Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Hiking with Safie and her school pals

It’s a Wednesday afternoon and I am home alone, sitting at the table, about to launch into making chicken chili for tonight’s dinner. I have so come to love having these Wednesdays to myself. I keep considering volunteer things I could/should be doing, but the truth is I have found it such a treat to have the house to myself. And I know how very much Lenura appreciates my cooking the Wednesday night dinner. She says it’s like a holiday every week for her. And I am sure it is, as probably this is the only time that someone else has taken over the cooking duties. Safie does once in awhile, but only under supervision and with limited output. So I think at least for now until something very compelling comes up, I am going to continue these Wednesdays of not going into the library and see where having this kind of time in my life takes me.

Last weekend was a hike with the kids. Safie, who is in the eighth grade (or “form” as it is called here), invited me to go on a hike to one of the mountains with her and four other classmates and a teacher/guide. I, of course, jumped at the chance, and early Saturday morning Safie and I trekked down to her school where we were to meet the rest of the group. Well, the group expanded quite a bit. Unbeknownst to Safie, eight fifth graders were also going. And still only one teacher—Igor. Igor something, actually, as people here go by their patronymic names, but I didn’t catch what his was and he just told me to call him Igor. The weather did not look too promising, but off we went anyways as Igor herded all the kids first onto a city bus, and then on to the trolley bus that took us to our stop down along the coast. Our intended destination was Mt. Paragilmen. Here is a wonderful description of it from the internet (overlook the clumsy translation—it’s pretty good for here, actually):

It is a landscape botanical reserve. This mountain - the highest the Main Range (855 m) outcast - is well seen from the trolleybus road against the back-cloth of Babugan-mountain pasture, in village Maly Mayak region. Like a stray traveller, who cannot find the way to the native home, this stone giant flew up lonely between the coast and range precipices. On the side, facing the sea, it looks like a huge trapezium(table). On the patch of the higher plateau, a grove of old, with a half-meter thick trunks, trees of pear is well preserved. On a sultry summer day its lowered silvery leaves look like a blooming crown. The most interesting sight of Paragilmen is two huge yew-trees, nestling in a deep crevice on the top. The thickness of one of the trunks is about 70 sm, and powerful branches threw themselves flat on either side for 7-8 m. This giant yew-tree is just as old as his thousand-year old fellow-tree on Ay-Petry. In 1979 on the mountain Paragilmen and surround it beech forest, the reserve of medicinal plants, 10 kinds of which are entered in Red Books, was formed.

But, alas, like my last venture up into the mountains, fog slowly began to obscure the top as we made our way up the roads and trails (and through an old metal works factory of some sort) towards the summit. Igor wisely decided not to go all the way up, so we spend the day hiking the forests below with great views of the mountain and also out to the sea. And the forests themselves were beautiful, as the trees are starting to turn their muted fall colors. Igor stopped frequently to point out various plants to the kids and talk about the geology and history of the area. He has been a wilderness guide for a number of years and was very knowledgeable about the area and seemed to know his way around. But I noticed that even he, who had been there several times before, asked the few people we encountered for various directions. There are just so many old roads and paths, that it seems even experienced hikers have to ponder a bit what path to take. I talked with him about it, and he said something about the importance of a compass, and I think he is right. It was following a compass that got us heading in the right direction up Demerdji, even though it didn’t “feel” right. It was a good lesson watching him—made me realize that perhaps it is kind of hopeless to think one can have a distinct path, but instead it is important to establish where you want to go (and having a visible summit certainly is helpful) and then just keep heading in that direction.

He was also good of keeping track of all those kids, constantly counting them. He did head off down a steep path at some point that made me wonder about his guiding abilities after all, but the kids just followed him like the pied piper and popped out onto a road below with everyone (including me—thank the goddess I now have my hiking sticks from home) intact. We stopped quite a while in a camp area and made a fire and everyone got out the food they had brought and the kids spent a lot of time exploring the area. The weather turned kind of nasty after that as the fog became rain and it continued to rain the rest of the day. Of course, no one had any kind of rain gear. Some kids at least had jackets with hoods, but many did not. I insisted Safie bring an umbrella and that was the saving grace for her group. I wished I had also brought an umbrella so they would have had an additional one (I, in my usual American fashion, had my full rain gear on). So they all were increasingly wet and probably cold, but I never heard anyone complaining and mostly they just seemed to be having one hell of a time. It was almost dark by the time we got the trolley bus back home, but the younger kids especially were still caring on, to the point that Igor had to tell them to shut up once in awhile.

It was a good day. Fun to be around all the kids, interacting with them a bit and giving them an opportunity to practice their (very) limited English. And fun to get to know Igor a little. He works for an organization that teaches kids about the environment and wilderness and “tourism.” We sat together on the last bus home, and I tried to ask him if there was any kind of organizations for adults, and he did tell me about some kind of adult travel club. Not sure what it all meant, but maybe I will be able to hook up with a hiking group around here. I know they must exist, but in the past, my lack of Russian as prevented me from exploring the idea much. But now maybe it is a little more possible. We’ll see…

This coming Sunday I’m going hiking (weather permitting) with my Ukrainian friends that live down on the coast that I haven’t seen since last year. We are going to go up to the highest mountain. That will be an adventure I have a feeling… I have already seen some snow up there. It will be a tale to tell, I am sure. And I also have some work related tales too, but that will have to wait until the next post.
With love from Crimea.
Safie (in the red coat) with her pals

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