From Paris to Lake Baikal – Living the Simple Life

Deep in the psyche of ever man

Sylvain Tesson - videoPhoto by: Thomas Goisque

The empty spot in our souls.

Deep in the psyche of ever man (and woman) is the desire to find peace and a bit of solitude. If we don’t feed this primal nature in some way there will forever be an empty spot in our souls. French travel writer, Sylvain Tesson tried out the “Robinson Crusoe” lifestyle on the shores of Lake Baikal, Russia. The question is did he fill this modernly romanticized part of his life?

30eadecd98d2be505b005ebc7ce486e7Photo by: Thomas Goisque

Feeding the deep desire

His cabin where he would spend his six month tenure was on the Lake’s western shore, to reach civilization it would take a 6 day walk to the closest village. His nearest neighbor would be a pressing one day walk (19 miles) in good weather. So what compelled him to choose this lifestyle? Tesson had visited Lake Baikal several times before, but on his visit in 2003 while walking the Lake’s shoreline he came upon those who wanted to feed this deep want. In each of them he found this strange peace being fulfilled. Five years later he spent three days in a tiny izba, a small traditional Russian cabin. It was during this time period he made the decision to return to Lake Baikal and live several months in solitude. His reasoning, “I wanted to experiment with the simple life and claim back time”.

Sylvain Tesson by Lake BaikalPhoto by: Thomas Goisque

Experiencing the day to day life alone

His abode was the home of Volodya and Ludmilla who had spent 15 years of their lives on the shore of Lake Baikal. What was built to be a geologists hut became the home for the park rangers who were spaced approximated at 19 mile intervals around the reserve. Once they had abandoned their domicile, our modern-day reclusenik moved in. He was well prepared with his fishing poles, axe and cleaver, kerosene lamp, ice drill, saw, snowshoes, tent, liquor glasses and vodka, cigars, provisions (pasta, rice, Tabasco sauce, coffee) and a library of almost 80 books. He was now ready to experience the day to day life, alone, in the woods. I don’t think Robinson Crusoe had it so good.

i2P_LakeBaikal_trekking_expedition_03Photo by: Andrei Sobetov

Expand your thinking

So what does one do if they don’t have their man “Friday”. How do you keep yourself from going crazy without a soul to talk to? It seems that Tesson surrounded himself with a variety of authors to expand his thinking. His choices ranged from Michel Déon for melancholy, DH Lawrence for sensuality, some philosophers (Nietzsche, Schopenhauer, the Stoics), Sade and Casanova to stir his blood. Tesson claimed, “If I had not had books, I would have gone quickly mad”.

20130703053546-Nenets_Nomads__Digging_hole_in_ice___Siberia__Russia__2011.jpgPhoto by: Peter Fetterman

You can find happiness in the possibility of things

It seems that those who live in remote cabins like this can quickly fall into depression, or have bouts of cabin fever. We’ve all heard that no man is an island, but in this environment one can surely come close to it. It seems that the wisest thing he did was divide up his days. The first part of his day was devoted to spiritual things, the second half more physical aspects like exploring his 19 mile island so to speak.  One of Tesson’s comments that really touched me was, “Each day goes by, a mirror of the one before, a rough draft of the one to come”. He continued to say, “You can find happiness in the possibility of things, but you can also find it in knowing exactly what will happen.” In conclusion he said, “It is peaceful, a very slow life, but you become rich.”

One brings peace the other…….

So I will conclude my thoughts, “as we walk our lives are we seeking to enrich them? Or become rich? One brings peace the other………..well you decide.




5 thoughts on “From Paris to Lake Baikal – Living the Simple Life

  1. A long time ago I spent 5 months living in a camper van and touring around Ireland. I found that your worries just transfer to the basics of life, such as where can we fill up the water tank yet? Can we free-camp here over night or will the poilce move us on? (they never did…) But you do lose all self importance when you have to do your laundry in a river and hang your smalls on tree branches to dry! And I also would have gone mad had I not had books to read….

    1. Thank you for the comments. I’ve always wanted to spend some time doing something like this. Did it change you as a person? Would you do it again?

      1. I wouldn’t do it now, no, I like my comforts too much! I guess all experiences change you. I have happy memories but also remember the bad days and a lot of the time the truth is I was day dreaming of a nice house to live in…..

  2. Hi Steve, I loved this story, perhaps because I’ve spent time on Lake Baikal, but in the late summer.. but how dreamy and desolate it looks in the winter. I will return there one day, well-wrapped up, in order to cross the Lake, as I hear is possible…. Thanks for sharing the story of this brave and adventurous spirit.

    1. That brave and adventurous spirit………….that’s what I want to be. So you’ve been there? It’s a dream. I’ve got to figure out how I’m going to do everything I want to do. Life is to short. Just got to do it. How did you do it?

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