Tuesday, November 16, 2010
I celebrate my 63rd birthday on Kara Dag
It’s a Tuesday morning, and unusual for me, I am home today. It is a major Muslim holiday—Kurban bayram—and my library is closed today and tomorrow. We also were able to leave a bit earlier last night—5 instead of 6—so people could get home and prepare the traditional Crimean Tatar dishes of cheburek (fried meat pies) and plov (rice pilaf with meat, usually mutton). I had planned to spend the evening at home, but I wasn’t very surprised when Mariye from next door showed up with a plate of plov for me. She makes the best plov around. Tonight I will go over to the Seitaptievs for some more tasty Crimean Tatar cooking. What a treat…
So Sunday was my 63rd birthday, and what a wonderful day I had. The weather in Crimea this November has been exceptionally beautiful, so I wanted to get out somewhere to celebrate my birthday. Last year I also wanted to go exploring, but the weather was not so cooperative, and we ended up getting caught in a cold rain as we hiked the cave city of Eski Kermen. But this year I knew it would be beautiful, so I started talking with friends about going to Kara Dag on the coast, a place I have always wanted to explore. Actually, it was Serdar and I who started talking about it, but in the end, he couldn’t go because of his studies. A disappointment, but I understood and am glad that he prioritizes his studying over anything else. Right now that is what he needs to be doing.
Our original plan was to go on Saturday so I would have Sunday to be at home and easily be with my neighbors on my actual birthday. But you can only go to Kara Dag with a guide, and they cancelled on us for Saturday, so Sunday was the day. I spent a lot of time being nervous about whether or not I would be able to get back in time to have my birthday dinner with the Seiptatievs, but when Sunday dawned, I just decided it was going to all work out. And it did. I did have to rush home from the bus station, but I got there only ten minutes after I said I would be there, so all was well.
Kara Dag (which means Black Mountain in Crimean Tatar) is located on the coast near a town called Koktebel which I had visited earlier. It is the remains of a volcano that spewed rocks and debris over a 25 square km area. As a result, the region is covered with strange rock formations and jagged peaks that drop down to the sea. It is also home to many endangered species—called “Red Book” species in Ukraine—of flora and fauna. There is a small museum at the entrance to the area which explains the ecology, but by the time we got there—a total of 5 hours on buses and marshukas, or waiting for buses and marshukas-- we were anxious to start hiking. Kara Dag has been a protected wilderness for a number of years now, a rarity in Crimea, and you are only allowed in with a guide. Because of that it is the most pristine place I’ve been to here—not a piece of garbage and only a few trails crisscrossing the area. We had a group of 11 plus two guides. And a diverse group it was—three older and three younger PCV’s, two Ukrainians (one my friend Dima who was on my birthday hike last year), and three international students from Spain, Germany, and Lithuanian. Everyone (except us older volunteers) spoke pretty good Russian, and the guides only spoke Russian. I tried to pay attention and catch what I could and frequently asked one of the Ukrainians to fill me in. But mostly I just wanted to be there, to be immersed in what is the most beautiful place I have been to in Crimea. We hiked for four hours through pine and juniper forests, across open grasslands of pale yellow, and on up to the top of the peaks with rock formations scattered everywhere, and vast vistas out to the sea. I really don’t have the words to describe it, and hopefully my pictures will convey some of the beauty of this incredible place.
We made it back to the bus station in Koktebel in plenty of time for the five o’clock bus to Simferopol. It is about a two-hour trip and there was actually a screen in the front with a movie—just like in an airplane! First time I have encountered that. Once we got to Simferopol, I quickly got off the bus and went to catch a marshuka to Ak Mechet, and then power walked to the neighbors as Serdar had called to let me know they were waiting for me, and I didn’t want them to wait long. And what a lovely dinner I had with them. Lenura had prepared manti, one of my favorite Crimean Tatar dishes, along with a tasty salad of cabbage, onions, carrots, and French fries! But, really, it was delicious. And they gave me a present of a ceramic Turkish coffee maker from Brazil (I have no idea where Neshet found that!) and a beautiful card in which they had written how thankful they are for destiny bringing us together. I felt so loved and so much a part of their family. Like trying to describe Kara Dag, I also have no words to describe how truly blessed I am by their presence in my life.
Much love to all.