Monday, May 31, 2010

Camping and traveling with the neighbors May 1st

Over two weeks now since I have been back from Turkey, and just now am I having time to write some blog posts—yikes! Glad my life here isn’t always quite so saturated with activities. But all of it has been good, much of it has been wonderful, so no complaints. Just a wish for more time.
So at the end of April, my Peace Corps friend from America, Pat, arrived for a few days visit in Crimea and then on to our two week trip in Turkey. The highlight at least for me—and I think Pat too—of our time in Crimea was a weekend camping trip with the Teitaptiev’s (Neshet and Lenura—I’m trying to get used to pronouncing their difficult last name). It was a holiday weekend—the old Soviet holiday of May 1st which is still widely celebrated here—so Neshet got the idea that we should all go camping and show Pat some of Crimea via the car. A seemingly innocent idea except for the fact that they had never been camping before, had zero equipment, and did not know a whole lot about it. In retrospect I should have contributed a bit more knowledge to the whole endeavor, but I was in my usual go with the flow mode, and also thinking that probably at the last minute we would just decide to travel around and come home at night. But I was wrong. They borrowed a tent, brought a pile of blankets, Pat and I brought a PCV’s tent and our sleeping bags, and off we went. Stopped at the store to pick up some food for the trip—only later did I realize that they had brought absolutely no cooking utensils. I did bring my stove top espresso maker and coffee, so at least we had coffee in the morning. But we didn’t go hungry—we had lots of veggies, a roasted chicken, bread, cheese, fruit, treats. We headed up into the mountains, stopping first at Ai- Petri, the tallest mountain in Crimea, that looms over the resort town of Yalta. I had always wanted to go up there, so it was quite a treat—the views are just spectacular. There is also a little Crimean Tatar settlement there where they have rows of food stalls—I can still see those big pots of plov (kind of a rice pilaf) cooking over open fires. And since everyone in the Crimean Tatar community seems to know everyone else, we stopped in at one of the stalls to chat with Lenura’s cousin who runs it with her husband. To my surprise, we didn’t eat there, but went on down the road and had a roadside picnic. Stopped to hike up to what is billed as “the highest waterfall in Europe”, but there wasn’t much water coming over it, so not a whole lot to see. Then we started searching for a place to camp in the forests on the slopes of Ai-Petri . It’s a holiday weekend, many people are out and about, and we have no idea of where we are going. I am thinking we are either going to find nothing or end up in some not so great place with a lot of other people. But Neshet turns down some side road that wanders through the forest, and lo and behold, we find the perfect campsite. A place where people had frequently camped, so it had a table, benches around the fire, etc, but it was fairly tidy, was by a beautiful rushing stream, under great old pine trees, and with abundant firewood. Pretty perfect, by my standards. We had to leave the car a ways away, which made them nervous, plus there were a few mosquitoes. Luckily I had thought to bring bug repellent, as I know people who don’t normally camp have a REALLY hard time with mosquitoes. The night turned cold, but clear, and we had a roaring fire. It was a wonderful feeling for me to sit in the circle of their family and truly feel part of their lives. We tried some singing of mutual songs we knew—mostly old Beatle tunes—and Neshet tentatively started to sing the Crimean Tatar songs that his mother sang to him as a child—I could see him struggling to pull them from his memory, those beautiful haunting melodies. Eventually everyone went to bed except Neshet and Pat and I, and Neshet and I continued to talk (with me translating as best I could for Pat) late into the night as the coals of the fire dyed down. It was a magical time for me, one I will never forget. And I hope there will be more times of camping together, as they keep referring to our camping trip and how they weren’t so prepared, but “next time they will know what to bring.” So gives me hope that there will be many more next times.
Next day we drove down into Yalta and walked along the Jersey City Boardwalk style waterfront for a little bit, and then at my suggestion, we went to the famous Nikitsky Botanical Gardens located along the coast near Yalta. The Botanical Gardens are the oldest in Ukraine and contain more than 15,000 species of plants. I had always heard how beautiful it is and have wanted to visit there for some time. The location is spectacular—a series of graduated terraces with continuous views of the sea. A Peace Corps Volunteer was assigned there a number of years ago—now that would be a site!
After walking around the gardens for a couple of hours, we headed back to Simferopol, where Pat and I treated them to a nice dinner at a restaurant. A wonderful weekend with my wonderful neighbors. And the next day, off to Turkey. On to my next post….