Saturday, October 2, 2010
Backpacking on Demerdji Mountain
It’s a sunny though cold Saturday afternoon. I have my laundry hanging outside, getting ready to walk down to the bazaar to get the ingredients to make risotto for the neighbors tonight. I found Arborio rice so have been wanting to try it. Will be fun to do some cooking with Lenura. Up to now, our cooking together has consisted of me assisting her in her manti and cheburek (Crimean Tatar dishes) preparations, so this will be a whole different experience. Good for my language skills, I hope!
Last weekend I went backpacking up on Demerdji Mountain for three days with my PCV friends, Grace and Cheryl. Grace is young—in her twenties—and Cheryl is one of the new older volunteers in Crimea—she’s 51, I think. So I was still the old gal, but not with as big of a gap as there is sometimes. Unfortunately, Serdar had to stay home and study, despite his really wanting to come. He even thought about bringing his anatomy book with him, but finally realized he needed to work at home. I sure missed him, though. We are still going to try and get a camping trip in before it gets too cold. I just got him a sleeping bag that a returning Volunteer was giving away, so we are pretty set, equipment wise.
It was beautiful up on Demerdji. We only had a vague idea of where we were going, but it is a treeless, open plateau, so it is pretty difficult to get lost. However, hiking in Crimea is not so easy. There are many paths which crisscross frequently and none are marked. The first night we were heading for a waterfall and adjacent campsite that are shown on a Crimea hiking map I have (which is, of course, all in Russian to add to the challenge). We eventually found the campsite with the help of advice from other backpackers we met along the trails, but never did find the waterfall…or else it was dried up at this time of the season, though I don’t really think so. Finding water at all was a bit of a problem. Springs are marked on the map, but we were unable to locate them, and thus the necessity of finding the designated campsite because we knew there would be water there. And there was, but, unfortunately, it was a heavily used site, and there was a lot of garbage, a ubiquitous problem in Crimea and all over Ukraine. But we set up our tent under a beautiful old knarled tree, rustled up some fire wood (left over at another tent site thank goodness, as there was little to be found in the woods), I cooked up a simple dinner on the new stove I bought (my first camping purchase in Ukraine!), and we had a lovely evening. There was one other party, two men and a young boy, but they were nice neighbors and not too noisy. It was a cold night so there was much discussion about who should sleep in the middle, Grace winning out because of a broken zipper on her sleeping bag. Unfortunately, it was Cheryl who had the really cold night because the sleeping bag she had borrowed was more for crashing at PCV apartments.
The next day we made our way to the famous rock formations we could see in the distance at the far end of the plateau, and then down the steep mountainside to the “Valley of the Ghosts” filled with jumbled rock masses twisted into “ghost-like” shapes. We had met up with a group of middle-aged day hikers at that point, and followed the stragglers down the mountainside. It was quite difficult for us with our heavy packs. I don’t think they know the meaning of switchbacks here. So far my hiking has been straight up or straight down. I tried to create my own little switchbacks to avoid tumbling head over heels. Was glad when we got further down the hillside and the trail leveled out somewhat.
Camped that night in a really used campsite that you can drive to. Shared it with a loud party of young people (though instead of canned music they were playing the guitar and singing, so I kind of enjoyed that) a family, some pigs and piglets, a few cows, and a herd of horses. Needless to say, there was an abundance of manure around. However, in the absence of firewood, I decided to try burning dried cow patties, remembering all the stories of the pioneers in the American West burning buffalo chips. And, you know, it worked pretty well. Quite well, actually, and did not smell. Told Neshet about it later, and he said, oh yeah, they used to burn horse chips in Uzbekistan and they gave off a certain aroma that pleasantly flavored the food. Or at least, I think that is what he said!
We made our way into the local village, buying fresh grapes along the way, and waited a while for a bus down to the coast where we could get a bus back to Simferopol. While sitting there, waiting for the bus, nursing my aches and pains, I thought some about how I am getting older and some day perhaps I won’t be able to do this. But I was pretty proud of myself and my ability to keep up with the younger ones. And my spirit, that I know will never go away. I loved being in those mountains. And so next time, I hope we explore Chatir Dag, the mountain I see on my daily walks from home, and then after that, who knows….
Much love from Crimea.