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A Crimean canyon offers adrenalin and unity with nature

 

Roman MALKO, growing weary of urban discomforts and tedium of work, goes south to have a look at the canyon that is at least 85 million years old, about which he read in a guide book. Even though the information was scanty, it was enough to inflame his imagination. Reality proved to be much more exciting than expectations.

 

The summer seemed to have come without warning  the greenery was lush, the birds made nests and fledglings opened their beaks eagerly waiting to be fed. And it became hot. I hardly noticed the passage of time, and then I got worried  if it goes on like this, I told myself, one day Ill wake up to discover that Im old. I felt I had to go somewhere, to get away from all this  but I did not want to go alone. I called my friend on the phone, told him of my wish. He was receptive; he called another friend. Two days later there was a group of us standing on the platform of the railroad terminal in Kyiv waiting for the train to take us away. All of us looked fatigued and weary, and all of us wanted to be free of the burdens of work and everyday life.

We did not seek freedom in the distant lands  we headed south, to the Crimea. But before we could fall into freedoms embrace and drink from her sweet lips, we had to undergo several unpleasant ordeals  travel for about twelve hours or more in the stuffy compartment of a jostling carriage; then, upon arrival in Simpheropol, to look for the cheapest conveyance possible to the place we wanted to get to on the Crimean southern coast, another couple of hours on the road  and the blessed sea, the beach offering sunbathing leisure, romantic sunsets But then I remembered about the canyon and suggested we go there first and then indulge in sweet dolce far niente on the beach close to the gentle ways. My suggestion was supported by the majority though not without some hesitation.

 

We got to the place from which we could access the canyon without having to pay for the entrance fees. We crossed a small stream which rolls from the mountains and took one of the many meandering paths that led into the canyon. We thought the canyon could not be too long, so having walked for some time, we stopped to rest, to look round, to take pictures and maybe take a dip in one of the many pools that are being fed by the mountain streams. It turned out the water was so cold that it had to be literally a dip  when I got in, my only desire was to get out. It felt as though million of cold needles pierced my skin, my heart seemed to have stopped. I jumped out happy to give my shivering body to the sun. The river that runs along the bottom of the canyon almost dries up at the end of summer leaving only large and small interconnected pools which we called bathtubs.

Some of the cliffs in the canyon have names  Storozhova (Watch Tower), Sosnova (Overgrown with Pines), Mys Chetverty (Promontory Four) , to give you an idea. At one place we saw a cave some distance above the ground. It even has a name  Tuar Hob, or The Cows Cave. Why it is called that way I have no idea. Some of the cliffs are overgrown with hornbeams, maples, ash trees, linden, beeches and other species of trees but the bottom of the canyon in many places is barren. In spring the stream that runs there gets turbulent enough to wash away whatever plants that thought they could strike root there, among the boulders polished smooth and round by the water.

We reached a point where the gorge ended in a three-metre high waterfall that created a rather large pool which is popularly known as Vanna molodosti (Bath of Youth); the Tartars used to call it Kara Gol, or The Black Lake. Most of the tourists, busloads of whom are regularly brought there, regard it a must to take a dip in that pool  they are told on the way that whoever takes a swim in that pool, is guaranteed a considerable rejuvenation. For most of the tourists the rejuvenation pool, the waterfall, some cliffs, souvenirs and drinks offered in kiosks are all they see of the canyon. But we knew better. We climbed a wet wall of a rock and found ourselves in a different world. I heard somebody calling after us but I never looked back.

The first discovery in this new world was the absence of trails. The bottom of the canyon was strewn with much bigger boulders so that walking turned into jumping, the mountain goats style, from boulder to boulder. The walls were dotted with black holes of caves and grottos. Those caves may look like a good place to climb in when it rains but it is always very chilly inside. The further we went, the narrower the canyon seemed to be getting; our way was often barred by the fallen trees; the stones and boulders were covered with thick moss; the air was humid; wide pools and fallen trees required a lot of effort to negotiate such obstacles  but the beauty of the place was a perfect compensation for all the inconveniences. I stopped feeling the weight of my backpack, the gnawing hunger, the rumblings in my stomach. I did not feel like talking either  all I wanted was to absorb as much as I could of what I was seeing round me But a moment came when I felt Id rather get out of that place than stay the night in that, somewhat inhospitable, section of the canyon.

When the probability of having to spend the night in the canyon became a bit too much of a possibility, I spotted several human figures moving somewhere ahead of us. As we got close, we saw that the small group consisted of two men, one woman and a child. They obviously had a problem  the woman had sprained an ankle, the seven-year-old girl was too tired to walk; one of the men was carrying the woman on his back, the other man had to carry the backpacks and the girl which was proving to be too much of a task for him to handle. We offered help which was gratefully accepted. The hapless tourists were from the city of Dnipropetrovsk, as we learnt later. We explored the area for a better place to stay the night and discovered one such place  a sort of a wooded valley with little cosy meadows. Then, we helped to carry the backpacks and the girl to the site of a prospective camp. Which, incidentally, proved a daunting task, what with all those slippery boulders pools of water and fallen trees.

But at last we pitched our tents and got down to cooking dinner  thick soup, bread and whatever else happened to be in our and our new friends backpacks. The food, eaten to the accompaniment of birds and buzzing and chirping of insects, seemed particularly delicious. The lazy talk by the fire was a special treat. We exchanged impressions and plans. In fact, our new friends proved to be such interesting people to talk to that we spent the whole night in an absorbing conversation. It was only when the first light of dawn came that I realized that the night had passed.

We decided we wanted to move on rather than stay and have a bit of sleep. So we had strong coffee, and sleepless but well content, took our leave. About an hour later we climbed up to a spot from which opened a magnificent panorama of the Crimean Mountains. The slanting rays of the morning sun created chimerical shapes, lit protruding rock, and left recesses in deep shade.

I collapsed on the grass and declared I would not budge an inch before I rest. My friends did not argue  they sprawled on the ground beside me. But in spite of being dog-tired, I felt happy, I was filled with the fullness of life, I was one with nature Two days later we, after hiking across a plateau, climbing up and on slopes, reached the blessed sea.

But its another story.

 

Photos by the author

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