Wednesday, 23 November 2011

At home with the Hutsuls

Monday November 7th
Since leaving Chernivtsi I have been heading towards the Carpathians and Count Dracula territory.

This gentleman was overcome with excitement to talk to me and gave me a very exuberant send off with sloppy kiss - I managed to avoid lip contact. Not really husband material, though on the plus side he did have a horse and cart.

In the last few days I have seen quite a lot of gates decorated like this for happy wedding couples with ribbons etc and always a pair of entwined rings.

A storks nest on a telegraph pole - another sight one increasingly comes across!

Early morning rays of sun catching the gravestones around an Orthodox church. It is common for gravestones to have photos of the deceased as shown here. In the distance the Carpathians are looming into view.

Into the Carpathians

People keep small numbers of sheep in this area, and these colourful hand woven wool rugs were for sale along the side of the road as I gradually rode up into the mountains. Usually they have grey and white traditional patterns, rather than these colourful Carpathian scenes. And they are always for sale with the ubiquitous hand knitted woollen socks that seem to be for sale all over the world in colder climes. So the family can once again greet their Christmas presents with cries of 'Oh how unique'.

As I was riding down into the little town of Krivorivnya, I was accosted by a small and friendly group of locals including the two shown above - charming priest Ivan and teacher Mariya who spoke fluent English. Would I be willing to stop at the school in Krivorivnya and talk to the children there? Of course I would. Then it transpired that Australian Tim Cope, who rode unsupported with 3 horses from Mongolia to Hungary, (see ) and had passed through Krivorivnya in 2007, had talked to the school and stayed for ten days with Ivan!
So I rode on to the little school, was greeted by the headmaster, presented with
a lovely bunch of flowers, a natty purple to match my jacket, and taken to the school hall to give a question and answer session, conducted by Ivan as shown below ...
This part of the Carpathians is home to the Hutsuls, an Ukrainian mountain shepherding people who are fiercely proud of their unique culture and traditions - look at Tim Cope's website for much more detail of their lifestyle than I can give here. To the right of Ivan is a group of girls who had run off to attire themselves in their traditional Hutsul dress. To my right is Mariya, and on my left is Ivan's bright son Pavlo also in Hutsul costume. The woman on the far right is the English teacher - Pavlo being her star pupil - his command of English was remarkable for a 13 year old who had only been studying English for 4 years.
A school group on the front steps - I am in there somewhere!

After lunch in the school canteen it was off to the next town of Verkhovina, where we were to stay with Mariya. She cleverly managed to negotiate overnight accommodation for the horses in the gardens of the mayoral offices, complete with security guard!

Mariya was truly the hostess with the mostest and treated us to a wonderful tea while we gave some English practice to three gorgeous young girls who were her evening English pupils - if the children I met during the day were representative of Ukrainian youth then Ukraine has a bright future. This was followed by the spread shown below - the meat and potato dish on the left was truly scrumptious, and accompanied by shots of Mariya's golden home made vodka from the decanter in the middle.....

The golden colour is given by a rather spooky looking 'golden root' that is found in the mountains round here, and which Mariya is displaying in the photo below. Any ideas what it is? Something to keep Dracula at bay? The vodka was most fortifying.
Interestingly. Mariya's husband used to be a history teacher, but had to retrain as a psychologist after Ukraine ceased to be part of the Soviet Union. His history knowledge proved useless when the history taught in schools was no longer the exclusively Soviet propaganda they had previously been fed!

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