A week ago, Jessica and I found ourselves stuck in a mini bus with two Ukrainian teachers; a gaggle of loud, sweaty teenagers - one of whom had motion sickness; without any fresh air or any idea as to how long our journey would be. And without any clue as to what we were getting ourselves into!
It took us roughly four hours to drive from Ternopil to a small village in the Carpathian Mountains. We were welcomed by beautiful, lush scenery, quaint cottages plus a tethered mountain goat who later made quite the impression on me. Click the link, Jessica tells the story well. We explored the riverbank behind our cottage before climbing a miniature mountain that afternoon - approximately 900m or so. Zig zagging our way to the top, we admired the colourful homes found along the trails and the incredible views.
Exhausted, we thought our trek downward would be simple... but no. Instead, our guide led us through the forest, explaining the legend of Oleska Dovbush. Apparently, he was the live Ukrainian version of Robin Hood. He and his merry men robbed the wealthiest Carpathians and distributed the goods to their poor countrymen, often hiding out in the forests and caves of the area. Until, unfortunately, he was betrayed by a sly woman and executed - his body parts on display throughout area villages to serve as an example. What a badass.
Exploring caves and roasting delicious food was also on the agenda of our first Carpathian day. We woke early the next morning (Tuesday) and boarded the mini bus, on our way to the Карпатський Аціональний Рииодрий Парк, otherwise known as the Carpathian National Nature Park. Home of the mighty Mount Hoverla, Ukraine's highest peak of 2,061m.
Our Hoverla guide had much more pizazz and personality than our guide the day before, making the steep hike up the mountain that much more enjoyable. We also had the chance to get to know the posse of teens much better - turns out they were excited to practice their English, and were full of questions about Canada. Guess my first impression of them was quite wrong, and they continued to surprise and charm Jess and I throughout the rest of our time together.
Climbing Hoverla has been one of my favourite experiences of the past few weeks - it is incredibly hard to describe just how small and insignificant I felt as I worked my way up the mountain. Completely in awe of my surroundings and Creation in general, I sang to myself as I plugged on up the last stretch... loving life, one hundred percent. We celebrated by building an inukshuk, leaving a little bit of Canada at the top of the world.
The rest of our Carpathian adventure was spent around the campfire, drinking and toasting some mighty strong "Carpathian wine" with students and teachers alike (note - it is disgusting), visiting Bukovel (potential site of the 2018 Winter Olympics... right on), and exploring the waterfalls and Hutsul markets of Yaremche. All in all, an awesome three days spent exploring with new Ukrainian friends.