*Warning: Bodily functions discussed. Sour cream is liberally applied...things get strange*
Yes, I'll spare you (me?) the picture of my legs as I'm writing this blog post, but I can affirm that from ankle on up to about 6 more inches of my legs are slathered in sour cream as I type this. I'm going to post some highlights of the weekend, although it will likely turn into a saga.
Will is Wise, Hugo and I are Fools
Will called me up last week and announced that we had the chance to go on a great adventure: one of his teachers from school (Ukrainian, not English) had invited him to go on a trip to climb some mountains. With his usual verve, he managed to get Hugo and myself invited as well. "A test of human endurance!" he said, a chance to really experience Ukraine. Well, sign me up.
Hugo and I got on the bus Thursday mid-morning, and were soon bumping along to Vinoradhiv, the nearest big(ger) city to Will's town. I remembered that the bus stopped nearer center before continuing on to the bus stop - a rather painfully learned lesson that my bladder still cringes when recalled. So I was pleased that we hopped off at the right stop.
Until I realized I just left my phone on the bus.
My Ukrainian cell phone with all my organization numbers and not really something I should miss-place if at all possible. So after an almost comic moment of realization and growing panic, we set off towards the bus stop. After several minutes, Hugo - thinking more clearly than I, took my backpack and I got to have my first run in Ukraine. So happy to start in the 90+ degree weather...
Fortunately, the bus was still at the station when I ran up and grabbed my phone off the bus, jogging my way back to Hugo.
Clearly our adventures had already begun!
Meet up, Melt Down
Within an hour Will had joined us in the town. We were a little confused by his shopping list - fruit, crackers, lots of bread (ok, that's normal for Ukraine), cheese. No tent was on the list - Will cheerfully informed us that there was an extra. So we stocked up and bought the guys little metal bowls and Hugo a towel. We met up with Will's Ukrainian teacher friend by chance, which led to several things.
On the plus side, we got to meet her ahead of time and got a ride back to Will's village. We also found out that Will had missed a negative somewhere, and that we were currently NOT thought to be needing a tent. Luckily, where there's a Will there's a way, and we soon were able to rustle one up.
When we got back to Will's village we went on the grand tour. We stopped for ice cream, and decided to come back for water. This was all fine and well, until Will decided that we should walk to the river - about a mile's distance. Now, most of you know that my heat-tolerance is pathetic. I do get cranky and sweaty, but I also just biologically cannot handle heat well. I managed to hold it together fairly well - we even got a ride half-way to the beach, but as we bounced along I was fairly certain I was one good bump away from losing anything in my stomach.
At the beach I dearly would have loved to dive into the river, but my clothing selection was limited and I didn't have a spare to have wet. Realizing that I really wasn't feeling too hot, Will kindly procured water from a friend (Will is everyone's friend...echos of "Mr. Will! Mr.Will ring out from children anywhere we go in his village and many adults know him as well), and I got to sit in the shade. Concern made us curtail the river experience, and it was a huge struggle to make it back into town to the first little bar with water. As I staggered along, too far gone to face the effort of speaking - NEVER a problem as we all know - I began to have second thoughts about my endurance for a mountain trek.
However, after a bottle of water, an extremely cold shower and an hour of rest, I felt fit to regain humanity. Meanwhile Will and Hugo had gone off to play ultimate Frisbee in a lightening storm with his English club. Apparently lightening can form balls? That would be my sign to evacuate the field...
After a lovely evening with Will's landlord and his family, we went to bed after re-packing.
Our Adventure Begins
We were outside and waiting for the bus by 6:15am at the Ukrainian teacher's house. Her pack was easily twice the size of mine (she is about 5'3 and 120lbs, maybe) and a rough sort of bag fashioned from canvas and pretty much just a tube. We also met her husband. The bus finally came around 7, and we were off to Vinoradhiv to meet the rest of the group. We ended up being in a band of 17 intrepid hikers. For several of us it was the first time: a couple of 18 year olds, a 14 year old with his teacher (weird, but not for Ukraine), and some guys in the their mid-twenties. There was the middle aged Ukrainian teacher and her husband and her friend and then there were a bunch of older men. And by older, I mean some were actually quite old. Our trip leader, the unstoppable Victor, is 69 years old. Yep. And there was one hiker, a gentleman long accustomed to hiking who kept our rear guard who was definitely in his 70's.
You all, did I mention that this hike was 50 kilometers? (Go ahead and do the math, I'll wait...)
I did not.
Because Will had not told us and Hugo and I had been foolish enough to ask.
So after a few hours of driving to the bottom of our first mountain (and dropping some tomatoes off with someone's mother), we quickly ate lunch and started to ascend.
And really, that's what we did for the next hour. I have pictures from the top, but I'm going to have to post them separately - it's too late to take them from my phone and I'm tired already.
However, let me assure you, I was having some second thoughts. First of all, my allergies exploded and I wheezed along in a way that several of the older gentlemen (smokers) looked a little alarmed by. There was a doctor in the group (Endoscopy...), and he also quizzed me. I was much too busy huffing to try to speak, let alone think in Ukrainian.
I'm going to now give a broad overview of the next two days:
Ways in Which Steph Managed to Defy Ukrainian Convention
1. She attempted to take some extra weight at the bottom of the mountain - clearly this wouldn't have helped things along the way, but she was shutdown due to her sex. Clearly a woman taking extra weight is ridiculous. I shall remind my brothers.
2. Steph was confused by the concept of a group woman bathing expedition as soon as we arrived at camp site the first night. (Ie, located the small stream indicated on the map with enough water for cooking.) I failed at understanding the whole conversation.
3. Steph could not even clean her own bowl after dinner. This is actually Hugo's fault, as the bottle he told her to use to rinse her bowl actually contained the camp cooking oil.
4. Attempting to carry a log with Hugo for a bench around the fire (women and weight again). Luckily, my uterus didn't fall out - this time.
5. Upon reaching camp (down a ridiculously steep hill covered in brambly blueberry shrubs) refusing to let one of the 18 year olds take my pack. Really, the dude tried to pull it off me and followed me all the rest of way to camp arguing. I couldn't clearly articulate the triumph of the day and wanting to finish myself.
6. Being harassed about going swimming by everyone already at site about why I must immediately jump in the lake until I pointedly said that I didn't have my swim wear on and needed to change first. Thanks to Hugo for helping me throw up the tent quickly to appease that drama.
7. Not having proper warm gear (sweatshirt and long pants) to change into at the end of the day. Then, having a damp shirt on top of it all. Needless to say I was put into someone's extra clothing quickly. In all fairness, I should have brought a warm layer, but underestimated the effect of swimming in a spring-fed lake. I was still warm enough in the tent, due to my radiating sunburn.
If there were more, I stopped keeping track and stopped caring.
What We Ate
What didn't we eat? Seriously, Ukrainians brought food. So. Much. Food. Dinner both nights was Salo soup. Yep, pig fat soup. Take a few pounds, chop it up, deep fry it in oil in a large pot, and then dump in assorted vegetables and spices until you have a hearty soup.
It was delicious.
The second night they added salami and tinned meat - I wasn't sure my stomach could take it, but I'm sure it was calorific.
We also ate at most stops. Due to the gardens, there was a large amount of tomatoes and cucumbers proffered. Everything was very communal, and the shopping lists soon made sense. Crackers, pretzels, bread, cheese, sausage, fruit...everything was offered around.
Breakfast Saturday morning (breakfast and lunch, it turned out, as we spent the next 10 hours on the walk) was noodles with tinned meat. Think school beef hotdish and you're pretty close. As a non-breakfast eater, I found this slightly nauseating at 7am, but I was glad that I'd eaten heartily as the day went on.
Walking...and Walking...and Walking
Saturday we walked 20 kilometers. Most of it was along mountain ridge lines. We made it to the top of mount Tempa (elevation 1600 meters = 1 mile) and I don't think I'd ever been so happy to stop walking in my life. The previous few hours had been pleasant enough. Despite being under a warm sun, there were nice blueberry patches clustered along the way.
However, the incline was both long and terrifically steep. You'd think you'd almost made it, only to get a glimpse of yet another steep incline starting. Soon I was counting and relying on some walking sticks (swear I'll get a pair of those aluminium ones if I ever do this again and never laugh at someone again using them!) and getting through life 10 seconds at a time.
I wasn't mad at myself or anyone. I couldn't waste energy on those kinds of thoughts. I was living only in the moment, until the final burst of energy that could take me over the top of the hill. It was a strange sort of meditation.
Eventually you simply accepted the mountain. It was there, You will climb it. Your legs will hurt, but you will make it. You stop measuring yourself, and live in the present.
Occasionally, a thought would sneak up on me and I almost fell off a mountain as a sudden wheeze of accompanying laughter caught me off guard.
"I know have a framework for childbirth", I thought "It will hopefully last less than 20 hours and be gentler on my knees!"
The scariest moment I had was on an edge of a mountain that we were skirting the top of. The path dropped off steeply, and gave the illusion of tipping you towards the edge of a deadly fall. I almost froze up, but managed to push on and continue. I did feel a small measure of pride.
Downhill really is just as treacherous as up - requiring a different sort of bracing balance. On the whole I prefer it to up, it was slightly less strenuous on my legs. My poor, sunburned legs. (To match my poor, sunburned arms and ears and chin....). As we walked out I managed to actually have a conversation with a group member, having grown comfortable enough to listen and speak without apprehension. This felt to be as big of a triumph as climbing any of the mountains. For surely if I can manage to communicate basically with a group of non-English speakers (a few had rudimentary English) and survive 30 miles of hiking up and down Carpathian mountains, then I should be able to keep communicating at site.
Despite our optimistic plan to return to Will's village by mid-afternoon Sunday, we didn't make it home until 10pm. This necessitated staying the night, getting up this morning at 4:45 and taking a 5:15 bus back to my town. Needless to say I collapsed into a nap, but also had to be productive because I'm the key facilitator tomorrow for the teacher training seminar.
Ukrainians are very different from Americans. Whenever I'd been through with a big adventure (boundary waters, spring break in Cali with the geology group) we make hasty tracks for home once we're done. We don't usually stop at a local landmark (because it's there) to have a beer and delicious bansha - corn cream of wheat with cheese and butter - and to stop in a river along the way to clean off. Clearly, they feared for their water systems, and we were filthy.
Anyhow, I could go on and on and on, but I'll leave with one last magical moment:
Camping by "THE LAKE"
So on the first day I was promised we'd be swimming at a lake. However, distances turned out to be more than expected, and as we met other hikers we were assured this was not reachable the first day.
The second day, after 10 hours of hiking, I was greeted to the welcome site of Hugo standing on a ridge, directing us to go down.
Hidden in the shadow of a mountain ridge (so hidden that the Dr. I was hiking with grumbled for the first 15 minutes of our descent) was a beautiful, spring fed lake. After my deeply satisfying plunge, I enjoyed watching the edge of the sun creep past the water line and across the valley. Here we saw quite a few other groups, although we beat most of them to the prime camping stop. An early to bed (with 6am rise!) found me irritated with a group that had driven in (a whole different kind of crazy) who had brought a drum and accordion that played far later than I desired.
However, my mood in the morning was much lifted as I attended to my morning visit to the "pee hill" behind the camp. For as I crested the hill, I beheld a whole herd of free range horses! They meandered up the hill, quixotically nosing around human leavings and tents while making their way in shifts to the water to drink. This explained the vast evidence of previous trips. There was a little excitement as a confrontation almost led to a tent being trampled, but mostly the mares, geldings and little foals peacefully roamed around.
Several people, including Hugo, approached them and found them quite tame. I was content to watch and photograph.
Ok, Really. I have to be up early AGAIN tomorrow and productive, so I'm signing off. I promise there will be photos on Facebook soon - I'm sure you've already seen a few.
Hope all is well,