Monday, December 28, 2009

That was a gun in his pocket...

That was a gun in his pocket - he wasn't just glad to see me =) Actually, all of the police and security types I've run into along the way were just doing their job, asking questions of an obvious stranger. No harm done.

I'm making my way along the coast, staying as close to the sea as I can because the main road is often out of view of the sea and a bit too busy with traffic for my enjoyment. The scenery is pretty spectacular - definitely the nicest I've seen in Ukraine so far. And this will be hard to beat. Though the villages lack any kind of charm, the natural landscape shines through all the more so for it. The rugged hills are full of cypress and juniper, particularly fragrant; the sea crashes onto the steep coast. Fishing villages are absent entirely - no natural harbors, and apparently, no fish. It's a bit odd to see a sea with nary a fishing boat in sight, no screeching gulls, no sea shells on the beaches. I can see why it's called the 'black' sea - the gravelly sand is pitch black.

There's a fringe of strewn boulders and cobbles at the bases of the mountains - some 300+ meters (1,000-ish feet). I was able to walk from Morskoe to Alushta entirely on the edge of the gentle waves, occasionally having to dash and roll between crashes when the beach part disappeared for some little distance. Alushta is a nice town, St. Andrew visited it, too, and there's a 6th-century watchtower, one of the few antiquities available to see. I was really hopeful about continuing my seaside route despite advice from my lovely Russian hosts, Natasha and Sasha, to stay on the highway. After some kilometers on the busy road in a light rain, I plunged down down down to another modern village being built up for the tourist trade. I asked many people if it was possible to walk all the way to Yalta along the sea. For the most part, the answers always involved bus numbers, but some sort of nodded without much interest.

I wended up from the sea and down from the vineyards many times. At one point, I came to a tall, impassable wall around a vineyard... hmmmm... concertina wire, motion sensor cables, closed-circuit TV cameras... hmmmm... I couldn't have imagined such well-protected grapes. What could I do but look right into one of the cameras, smile and wave. I walked alongside the wall from the bluff over the sea about a kilometer inland where I was met by the well-armed security detail. Their uniforms were emblazoned with the Ukrainian symbol - feds, in a sense, guarding the grapes, it seems. Hello, boys. They spoke Ukrainian and Russian, and in the pouring rain, I explained in my best bastardization of both languages that I'm an American pilgrim on the trail of St Andrew passing through on my way to Yalta. 'Wanna see my credenziale? I've got lovely stamps.' The chief among them conveyed my information into his shoulder (really, it wasn't his cuff) and they escorted me further uphill and waved me through another field and out of their domain. Before I left them, I asked if I could continue around their particular 'vineyard' back down to the sea and thence to Yalta on the beach. They were adamant that it could be done, so with a smile and a wave, I left the boys with their guns.

The real answer, I found out with quite a lot of energy expended, is 'nyet'. I walked treacherous cove after cove dashing between waves and clambering over coastal rocks (limestone and some sort of quartz-injected igneous formation)thinking all the time that St Andrew chose wisely when he opted for a mountain route to Hersoness. Around one cove then another and five or six more, I passed, until I met the east side of Bear Mountain unable to continue without getting in up to my neck. The sheerness of the 200-meter mass of black rock meant that scaling it without technical equipment was not an option. So in the even more pouring rain, I climbed nearly straight up a waterfall course, hand over hand - through lusciously fragrant undergrowth - until I got to the top and stumbled on a hiking trail - these things always work out.

On the impromptu ascent, I had the pleasure of grabbing frequently onto the branches of a strange tree that brought to mind Chiluli glass sculptures - barkless trunks of brilliant oranges, yellows, golden, and fiery red colors, at least in the heavy rain. Or maybe I got Chiluli all wrong and his sculptures reflect this species of tree. Anyway, it kept my mind occupied rather than on the evident risk of a single missed footing and the churning sea below. Not much in the way of fauna, but the flora of these Crimean mountains are delightfully unique.


Compostelle 2008 said...

What a wonderful description! I can see it in my mind, definitely more difficult terrain than the Camino, probably even more difficult than the Camino Norte.

Keep walking Anne, I am there with you in my mind.

Michèle, Ottawa (ON) Canada

Sylvia said...

You have a special grace for escaping and ascending! I think your next career should be international internavigational negotiator. I would vote for you!

Anonymous said...

Now you have added mystery, suspense, danger to your mission, along with botanical discoveries. Wow, you always manage, with your disarming smile, to get out of "mischief." Ditto Sylvia. But then, you're harmless...go girl! Hope you are dry by now!

Happy New Year from the Denver gang!

Stanislav said...

Ann, all the best in your trip. You are a local hero now and many Ukrainians are proud of your way re-posting your colorful stories in theirs blogs.

LDahl said...

I wonder if through your posts, people will be watching for your possible arrival? Wouldn't that be cool?
I'm so impressed by your "Can do" attitude and the fact you're not a whiner. :)))) I hope you can hear me cheering you on when it gets tough for you, You go girl!