Friday, June 15, 2012

A second trip to cave city Eski Kermin

Olga and I on the road to Eski Kermen

A friendly donkey along the way

The road to Eski Kermen

Lilya and I share lunch in one of the caves out of the rain

Elmaz and Zarema pose in one of the caves

Summer has descended here in Crimea. Hot, hot, hot. Time for trying to stay in the shade, visiting the sea, getting out my trusty fan—the best 5 griven (50 cents) purchase I ever made in Crimea—for those oh-so-hot bus rides home from work. And probably also time for suspending our weekly hikes. But we are hoping for at least one more and that the mountains will be cooler. Sunday a small group of us will head up to the beautiful Demerdji plateau, once again in search of the allusive Djur Djur waterfall which Cheryl and I failed to find on our last hike there. This time we will have some Russian native speakers with us, so that might help; however, none of them have experience with this trail. Though if our luck continues to hold, we will find someone on the way to the trail that will want to join us and show us the route! It’s Wednesday right now, we plan on hiking Sunday, and anything can happen between now and then.
I feel myself starting to fade away from doing blog posts—maybe it’s a sign of Crimea becoming more and more my real home—or at least one of them--and not a place where I am visiting and writing blog posts about.  After all, I never wrote blog posts about my life in Minneapolis. But I also continue to feel that tug to record what I am doing, that desire to tell people about this world in Crimea. I know that by now probably few people read my blog, that my telling most likely does not have much of an audience.  Still, I feel the desire to keep on with it--I think mostly in the hope that maybe someday it will give me something to grab hold of when I think of my Crimean life.
So, what have I been doing since that 11-hour trek on Chatyr Dag? Lots, it seems. Gearing up for my departure to the States on July 6th—taking care of house selling business there, making appointments, contacting friends and family, making travel arrangements—plus trying to get a lot of work done at the library—finishing writing a grant that is due June 30th, hassling with bank transfers for two of our open grants, trying to finish up one of the smaller grants. As usual, wheels turn frustratingly slow here, but I do have faith that it all will happen by the time I leave. And if not, well, I will be back.
And though it seems the weekends should be a time of relaxation and catching up on sleep, I have continued to pursue my current plan of trying to get out hiking one day every weekend. When I was going through the doldrums in the winter, I realized even more strongly how important it is for my sense of well-being to find myself at least once a week out happily tramping the trails of Crimea.
So in keeping with that policy, the following Sunday after Chatyr Dag, a group of us set off to hike to the cave city of Eski Kermen. I had been there once before—on my first birthday here—but we were rained out on that day and only got to explore part of the ruins. I had always wanted to go back, so was glad for the chance. And I was especially glad that Anton, even though he wasn’t able to go with us, came up with an alternative route to get there which was a lovely hike along an old dirt road that wound through forests and valleys bordered by high rock walls that contorted into unusual rock formations.So much better than the asphalt road through old collective farms that we hiked before.
A view out a cave window


Some of the many caves

The intrepid explorer

The cave city of Eski Kermen is a vast network of over 400 caves carved out of the cliff walls on a high plateau. Established in the 8th century BC, it was the home for the ancient civilizations of Crimea and later the early Christians, as evidenced by the altars and icons carved into the walls of the caves. Nothing is left of the above ground structures, but the multi level caves are fascinating to explore. At one place, there is an ancient stairway carved out of the earth that goes down into the darkness to a well that provided water for the town when it was under siege. We didn’t venture down—it looked way too scary and you really couldn’t see where it ended up. In the US, it would have been blocked offas “too dangerous,” as maybe many of the caves would have been, but here there was just a warning sign to be careful. And even that is a rarity in Ukraine. Safety concern as we know in America is not a common practice in Ukraine.
Because Cheryl couldn’t go at the last minute (she is now in the throes of her own visa registration hell), I was the only native English speaker in the group. And though everyone spoke a little English—the group consisting of the three young women at the library who are in my English class (Lilya, Elmaz, and Zarema) plus Anton’s mother Olga—I knew it would be a different experience to not have anyone I could really talk to.  However, it didn’t much bother me. I have become so accustomed to communicating though the language barrier, to be on the outside of conversations among Russian speakers, that much of the time I am okay with it, that I don’t feel I need to know everything that is being said. Indeed, sometimes I think it is one of the reasons my life seems so peaceful here--the other side of the immense frustration I often feel and frequently write about.  I enjoyed being with everyone on the hike and it was fine to sometimes feel alone amidst the group. It did not change the underlying feeling of friendship and warmth, and, as always, I was so grateful to just be here.
Love from Crimea.

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