was time to take the plunge:
Here, I explain the finer points of the running dive to Brian and JJ.
Brian is clearly just thinking about his next Chippendale moment. Is that magnum?  Blue steel?
And JJ's internal monologue: "Ich bin zu sexy für mein Hemd"
Once out of the water the core heat built up in the bayna kept you warm for 5-10 minutes, after which, it was right back into the bayna for another round. Each 150 Ruble ($5) session allowed for three bayna sessions (and accordingly, three dives into the lake). After a few more runs, we were done for the day.
Gearing up for the walk back to Nikitas.
50 degrees, overcast, and white-caps.  Pretty much your perfect beach day.
The banya-Lake Baikal experience was so fun that a few days later we went back for a second round. But this time we brought our swimsuits (and for me, my tiny little swimsuit) and, even better the sun came out!  And with the sun on our faces, we convinced Jesse to get in the water!  The banya-Lake Baikal experience should not be missed.  Fantastic.
Despite the unfortunate placement of the water droplet, no one would could doubt that this is me and J in Lake Baikal.
In 48 degree Lake Baikal.
Our runs into the water.  Or almost into the water!
Run, run, run, ooooh, cold, cold cold, run run run away!
Warming up after the first dip.
And, if you've made it this far, of course you get some (expected) pics of sunsets and (unexpected) me in my tiny-bathers:
Look at that form.
And this form? Double gorgeous. Thanks.
But, even if you don't think the tiny bathers are beautiful, the sunsets on Olkhon Island undeniably are.


  1. This demonstrates that you truly are crazy! What does the title of this blog mean?

  2. Russian style is to be totally naked, it gives you some special feeling :)


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