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Canoeing down a mountain river in spring
Olena Kurshyn joined a tour organized by the tourist agency Terra Incognita for journalists to some highly picturesque spots in the Carpathians. She took enough photos to enhance her verbal story.
The trip that lasted for three days, began in the city of Ivano-Frankivsk. Our first destination was the town of Nadvirna. On our way there, we passed through several scenic villages and saw what is locally called “flish” — strange formations of pebbles and sand on the mountain slopes.
Near the town of Yaremcha we spotted the Yaremcha waterfall. We made a stop to enjoy the sight and to take pictures, but since there were many other things to see and to do on our schedule, we moved on.
The number one thing on our list was the ascent to the top of Mount Hoverla, the highest mountain in the Carpathians. We seemed to be well prepared for the ascent which does not really involve any special skills in mountain climbing — there are no too steep slopes or totally vertical drops or ragged rock formations to negotiate on the way to the top, nothing, in fact that is beyond capabilities of an average tourist who has no problems with health. We confidently followed our guides, enjoying the mountain sights, the amazingly fresh air permeated with fragrances of wild flowers and verdure, but then it started to drain — at first it was more of a drizzle than actual rain, but this drizzle soon turned into a veritable downpour. We decided it was a bit too much of an endurance test for us and the further ascent had to be aborted. Our failure to reach the top of the mountain did not disappoint us too much — we had other, no less exciting but definitely less trying, things to look forward to.
At the village of Topilche we stayed at the house of Mykola and Vasylyna Zelenchuks. In fact, their household is a sort of “a tourist base” where tourists are welcome. The hospitable Hutsuls provide stunningly beautiful scenery — forested mountain slopes around, snow-bound peaks in the distance, the River Cheremosh within a walking distance, lush pastures and lawns, on which tourists are allowed to pitch their tents; plus they serve delicious home-made meals.
After we pitched our tents and settled down, we were invited to partake of a meal with the hosts. All the dishes were of what may be called “Carpathian cuisine” — banush made from corn with sour cream; kulesha, another corn dish, shurpa, soup with mutton — were among the most deliciously memorable ones.
And, of course, all the products used in cooking were locally grown or raised, under conditions of the top ecological purity.
Hospitality plus breathtaking views plus nourishing and savory food make you feel life is worth living, no matter what may come your way the day after tomorrow.
For the second day of our Carpathian adventure we planned to do some “rafting” — just to learn how it feels to do a thing like that. But before we were allowed to get onto “the rafts” or rather catamarans, local style, we had to take a brief crash course without which no tourists are permitted to take a rather perilous journey on the fast Carpathian river. Our instructor told us that the number of tourists who want to try such “extreme sport” is growing but it does not increase the number of accidents.
Timber has been shipped downriver by rafting for centuries in the Carpathians but it is only very recently that “rafting” or what substitutes for it also began to be looked upon as a sport.
The instruction over, we put on life jackets, helmets and other protective gear and got into the “catamarans”. I was sort of disappointed it was not a real raft that we would go on down the river. We began our water adventure on the Chorny Cheremosh River and planned to get all the way down to Verkhovyna via Krasnyk. To provide a moral support and actual help in case of an accident, we had a bus with instructors and life guards following us along the river banks.
At first, I did not think our speed was anything special worth mentioning, but only several minutes later, we began to pick up speed at an alarming rate and soon the banks were fleeing past so fast that the bus that was never out of sight seemed blurred.
The speed and turbulent waters were not the only things we had to deal with — we faced several cascades of rapids. The first two — Dzembron and Bila Kobyla — were tackled with flying colors and we were proud we were through almost without a hitch in an efficient manner of seasoned “rapid water canoeists”.
Our self-assuredness was dampened — both literally and metaphorically — some time later when between the rapids Huchok and Hook one journalist of our teams did fall out into the water at a sharp turn. He was fished out of the water pretty soon and hauled onto the catamaran so that no outside help was required.
After the tension of what was a much too fast — for my liking — downriver progress, it felt nice to enter the placid stretch of the river and have an opportunity at last to look around and enjoy the sights on both banks of the river.
When we arrived at our destination — a tourist camp near Verkhovyna, the first thing I was dying to have was a good bath. And luckily enough, the camp had what was called “a movable bathhouse.” It could be easily assembled and disassembled, and its wooden parts were not too heavy to move around — provided, of course, you had a vehicle to move around in. It looked like a tent — the wooden frame was covered with tarpaulin; a pile of stones was heaped inside; the stones were heated up by the fire lit underneath them; water was splashed over the stones once in a while and the “bathhouse” filled with steam so thick you could hardly see through it. You spend some time in this steam, slapping yourself with bunches of fragrant Carpathian grasses and weeds. When you can’t stand the heat any longer, you rush out and plunge into the river. Very refreshing! They say, such contrast of temperatures not only cleanses you of any sweat and dirt but is very good for your health in general. Whether the health bit is true or not I can’t tell but I did enjoy it!
The hostess of one of the local Hutsul houses we visited was engaged in the making of all kinds of things from the colorful locally made fabrics — rugs, tablecloths, decorative towels and clothes. I was allowed to try on a full set of holiday dress for women — a long embroidered shirt, a zapaska (a sort of a skirt), an embroidered belt, a sardak (a sort of a jacket), and a dzyobenka (a decorated bag on a strap). The hat called peremitka had some sort of tassels hanging from it. The dress was complete with kapchuri (woolen socks) and leather postoly (shoes). My companions said I looked great in that attire and that my transformation from a city dweller into a local Hutsul woman was complete! Unfortunately, I could not afford to buy this beautiful set.
The next day began with a visit to the house of Roman Kumlyk, an enthusiast of Ukrainian culture in general and Ukrainian folk music in particular. He displays in his house a wonderful collection of folk instruments.
Mr Kumlyk is a very energetic person, full of good cheer and ready with exhaustive information about instruments that occupy all the available space on the walls and on tables — violins, wind instruments, cymbals and other musical curios from different times and from different countries. He enhanced his stories by actually playing the instruments he was talking about! I found his musical talents quite extraordinary.
Our next stop was at the village of Kryvoryvnya, a place that had been visited and lived at by several prominent Ukrainian literary and public figures of the early twentieth century — Ivan Franko, Olha Kobylyanska, and Mykola Hrushevsky, to name the most important ones. Visiting the house where Ivan Franko had lived (now it’s a museum) inspired me to reread his books when I’d get back home. I hope I was not the only one so inspired — one should know one’s classics!
In the town of Kosiv we went to the local open-market place which is famous for its amazingly rich selection of items of the local decorative and applied arts — ornaments, decorative trunks, carved wooden spoons, ceramics, fabrics, glass beads, leather and metal souvenirs, plus so much more, are displayed in staggering abundance.
In Kosiv, we also paid visits to the Yosyp Kobrynsky Folk Art Museum and the Museum of Pysanka (painted Easter eggs). For a guide we had a member of the Ukrainian Youth Society who proved to be not only very enthusiastic about Ukrainian culture but very knowledgeable too.
We returned to Ivano-Frankivsk, discussing the trip on the way there, sharing impressions and boasting of the souvenirs we had bought.
I felt I was ready to go on a trip like that all over again.
Thanks for the trip go to Serhiy Pidmohylny
and his tourist agency Terra Incognita (www.terraincognita.info)
The village of Topilche.
The “movable” bath house.
Instruction before the trip down the river.
Olena Kurshyn visits Roman Kumlyk’s home
museum of traditional musical instruments
and listens to Roman playing one of them.