Listvyanka, Lake Baikal; Siberia, Russia

Yesterday after arriving in Irkutsk, I visited Listvyanka, a popular destination on the shores of Lake Baikal, about an hour by bus (100 rubles; less than $3.50) due east of Irkutsk. Reportedly the Russian Security Service maintains a highly confidential resort here, apparently so confidential that when the local mayor complained about construction noise, he was arrested.

The lake appears crushingly large, but when you look at Listvyanka on a map, it is so blindingly small; it is simple impossible for me to fathom the size of this lake. I think it is nearly four times as large as Lake Michigan or the Great Salt Lake, which are about the same size as each other.

The woman who runs the hostel here in Irkutsk graduated from a Russian university with a degree in biology, so I trust her when she says the lake is frozen solid to a depth of nearly five feet at its thickest point, thick enough for cars and even large trucks to drive safely on the ice. Or at least as safe as it can be when there is no oversight, or even rules or regulations, with regard to traffic on the surface of the lake: There were children on sleds being towed by SUVs, right next to others flying by on ATVs, or rumbling by in SUVs, or racing the latest Audi.

I rented an ATV for a spin around the lake. It can be as cheap as 250 rubles, because each ATV fits two riders and rents for a price of 500 rubles. It would be much more expensive in America because we have a word that apparently does not exist here in Russia: liability.