Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The Center of the Middle of Nowhere- The Clean and Beautiful Crimean Peninsula, Ukraine

We get off the train in Simperofol, and take a bus towards Kazantip. The moment we're out of the terminal, the driver stops and picks up a new passenger in what is certainly a pre-arranged plan to bypass the full fare, a way for the driver to augment his meager income. Along the way, he picks up several more paying hitchhikers- common in the Ukraine.

There's almost no civilization over the two hour ride, just vast expanses of flat, largely barren ground. It's hot outside, so I purchase three ice creams at a stop, and try to gift them to my new friends Viktoriia and Dmytro, but they refuse the sugar. I'm not eating three of these ...
I hand one off to the cliche fat guy sitting next to them, and start scanning for another worthy candidate. I spot a small boy 50 feet away whom I walk to. He shakes his head at the offer.
What? Seriously?
The ice cream cost a dollar, and given that Ukrainians earn $500 a month, this likely isn't an everyday treat. I return and relate my surprise to Dmytro who opens his eyes wide, and warns that someone is going to call the cops on me. I guess it's been awhile since I wasn't allowed to take candy from a stranger. I sit down for a moment and ponder what to do with my rapidly melting gift.
My answer approaches, it's the little boy nodding his head excitedly, extending his hand; he smiles enthusiastically as he walks away with his treat.
Minutes later, like any narcissist, I check in on my work and observe the boy sharing the ice cream with his sister. I smile at his parents who nod back. There will be no police line-up today.

Kazantip- not exactly on the map
At last we arrive in Kazantip, located on the Black Sea in the Crimean Peninsula of the Ukraine, in the center of the middle of nowhere. Surrounding Kazantip (which technically is just a large gated party area on the beach) are two tiny towns and then a vast void of nothingness for a fifty mile plus radius.
The woman who owns the small apartment building we're staying in, its tiny rooms essentially just a bed and bathroom, explains that all money is made during the summer months, the rest of the year the area is a complete ghost town. She makes enough during the summer, she tells me, to be able to to hibernate through the winter.
The rooms rent for $25-$35 a night (depending on if you have AC) and go up in price when the party in Kazantip really kicks into gear. They'll also be happy to cook for you, and meals are very reasonably priced, the food fresh, grown locally, and all organic; farmers here can't afford pesticides. Thank God right.

(I'm also introduced to a Ukrainian beverage called "kvass." Learn a little about in this video.)

The people here are much friendlier than Kiev. The waitress who served me was absolutely elated when I taught her how to say, "Enjoy your meal," in English. Every time she served me over my week long stay she would proudly use the phrase and walk away with a huge smile on her face.

(just see how desolate my surroundings are, as I explore the area)

Communistic Storefront
The grocery store of the neighboring town is managed like a relic of Communist Times, a model of complete inefficiency. You wait in line, and when you finally make to the front, you tell the clerks what it is you desire, they go and get it for you, then come back to the counter and ring it up. Five people in line ahead of me buying less than five items each, and I waited 15 minutes just to purchase a bottle of water. Only one line of course. In fairness, they don't call it "the express."
The only logical reason for this set-up that I could think is how common theft appears to be in the Ukraine, and this is an attempt by the shop to combat it.
I'll tell you this, leave something out in the Ukraine, kiss it good-bye. Left a bottle of water atop my suitcase lugging it around Simerafopol, come back two minutes later, I'm going thirsty. Leave my flip-flops beside some other shoes while I run on the beach, come back, and have to walk barefoot back to my lodgings.

My strategy for purchasing anything in the Ukraine was to put whatever I was buying on the counter, or point to what I needed, let them tell me in Ukrainian how much I owed, nod my head as if I understood, pull some money out of my pocket and pray they gave correct change. At no point should you open your mouth. The moment they realize you're American, here comes the surcharge.

Clean and Beautiful
The weather is warm, and the sea refreshing, the water an almost tropical blue and surprisingly clean and translucent. Being out in the middle of nowhere, there is zero pollution and the sky is crystal clear. This isn't a beach of Southern Thailand, but it's far nicer than I expected.
The Black Sea in Crimea- Kazantip is clean!
Mozzie Magnet
I go at sundown to meditate on the beach, which is normally a great plan in Los Angeles, but not the best idea here. Within two minutes I've been viciously attacked, and am left with what I consider to be massive injuries- twelve mosquito bites. I beat Usain Bolt back to the motel.
My whole body is in utter despair, I don't have enough hands to scratch where I need. It gnaws at my mind which I feel like tearing out of my skull so I won't feel the burning itching sensation over every square inch of my body. There is absolutely no relief from this. I'm in the center of the middle of nowhere, surrounded by an army of mosquitoes, and no way out. I wonder what drew me all the way out here begin with. I must be insane.
Dmytro sees me scratching. "Don't you know how active mosquitoes here are at dusk? Everyone hides til it gets dark. Only an idiot goes to the beach at this hour. Didn't you wonder why you were the only one out there?" He leaves shaking his head.
I think about what he's said and look at the bright side. At least 'idiot' is a big step above insanity. I feel a little relieved. An encouraging word can do wonders now and then. Thanks Dmytro!
Mosquito magnet, Dmytro (sunburnt), Viktoriia
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