And now on to the Swiss part of my Crimean journey. This day I spent in Demerdji mountains was probably the most adrenalin-driven one, a bit controversial one too but definitely very exciting!
Remember I told you that Crimea reminded me of some European landmarks that – for the lack of anything else to refer to – I couldn’t stop comparing to what I saw. In Luchistoye at the feet of Demerdji mountains where I headed off for my last 3rd of the journey I was constantly wondering whether they just accidentally sold me a ticket to Switzerland instead. In some ways I also recalled Zlatoust in the Urals and Stolby park near Krasnoyarsk. Well, you see, I have never been to proper mountains!
When I was planning my journey I got stuck choosing my final destination as I didn’t want to stay in a over touristy place on the coast but at the same time had no idea where else to go. So accidentally, while searching booking.com for accommodation, I opened the map with all the available hotels and started clicking on anything that was a bit off the beaten track. And this is how I found Luchistoye (beamy, radiant), a small settlement close to Alushta, which is another resort on the Black sea coast.
I stayed two nights at Demerdji House, a sort of a guesthouse with an amazing view over the sea, and the mountains, funny animals that will follow you everywhere (I loved the dog with sticking teeth that looked like a kind ever-hungry zombie) and unforgettable sunrises and sunsets, but rather basic facilities. It was not that 5-star place I stayed in Alupka but you just can’t beat the magic of the nature around you: the birds at about 4 o’clock in the morning, the clouds moving above the mountain tops… Particularly if the first thing you do when you arrive at Luchistoye is buying freshly made cheese and a woman who kindly guides you to the hotel from the bus stop offers you home-made cottage cheese!
The only thing I knew before arriving there is that the place right next to Luchistoye is called Dolina Privideny (Valley of Ghosts) and it is featured in a number of Soviet movies, including the ever-popular 1967 comedy Kavkazskaya Plennitsa (translated as Kidnapping, Caucasian Style). I also read in a book back in Sevastopol the legend about this mountain’s name – Smith’s Mountain from the Crimean Tatar language.
So off I went towards the Valley – or so I hoped cause there were no signs – I could have accepted an offer from a local who said gong into the mountains was not good for a girl travelling alone, of course, but I stubbornly continued my walk alone. My company were the horses and the cows who actually chased me off the road (as an urban girl I’m a bit cautious when it comes to meeting big animals freely grazing on a deserted road).
The landscape was just breathtaking (wait, more is coming!) – with the view over Chatyr-Dag mountains, the Black sea with Alushta and the South Demerdji mountains. I have never walked anywhere in the Alps (although we crossed them on our way from Strasbourg to Venice once) but I imagine it should look like this there:
… And then there were suddenly three of us, climbing recklessly for the want of a harsher word straight to the top almost upright, without any idea of what was waiting us ahead, ignoring completely (because not aware of) the official track, so much easier, so much less dangerous and – not free of charge as it turned out later. Some 30 minutes later, with blood, sweat and almost tears, and some amount of nerves completely gone that will never resuscitate, we saw this:
I want to thank those two crazy adventure-seeking Olga and Kirill from the Artek
young pioneer camp (they worked there as group leaders, sort of animators for kids) who accidentally – though nothis is accidental in our life – came to Demerdji that day when they had their rare rest, at the very moment I got there. I really just abandoned all my common sense and decided to go with them when we met each other somewhere near the mountain, all three uncertain as to how to ‘attack’ it. The kids (well, actually they were just about 5 years younger than me) were obviously better trained and at least better dressed for such wild climbing but at that moment I didn’t really use my brain.
I don’t know how these two didn’t throw me off the cliff cause I was repeating ‘Oh no no no, I’m not going there, I’m turning back!’ like every 2 seconds. Olga and Kirill got me even more nervous when they starting making photos on top of slanting rocks and asking me to take their photos as their camera died. Thanks God, only their camera did, Gosh, I was so nervous up there!
We started climbing at about 4 pm and by the time we got to the top it was windy as hell, pretty cold but sometimes sunny (though definitely less cold than on top of Ai-Petri!). The views were fantastic. If I were in a less agitated and nervous state, I might have made more photos and taken in the beauty calmly and with dignity. But these views are certainly engraved in my brain (which I tend to use a bit irregularly) forever.
My hands got so scratched and pierced with all sorts of wild thorns all over as I was desperately holding on to just about anything that I could grab hold of around me, that the next day they hurt all over and I poured iodine on them, my poor hands! My up to that moment new leather shoes still bear the traces of that adventure 🙂
We survived somehow on oat cookies that I bought in a local shop and took with me. Probably the most suitable kind of food for compulsive eating when you are super shaky. Nutritious too.
The phallic looking rocks are sometimes compared to animals, people or ghosts depending on what they appear to be from afar (or maybe in the dark too). The rock formation in the photo below is called Golova Ekateriny (the Head of Catherine, that is Catherine the Great) and the one which is particularly phallic and stands out of the (phallic) crowd (see above) is called… well, penis of Peter the Great, respectively (not so respectfully though).
The photo above shows roughly our crazy way up to the Head of Catherine. Which in the end we never reached as it is in an even crazier spot and we left it behind.
And then we saw these crazy (everything that day was crazy!) horses grazing up there peacefully where we just got after hurting our hands and killing nerves (which applies mostly to me), as if they are somewhere on a plain at the sea level! I wish I had a) their climbing abilities, and b) their astonishing tranquility!
By the time we got to the very top (where these kids also climbed up a stone with a beacon on it) I was less shaky and frantically thinking of ways how to avoid descending using the same route.
Thanks God we found a real track that was much less crazy and so I was even capable of asking my
crazy companions all sorts of questions about their life at Artek.
The camp is all-year-round and employs many mostly young people to cater for the kids. Since its inception in the 1920s Artek has been a camp for the elite – either those who got there because they were kids of some upper nomenklatura or because they were super bright and had shown some particular zeal in ‘building communism’. Seems like now its a place for the same two categories – you either have parents who know the right people or you are super bright.
On our way back we saw the horses again:
Olga ventured out to touch the baby horse but when we saw that the other horses sort of moved towards us, it made us a bit uneasy and we speedily retired 🙂 Anyway, the sun was obviously not going to stay there for long and these two had yet a rather long way back to Artek, where they were about to start their work day quite early.
By the time we got to the gates from where more thoughtful and sober citizens start their walk (as it resembles walking more than climbing) towards the top, the sun was already low, illuminating only the top of the rocks. Oh my God, we were up there!
What a day to remember! You might not believe it, but it was actually quite disturbing for me to recall this day for quite a bit of time. It really was controversially exciting!
No need to tell you how particularly excited I got when we were down there, buying cookies for the kids’ journey back to Artek in a local shop just some 1.5 hours after we first met. Probably the most crazy 1.5 h of my life!
When I went back the road up to my room (thanks God, no hands required, just walking up a hill), the cows were turning back from pastures. Was good to see them!
The sunset was amazing. As was the fresh cottage cheese (tvorog) that I had for dinner. I think I was still abit shaky when I went to bed that night.
P.S. No poppies or palaces in this post!
P.P.S. Middle of September and I’m still writing about May! There are 2-3 posts left from my Crimean trip yet.
How to get there:
Take a bus to Alushta bus station, then catch marshrutka that goes to Luchistoye (bus stop is outside the station on the road to Simferopol; this marshrutka circulates only a couple of times a day) or take the trolley to Simferopol from the same stop and get off at Luchistoye stop (from where you will have to walk quite a bit). When you get to Luchistoye, walk up Gornaya street to the tourist base and then walk towards the Valley of Ghosts from where you can start ascending the mountain. There are locals who will be glad to take you up there in a jeep or guide you; you can also ask at the tourist base for horse walks, etc etc.
Crimea in May series:
Crimea in May: Simeiz and Yalta, or a Study in Blue
Crimea in May: Fiolent, Balaklava and Chersonesus
Crimea in May: Chufut-Kale, Bakhchisarai and Inkerman
Crimea in May: Vorontsov Palace and Park
Crimea in May: Ghost Soviet Sanatorium
Crimea in May: Ai-Petri, Swallows Nest, Livadia
Crimea in May: Nikitsky Botanical Garden and Massandra
Crimea in May: Sevastopol (and the Poppies)
This post goes to the Travel collection.