ANNA AND ALYONA MARYASOVS
When we were young, we sincerely believed that our family was the happiest in the world. We spent the better half of our lives in the forests, the mountains, and on Baikal.
We came to know the idea of ecotourism the natural way, through our parents. We started participating in hikes through the Taiga and other areas practically from birth. I remember the first lessons our parents taught us about proper behavior in the woods: take your trash with you, put out the fire, and treat all living things with respect.
During our school years, we were able to share our happiness with our classmates. Mom and Dad were always active people, and spent a lot of their time with us and our peers. Thanks to this, we had many friends. It all started very simply: our parents came to our classroom and asked a life-changing question: «who wants to go on a hike this Sunday?» A forest of hands went up along the rows, the children's eyes lit up, and on Sunday a colorful band of children, dressed in all different manners, with plastic bags and satchels instead of backpacks, gathered in the school entryway. For some of them, tourism would never move beyond weekend hikes, but some would begin to want more. We grew up in this habitat, and the difficulty of our hikes grew along with us.
The most important events of our life happened while hiking: real friendships, our first loves, admiring the beauty of our region, unforgettable discoveries, testing ourselves and coming to understand others, revealing new skills and talents and our collective creativity.
In this way, our parents were able to create a healthy and interesting environment for our upbringing. The hiking club «Davan,» the Station for Young Hikers, and, later, the School for Environmental and Tourist Education – all creations of our parents, made possible our mutual growth and development in that environment.
When it came time to choose a profession for our future lives, we had almost no doubts. Of course we want to, and will always, work in the field of outdoor tourism. Our certainty was confirmed with each tour group, whose participants left Baikal happy and grateful. It was delightful to watch how, through us – young ecotourism instructors – our guests revealed for themselves the beauty of our pristine wilderness and the mysteries of human relationships.
My first independent experience of working with groups of tourists has been committed to my memory for life. I personally always found it amazing that visitors are so fervently taken with the environement in which we grew up, to which we are accustomed: Baikal's many colors, the clear water, and the vivid mountains, snow, and ice. I laughed when the children from Khabarovsk said: «There are so many different rocks on the shores of Baikal. Do they bring them here on purpose?» Another time, after meeting a group from Zheleznogorsk, we loaded into a bus and, as usual, headed for the beach to meet Grandfather Baikal. I sat in the front, facing the passengers, and was startled by a collective «ah!» from the seats. Surprised, I turned to look at the road, expecting to see a horrible accident. Instead, I heard the collective gasp of «Baikaaaal!» from the seats behind me, and realized that a small piece of Baikal had come into view. I thought to myself: «If they can be so struck by this small piece of city beach, whatever will they think of the wild places we are about to see?!»
Another huge discovery for me was that, while working with tourists, you begin to feel like a part of the surrounding landscape and you become responsible for the actions of the whole group. You become a part of the ecosystem, and, through you and your attitude towards nature, the guests create their own relationship with the world of Baikal.
Over time, I began to recognize that I am much more interested in working with inquisitive, curious tourists, who ask themselves each time they leave for a trip: «What do I want to find and learn in this new place?»
Participating in the Great Baikal Trail opened up many opportunities for me. I was able to see the world, and the world can come to see us. Through my travels, I have become more certain that we live in one of the greatest places on Earth. While traveling, we learned many new things, traded experiences with others, and met new partners. We found people who think like us all over Baikal, and became a united team in building our network of trails.
Today, we have our own small hostel. We welcome any and all travelers who knock on our door. Tourists from all corners of the world will find comfort and care here, and after you have had your adventures on our tours, you can meet again in our kitchen and share your experiences.