I’m in Odessa. The second homeland of the Jews. I have seen a dozen or so getting off the train from Simferopol. Before I arrived here I spent a week in Crimea. My cousins wanted to show me a good time while I waited for my India visa. We camped out at red caves where a group of Yogi’s meditated in around a creek dotted with giant fairy tale charecters carved from Crimea sponge stone. Picturesque forested cliffs bordered by steppes where cows and horses grazed. Inside a coral near novelty huts and bars layed an emaciated white asian camel.
Red caves, like 1500 other caves in the area haven’t been discovered much. Inside rivers rush in multy storey tunnels and stalagtites rush to meet stalagmites at .03 to 3cm every 100 years. Giant columns stand as a testament to millenia that have gone by.
A waterfall is around the corner, lush greenery around its multicascading cool streams. Put me in Hawaii, I won’t know the difference as I walk down the path wet with sweat in humid heat.
We stay up late drinking and dancing and hedgehogs and cats visit our party as we make a storebought shish-cabob.
The hot sun wakes us early. Sleep was hard to get as we are not used to sleeping three to a tent and someone keeps rolling on top of another. More friends arrive and we drive on towards the sea, passing more minorets than churches in an area that used to be Turkey before it became Russia before it was conqured by Mongols and finally became Ukraine.
We drove down serpentine roads, over mud and down a giant parking structure spiral into an abandoned sanatorium where the elite and the regular workers used to come to get away on the beach in the times of Soviet Union. Now it looks like an apocalyptic scene from mad max. Concrete jettys jet out into emerald Black Sea and bathers jump into the deep a dozen feet from the beach.
We drive on and find a small town called Utyos or Cliff where we find what seems to be abandoned camp site and pay four dollars a night. There is a make shift hut on the cliff with hot water and we set up camp on a cliff overlooking the sea. A campfire is made, music plays and we eat home-made shashlick (shishcabob) with wine, cognack and beer. As couples head for tents, the brothers stay awake beneath the milky way and watch the yellow moon climb up from behind the sea where Turkey looks longingly to me.
We wake up and head for the town. It’s steep and narrow streets and climbing wedged buildings with balconies and colors of a pastel rainbow make for a nice promenade. We climb to the top of the hill and walk past a fairy tale castle that used belong to the Duchess Gagarin and look down upon the clear water and concrete and stone beaches.
We head back down towards the water and walk along a jetty to a giant massive rock from which kids jump into the deep water. Vitya and Oleg swim 500m for another rock where they collect oysters while we sunbathe and people watch on the rock. It’s now the afternoon and a short but hot walk back to the campsite where we tap into wi-fi and read online what to do with the oysters. Following directions, we drink lots of wine, clean the oysters, cook them on a fire and burn our fingers as we watch them open and smell of sea and “joy” and then devour each tiny oyster within the giant shell with lemon juice and happyness. A quick dip in the sea, some more wine, some delicious buckwheat cooked over campfire and coffee and tea and the night has extinguished day slowly first turning horizon invisible as sea reflected grey of sky and then turned black as sun descended behind the penisula.
Third day ran by like nothing and I slept outside by the campfire beneath the stars where for the first time I saw a red disk sun emerge from the black sea lighting a red path to me. I slept some more and followed Oleg down to the water, where he lay alone on a calm sea on an air mattress in silence as the sea still slept even as sun began to bake its edges.
We showered and packed up without breakfast heading for the town of Zerguf where Checkoff and Pushkin used go to get away. We ate at a restaurant where you pay per plate but select as if at buffet, Russians call this a Stolovoya. Of choices made, mine was a cool red beat salad, white, cold okroshka soup and cottege cheese blintzes with cooled down boiled fruit drink called compot.
We then walked down the hill and snuck into the Zerguf sanitorium built for the Nobility in the 1800s by climbing in between rails of a fence. Walking down pine groves into the main site, new large modern block buildings built in the soviet era gave way to large victorian buildings with intricate carved awnings and mosaic shadings over windows. Bird calls and sounds of fountains filled the air and mingled with the smells of pine and flowers. Gold covered parts of statues and busts of famous Russian writers lined the green stone paved alleys down to the beach. A statue of Pushkin who wrote of his stays at Sanetorium sat at the entrance. We walked down the narrow alleys filled with Russian and Ukranian nearly naked young and old vacationers up towards brightly colored huts that used to be small dachas or summer homes where teenage girls sat with easels capturing with paints narrow streets. Winding back up to the top we got into the cars and drove across the island shaped peninsula to Sevastopol. Near Sevastopol is a small village where dachas of the admirals of Russian and Soviet Navy used to be. Now mostly ssold off to developers, guest houses were created on the plots of land. Some not so mini. As we searched for affordable rooms we came across gaudy houses with gaudy rooms with shanty attachements and camping in the sun. We came across large double story hotels reminiscent of cheap hotels in Guatemala with pools and billiard rooms. We settled on a small double story home with a view of the sea and courtyard with a grapevine covered gazebo surrounded by all types of shades and sizes of flowers. We unpacked the salami, cheese and wine and watched the sunset happy to have clean rooms after three days of camping.
The morning sun woke us a little later than in a tent. We were greeted by a delicious breakfast of oatmeal with berries, sunny-side eggs and sausages and coffee. After a breakfast like that, we were ready for a steap climb down the cliffs to a pebble beach. Small beach, steap climb meant just enough people and clear perfect water. From the cliffs you can see people swimming as if they were in a bathtub. Harmless jelly fish floated by air mattresses and we dove from tall cliffs into deep ravines. Old ladies walked between sunbathers with hot boiled corn. Eyes shut, I sank my teeth into the salt covered corn and juices flowed down my chin and sipped cold beer we carried down the steep stairs.
Vitya and I walked up in heat up the cliff. The climb keeps many from coming back. We showered and bussed to Sevastopol. There we bought train tickets for our way back, walked along the bay, the white classic buildings, the monuments dedicated to Czarist and the Soviet Navy and along the Russian fleets that base themselves on Ukranian soil. Russian Naval officers dot the green parks with tan button shirts and their flat officer hats while enlisted men can be seen in white shirts with giant collars descending down mid back and hats without visors and two black strands flowing in the wind behind them as they walk down promenades with pretty young girls strolling near. Couples young and old hold hands, eat ice-cream to fight the heat.
Ferries bring people back and forth from south side of city to the north as no bridge bridges the two sides. Vitya’s friend Tanya comes with her friend and we drink espresso in an artsy coffee shop inside of a courtyard in a residential part away from the hussle of the streets. We take a cab back to the city, with four bottles of wine and arrive just in time for a feast made by our very nice host. Full to the rim we walk up to the cliffs, where WWII batery stations and catacombs enhabited by swallows make for nice photos and views of stary skies and Sevastopol in the distance.
Funny how a year of work requires a week of rest and a week of vacation requires a year of rest. It’s almost as if we take a vacation to remind ourselves how much we like work.
Fed up with rest we drove to Simferopol via sandy Stary Beach where bands from around the world come for the South Punk Festival, and we paid a shady Russian to sneak me onto the train where I past out like a rock inside the conductors quarters until Odessa they seem to be a lot more comfortable than regular quarters.