Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Mangup Kale and a new hiking pal

It’s Wednesday, the day I usually stay home, walk to the bazaar, cook dinner. All of which I did today—made chicken chili, one of my better family pleasers. Some of the things I come up with aren’t always too popular.

Stormy weather today—a blasting wind rattling the roofs, debris flying around. Indeed, Serdar called from the center to say that a roof had blown off one of the buildings, smashing some cars (hopefully they were parked and without occupants), and one of the cables for the trolleybuses had snapped. Neshet isn’t home yet and it is getting kind of late, so probably the traffic is a mess too. We have winds like these in Crimea somewhat often—no tornadoes I don’t think, but very powerful winds that can cause a lot of damage.

Been trying to figure out at the library exactly what I am going to do in this upcoming—and last—year as a Peace Corps volunteer, what I want to accomplish. We still have two PC funded projects to complete, and the possibility to apply for another one in the fall. Along with my English teaching, blog writing, and various other tasks, I can keep myself fairly busy, but I still feel the need to focus on a larger goal. So I decided I am going to put a major effort into raising funds for the bookmobile project. I don’t know if I will be able to accomplish it—I don’t think the odds are on my side and I’m not really a very good fundraiser—but it is an idea I so love and I want to at least give it a try. I don’t want the year to be over without at least having made that attempt. I have this continuous vision in my head of a brightly painted “bibliobus”-- as we call it in Russian-- with Gasprinsky Library in big letters on the side, tooling over the countryside, serving those remote Crimean Tatar communities scattered across the peninsula.

The other thing I decided is that I am going to go hiking every weekend, unless I have something else I need to do or no one to do it with. I know it is what I love the most, what feeds that deep love I have for this land. I am lucky that I have such a willing hiking partner in my PVC buddy Cheryl, and now I have found a new hiking friend, one of the young women at the library. After a weekend outing, I would come into the library and tell about my adventure, and she kept saying she wanted to come too. I wasn’t sure how serious she was, but then last weekend she said, “Okay, when are we going to go? How about this weekend?” So I said, “Sure, let’s go.” Called up Cheryl and made a plan to go to Mangup Kale, a place Cheryl has wanted to see and where Lilye (the library friend) had never been. It’s one of the renowned “cave cities” of Crimea, which aren’t really cave cities but the ruins of ancient settlements high up on plateaus above the surrounding valleys, with caves carved into the cliff walls. I had been to Mangup Kale once before but would gladly go again.

Our plan was to go on Monday because it was a holiday (Easter the day before) and everyone had the day off from work. By Saturday the weather was looking iffy, and Lilye called to ask if we were still going. I said “Yes, Cheryl and I will probably go no matter what,” so she said, “Okay, I’ll be there.”

I didn’t really know what to expect of Lilye as a hiking partner—she hasn’t worked at the library very long and I barely know her. She is in my little English class and does speak some English and is eager to learn more. But I wondered how it would be with a pretty much non-English speaker all day and Cheryl and I’s not so good Russian. But it turned out just really wonderful. She was a great sport—didn’t have the proper shoes or clothing, of course, and carried food in an oversized purse—but that didn’t stop her from merrily trudging along wherever we led her. Which, unfortunately, wasn’t always the best idea. I couldn’t exactly remember how to get up to the plateau so we got off on a trail that ended up being very difficult at the end—pretty much straight up on a slippery muddy slope. We were all breathing hard, clinging to roots and rocks trying to get a footing, constantly peering up at the plateau top which never seemed to get closer.

But made it we did, and of course, it was so worth it—what a beautiful, magical place. We walked around a bit in awe, but then decided to rest awhile before we really started exploring and have some lunch. So Cheryl and I got out our usual cheese and bread and fruit. But Lilye opened up that purse she had been lugging up the mountain and in typical Ukrainian style, pulled out a feast for all of us—a loaf of bread, a large bag of boiled eggs, a Crimean Tatar dish called burman which is a layered pastry with vegetables, bags of cookies and candies, a can of something that we didn’t open. We all shared everything that we had brought, but Cheryl and I’s offerings looked pretty pitiful in contrast to Lilye’s banquet. We Americans really don’t know how to prioritize things—like the importance of having lots of food no matter where you are.

After totally stuffing ourselves, we spent the next couple of hours wandering around the plateau, climbing into the caves, taking lots of pictures. Reluctant to leave, we had to scurry down a not-quite-so-steep trail (the “right” trail) to make it to the one bus that leaves the nearby village in time for Cheryl to get back to Simferopol and her bus home. We all agreed that it had been a wonderful, glorious day and Lilye said, “Next time you go to the mountains, can I go too?” And of course we agreed—she was a joy to be around and having a Russian speaker came in handy when we were trying to figure out exactly where that “right” trail was. She said she doesn’t have any friends who like to do this kind of thing, and when I think about it, I bet that’s true. Though quite beautiful in the way young women are here, I have never seen her in a dress or high heels, the typical attire for many of the women at work. She is always in jeans and looks like she could bound out onto a trail at any moment. So I am glad that we can give her that opportunity. And next weekend we are off together again on yet another adventure.

Love to all from Crimea.

Which way??
Lilye, our new hiking partner.
Remains of a 14th century fortress.
The three of us gather in front of a "window."
Looking out from one of the caves.

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