Sunday evening. I’m exhausted from a day of hiking, but a wonderful day it was. This week has been chocked full of events, it seems. Wednesday was Librarian Day in Ukraine—there are all kinds of holidays in Ukraine—and both my libraries closed for the day and went on excursions. Which meant I had to choose to go to a village down on the Black Sea or a cave tour in the mountains. Ah, poor me….anyhow, I decided to go on the cave tour even though I really wanted to go to the Black Sea because the cave tour was with my primary site—the Crimean Tatar Library—and I wanted to hang out with those folks. It was a great day. As an added bonus, one of the artists I work with also came, as he is good friends with Nadzhiye. We all gathered at a bus stop on the eastern edge of the city early in the morning, got on a marshuka the library had chartered, and took off for the cave. The entrance was pretty commercial, complete with camels (to rent for the long hike up to the cave), a Mongolian yurt (an authentic one-interesting to see the construction, being a yurt love), and various stick-your-head-in the picture photo ops—Ukrainians are VERY into photos.
It was a fairly long hike up to the cave through the forests filled with fall color, a really lovely hike with beautiful views as we got higher. The cave was at the base of a cliff and was very interesting, though not as spectacular as the cave I visited when I first came here. It had a large river running through it, and apparently there was a place where you could follow it for a kilometer (swimming) into some vast caverns. Now that would have been interesting…but of course, not something we were doing. We had a guide, but I could not understand much of what he was saying. Well to be truthful, I couldn’t understand anything he was saying. But I enjoyed following along with everyone and being amazed by the odd formations you find in underground places.
Afterwards, we hiked to a beautiful waterfall and climbed around on the rocks. Or at least some of us did. Here I am all outfitted in my Keen hiking boots, and while most of the people at least had some form of sneaker on, Nadzhiye had on her usual very flimsy looking slip on shoes. Which she supplemented with wool socks for the cave tour. But we are crossing streams, walking up gravel paths, etc. and she seemed to do okay.
Lunch consisted of all of us sitting in a circle and everyone laying out the food they brought to share. I had figured out that would be the case (I am learning!) and brought a bunch of food. Then we headed back home after a final photo session with the camel family.
It was so nice to spend the day with the library staff, to get to know them a bit better. And as a bonus, one of the women I rode back with on the bus who lives out in Ak Mechet where I live, invited me to her home to meet her kids and in-laws who live with them. Her husband had come on the tour with us, so I had met him. I am always tired after spending a day of only speaking and trying to understand Russian, and so often, I just want to go home to my place and be alone. But never do I turn down an invitation, and it is always the right decision. One of the unexpected things that happened at Alina’s house is that her mother-in-law got out her photo album at my request and started showing me her old photos, some of which were before the deportation in 1944. What was especially interesting is that where I live was basically open land 20 years ago when the Crimean Tatars starting coming back and building houses, and they had pictures of that time.
This weekend my PCV hiking friend, Grace, came on Friday. We met up in the center, had dinner at one of the Crimean Tatar restaurants, and then came out to Ak Mechet and went over and visited with my neighbors for a bit. They love talking with Grace because she can actually talk with them pretty well, unlike me at this point. Saturday we met up with a PCV from my group, Jason, and had lunch and walked around town a bit. That evening some of us PCV’s were invited to a reception with the acting US Ambassador to Ukraine at a fancy hotel and then to a concert with American jazz performers. I had invited Nadizhye to come with me, and she was pretty excited about it. I took a picture of her with the Ambassador, and we had a nice time hanging out at the reception. She kept pointing out all the Crimean dignitaries who where there, including the director of our library and his wife, whom I hadn’t met before. I think it was quite the feather in Nadizhye’s cap to be there, and I was very happy to be the one to provide it. And it turns out she loves jazz, so she was more into the concert than I was and was just bopping along with the beat. Unfortunately, the singer apparently didn’t understand that the audience didn’t speak English and wasn’t going to respond to her attempts to engage them. But in the end they gave her a standing ovation (I’m sure much to her surprise).
So, the real highlight of this week was today—the hike to Mangup-Kale, one of the ancient cave cites of Crimea. Grace and I had planned this, and I invited Sirdar and Saphiye, my wonderful neighbor kids, to go with us. We got on the local bus at 7am, then got on another bus from one of the bus stations to take us to a town about 45 minutes away. There we ended up taking a taxi to the town at the beginning of the hike to the cave city, as the only bus came much later. Cost 100 hrvinia, about $12. A lot by Ukrainian standards, but it was worth it. There was a long steep trail up through a lovely woods to get to the high plateau where the cave city is. Mangup-Kale was inhabited by people from the 6th century to the 15th century. Some of the original inhabitants were Greeks. I don’t know much more than that, because what information I had is in Russian, but I do know that the Crimean Tatars apparently never lived there, and that there was a Jewish settlement at some point. We passed some moss covered stones in the woods with Hebrew writing on them. Supposedly it is the site of a Jewish cemetery, if I understood Sirdar correctly.
Up on the plateau there was a massive ancient archway built out of large stone blocks, and crumbling stone walls. The most fascinating part of the cave cities is the hallowed out caves in the cliff faces with openings framing incredible views. There are ancient steps carved into the stone to get down to the caves, but it is precarious in some places. And in one cave there was a recently placed plaque about someone who had died exploring the caves. What I find most interesting about the caves is that these were burial chambers apparently. I really would like to read more about the cave cities. There are about 20 in Crimea. Grace and I are going to try to get to another one with a Russian friend who has a car.
Well, it is Monday night now, and I am tired and not feeling too inspired in the writing department as might be apparent in the last couple of paragraphs. I want to add some pictures, so I will go ahead and post this. For those regular readers out there, I won’t be doing next week’s post until near the middle of the week because my friend Jud will be here, and we will be off exploring!
With love from Crimea.