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Jurnale - Hiking on borders: RO/UA, UA/PL, SCG/AL

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Hiking on borders: RO/UA, UA/PL, SCG/AL

The trip I had done 3 years before to Ukraine had left a lot of blank spots, especially concerning the mountains and some old towns. ChornoHora seemed a mysterious place, a foggy land where nothing was clear, with peaks that bore different names on different maps, no big cities in the immediate neighbourhood, still being so close to the Romanian border. They splat from MaramuresMountains, another foggy land, located on the former Romanian - Polish border, then on the Romanian - USSR border and nowadays on the Romanian - Ukrainean border. The decision to go there had already been taken while hiking with a Polish friend in SuhardMountains, just miles from the Maramures. The initial plan was to do the Maramures, then cross into Ukraine via Rachiv, do the ChornoHora, then cross into Poland via L'viv / Przemysl and do the Bieszczady, all in all being supposed to take not more than 2 weeks, say 20 days. Well, plans never come true and that is the fun of being alive I guess, otherwise it'd be a loooong and wideeeee boredom. So, taking things at a time, ValeaViseului / Rachiv was not an "international" borde3r crossing point on the Ukrainean side, so I could cross the border there, as a Romanian, but my friend could not. The only solution was going to Suceava / Chernivcy, some hundreds of kilometers to the east. Quite upset about this situation, we started. According to the same plan, we were to go by train to Viseu de Jos, take the narrow gauge train along the VaserValley to its end and start hiking from there. Wrong again. After a night's trains riding, we reached Viseu de Jos on a chilly and foggy morning. I could not even see the station because of the fog and the steam coming from the ancient wagons heating system. We got on a chilly and ancient bus soon filled by peasants, workers and one other backpacker. Getting off the bus, we started walking towards the narrow gauge railway station. It was the only narrow gauge still in use in Romania, partly for tourist purposes, partly for exploiting wood. The train was supposed to leave Viseu at 07.00, but of course it had left at 06.00 and there were even more pieces of bag news to come:

"Tomorrow it is not going to work, as it is a religious holiday". The other backpacker from the bus, a German buy, was very happy:

"I have come all the way from Germany for this train alone" he said and vanished in a cloud of fully explainable anger.

Life is great and bad news always travel in couples, one might say. So, we went back to the main road. Sometimes an unexpected change of plans ends up well. Sometimes not. But in both situations one gets up with an interesting experience and he/she ends up drunk. After a brief coffee and after noticing that half of the Pipulation in Viseu was Italian or had cars with Italian plates, we took a small van to BorsaVillage, then we started hitch-hiking towards PrislopPass, where MaramuresMountains started. It did not take long and a typical 25 years old truck appeared and suddenly stopped. Three boys were on board, probably none of them being over 16 or having a driving license. The road went up in very tight and steep curves towards the pass, while they were driving as if they were part of some rally. The air was filled with a loud Gipsy music with very funny lyrics. At a certain moment the happy chariot stopped to give a ride to some cyclists and, as there was no place inside, they stood on to the back of the truck. To make their ride easier, the driver of the moment took off one of the speakers and put it on top of the cabin, so that the whole valley could now listen to the latest hit of John Doe. It is impossible to describe the way small things like that make up a trip wonderful. Reaching the pass, we got off the merry truck and started walking along the foothills of the Maramures Ridge, which was filled with pastures, sheep and cattle. When reaching FantanaStanchii Hut, opposite the map directions, the man there showed us the direction we should have followed; we were to dramatically (for us) find out later that they were both wrong. After following an old trail (probably unused since the area became so close to the border), we got in the middle of a delightful and welcoming (but nevertheless shaking and scratching) sea of juniper bushes. Tall junipers.Dense junipers.Green junipers.Moving junipers. Junipers that made the wind cease and the sun burn even stronger, making the resine melt and stick to us. We would make a few steps and then fall, getting up again and, the very moment we thought we are back to the vertical, we would stumble and fall again, swallowed by that living mass of the shaking spirit. Eventually, after a serious struggle to get on a view point, we reached a peak and, with one foot on a stronger juniper and the other one twisted on a stick, I could see the future: kilometers of junipers. So we decided to go straight down in the direction of the Vaser hydrological basin. A couple of hours later, after covering 100-150 meters, we reached a small stream, which eased much the going down. We found the military designed trail in the forest. Sunset was getting close, so we started to look for a camping place. Abandoning the path, we reached a clearing and we noticed a dim light in the opposite side. Thinking it was a tent, we went there, to find a truck with strange plates: neither Romanian, nor Ukrainean, nothing understandable. The truck full of wood had the lights on, the door was open but there was nobody in the vicinity. We shouted and made noise, but nothing: it belonged to wood smugglers. Only when we loudly decided to camp there, three men appeared, asked us what we were looking for, chatted for a while and eventually, realizing we were not after them but after a night's sleep, they showed us to a small hut hidden in the forest and told us we could stay there until morning and even use their food stock. Then they got on the truck and left. Thanking them, I realized, not for the first time though, that everybody in this pit called Earth is human after all and all there is need for is to know how to talk to people and take people for what they are rather than judge them, for nobody is perfect. The following day we started again, following the path. Some hours later we reached an open area, where the ridge was followed by a grassy stripe cut off across the forest and the junipers: the neutral stripe of the Romanian - Ukrainean border. Every 200-300 m. or so there was one pillar on each side of the stripe. On the Romanian side they were painted in green and white, bearing at their upper end the Romanian flag painted over the place where the communist coat of arms had once been. On the Ukrainean side the pillars that had once been red were now painted in green and red, with the new coat of arms of Ukraine on top, covering the former red star. Either countries no longer were what they had once been, but we were to soon find out that the new paint did not entirely cover all that red past in both cases. As the ridge was covered in junipers, it was only possible (and even there, not a heaven) to walk on that very neutral stripe and so we did. When we reached IhnitessaPeak, we stopped for a sip of water and some pictures. Soon we noticed that two people were coming after us in a quite high speed; they were both dressed in blue camouflage uniforms: Romanian soldiers. They reached us and took a deep breath:

"Romanian border police, your documents, please"

Then the story started with things I had already known. It was forbidden by law that anyone but the border police patrols to walk on the neutral stripe. We were supposed to keep at least 20 m. from the stripe inside Romanian territory. Of course we should have, opening new paths through the junipers and clearing the forest. The answer was simple:

"As walking in the area except for the stripe is not possible, you shouldn't have come here. There are laws. We only make sure they are respected. Now you have to join us and you risk a penalty of ROL 1, 000, 000 - 10, 000, 000 (USD 30-300)." They had their side of rightfulness, and we had ours. Yet our side was not protected by any law, only by the desire to hike those mountains. So there was a need to backup our case, in order to have one and not surrender. Blaming it on the map which showed, to our salvation, a non-existent path on the Romanian side (which we had not even looked for), playing the innocent and expressing our full respect for the law, we eased the situation and made them - nice people, after all - a little more comprehensive. After all, they were the ones carrying guns and not us. The orders they received from down were clear though: we had to join them to their commander and later on an inspector would come to see what and how will happen. Oh dear me... But they were nice enough (thank you, men!) to give us a tour of the ridge further before going down, also telling us military stories and alot of things about the wild herbs that grow in that area. In the evening we reached Coman, their headquarters and also the end of the narrow gauge train we were supposed to have taken the day before...isn't life strange? Thank God we had not taken that train, for, if we had taken it, they would have turned us back without having the opportunity of walking on the ridge and...fighting that sea of junipers. We camped in front of their building and a middle aged, very smiley inspector indeed came in the morning and decided in 5 seconds that a warning was enough. So we could pack and got on the...train that was to make 6 hours over 50 km., with a steam engine, stopping every now and then from its impressive 10 km./h. speed to take wood or workers, to drop something or to be refilled with coal. The railway was the only way to those places, with no road along and therefore it was also used by families that had off-road cars or vans and modified their wheel system to fit the rails (changing the tires with train wheels). As there was only one railway, these vehicles had to move one at a time, so the train had to stop for a few times and wait. It is good to know in a standardized and globalizing world that some things happen when they can, without a precise schedule. We finally reached Viseu and found a guesthouse, as we wanted to depart the following day for Poienile de sub Munte, a village next to the border in the northern side of the same mountains and a base for hiking towards Peak Farcau, lying fully in Romania this time. We spent the evening walking across the town and enjoying a lazy ale in a local pub: the Inn between Two Rivers, a traditional Romanian controversy: a traditional wooden building with lots of carvings, bearing local symbols, but raved by a noisy and totally unsuitable dance music. The following morning we started for the early and only bus to Poienile, where we first encountered Mother Russia, as the village had a quite big Russian community, so its name was also spelled in Russian on the plate by the entrance. The first necessary step was the "Sector", a mysterious term taken from a James Bond movie and meaning nothing else but the Headquarters of the Border Police for Poienile de sub Munte Sector. Taking law much more comprehensively, the people there said that, as far as they are concerned, we can walk on the border; but they emphasized that this does not cover the situation where we meet Ukrainean guards. So we could, unexpectedly, walk from FarcauPeak to Pip Ivan and further to BistraVillage. They registered our IDs and we could go. We were given a ride by a sand filled truck and, as there was no place in the cabin, we had to sit in the sand, with a lot of dust covering us every time the truck would pass over a bump in the dust road. And then the lazy hike started on a steep trail through the forest, until we reached a sheepfold and entered the pasture. An hours later we reached VarghirisLake, just under FarcauPeak, where we met a large group of hippy-like, happy Czechs that were bathing. They were coming from the Pip Ivan alongside the border.

"The only problem was that at a certain moment we saw a car and we jumped into the forest." We weren't to be that lucky, but we were to be lucky anyway.

We hiked the peak, which provided impressive views towards the Maramures and the area we were coming from, as well as Southern Ukraine; we could also see HoverlaPeak in Ukraine, with a black cloud on top. On the very peak there was a cross, just like on many other peaks. The Czechs had inlayed their names on it and hung a can of Gambrinus beer on it. I do not know why, but it feels much worse to find something like that, spoiling the place and the local people's simple, but true belief, than finding a mountain of garbage next to a frequently used camping place. We came down and went on towards the main ridge and the border again, reaching it 2 hours later. After a short hike on the border, we could see the reason for which many people get in trouble up there: on the Romanian side there was a hardly noticeable path among bushes, high grass and junipers, while on the Ukrainean side there was a dust road. While Romanians were probably patrooling by walking for miles through that forest and among bushes, the Ukraineans were traveling in cars, thanks to good old USSR. The Ukrainean road was bordered by an electric fence, no longer in use. Not much later on, we noticed a car on the dust road near MicaMarePeak. We went a little down on the Romanian side and camped between the bushes as it was almost dark anyway. The following morning we started along the tricky Romanian path until it vanished. The border entered the forest now and the neutral stripe even was hard to be followed because if the muddy and grassy area filled of nettles and fallen trees. At a certain moment we gave up and went on the Ukrainean dust road. It felt like heaven, but not a very lasting one. After having done 2 km. or so, we heard a car and saw it rapidly coming towards us. We jumped in the forest, ran across the neutral stripe and immediately hid under a fir tree. A car passed on the road and stopped a little further up: they were obviously after us and I can hardly think they were to invite us for lunch, even if it was about 1 PM. A second car soon passed by too. Then we could hear voices and steps on the stripe. They stopped just meters from the fir tree we lay behind:

"Can you see anything?"


The two meters that separated us from the Romanian pillar, the few moments that separated us from their arrival and that God-given fir tree sheltering us, as well as the fact that the soldiers respected the law and did not make even one step in Romania, saved us from a certain fine and a long deportation via ValeaViseului, the closest legal border crossing. After their departure, we continued by going down into Romania and then trying to keep the same altitude, jumping over fallen trees, falling in mud and cursing bushes or nettles. Eventually we found a very narrow and not always clear path probably used by sheep following shepherds, by wolves following sheep and by sheepfold dogs following wolves, respectively by bears chasing all of the above. The path stubbornly followed the ridge and the border at 50-100 m. After a slow and painful hike through the forest, we reached the border again and the - hooray, hooray - pasture: we were at the bottoms of the PipIvanPeak. To the SW there were some sheepfolds on the Romanian side and about 200 m. in front of us, also in Romania, there was a poor and small wooden hut, probably built long ago by the border guards. As clouds gathered and a storm soon started, washing off our wounds created by mankind and their useless borders, we chose to stop for the night there. Soon after the rain started, three young people came speaking Ukrainean. They were backpackers just like us and, when hearing that they were no longer in Ukraine, they wanted to run away, but eventually we managed to make them stop, telling them that Romanians will not bother coming all that way, as their headquarters were far, and anyway not through that rain. We all settled around a makeshift table and they put on some food: half a kilo of rice which they boiled and added one tin of beef, mixing everything with about half a kilo of smashed garlic. I thought I was not able to eat that, but, after a few sips (or rather gulps) of their vodka, I could see the whole world from a different perspective. First, one never refuses a drink from these people, for otherwise they get offended; well, this also happens in Romania, what can we do, we are all savage and still live in the Middle Ages... Then, whether they give you a cup full, half or they only put a few drops of whatever, you have to drink it all of a sudden, for otherwise they think you do not like it. And then, when you think "I'm doing well, keeping my national honour high", they put you another one. After two rounds or so, we decided to go down to the sheepfold and get some cheese, which we did and when we returned, the Ukraineans were standing around a fire.

"How could you set a fire out of those wet pieces of wood?"

"Only idiots make a fire out of dry wood."

The evening faded out with Ukrainean songs, vodka and, more than anything else, with a big and mutual cheer meant to wash off taboo stories and preconceived ideas, as well as the language barrier.

The following day, after breakfast, we splat, as they were going the way we came (hmmm, lucky people, they could follow the dust road), while we had a peak to hike. It was very sunny and hot while we hiked along the path (pretty clear now, as there seemed to have been more hikers interested in this peak) that cross-crossed the border again. Fortunately, the dust road was down at 1600 m. and we were in the open, so we could see the "enemy". An hour and a half later, we got on Pip Ivan, with great views to the area. Once again, the Hoverla was covered in clouds. We continued on the border for about 2 hours, on a ridge that was rocky at times and bushy at other times, looking very deserted and far away from everything. Just when leaving the border, we met a signpost saying "Attention: state border". Well, it was a bit late, indeed, but it was still nice they told us in the end we had hiked on a border. We got off the ridge to the south and, as I probably chose the wrong valley to go down, what seemed to be a narrow path in the beginning, soon faded out and we had to fight through fir trees, going down on a steep slope covered with a slippery dead leaves layer. After about 2 hours, we reached an abandoned forest workers' hut and a poor dust road that had not been used for many years. The heat, the vegetation that had grown on the dust road and the few things reminding that this place was once probably frequently crossed by people, made Dracula's crappy castle and legend look silly in comparison to a real and unexpected life experience. One more hour and we reached "civilization": the border police hut, where we had to be registered and then we could go. It was getting hotter and hotter as we were going down. We reached BistraVillage and, after eating or rather gulping a few apples picked from a tree by the road, we found the railway halt. The first train that arrive had us on board and we took it to a bigger station where "fast" trains would stop. We were lucky that the train to Bucharest was late, so we could get on that, bribe the conductor, as there was no time to buy tickets and there was no need to make him go through the painful (and expensive, for us) activity of issuing tickets on board. We got off the train in Salva at about 10 PM of so and we were supposed to wait there for 2-3 hours. We soon noticed that we had run short of Romanian money and - of course - big banks, ATMs and non stop exchange offices (if ever) had not conquered that remote little village. But people are people and we are all humans, the railways clerk doing for us what not even the World Bank or the IMF could not do there and then: changing 10 dollars into lei and allowing us to buy tickets, get food and beer, nevertheless remaining rich. There is a God after all. The otherwise small train station - a railway knot - was full of an international bunch: a French couple going to the painted monasteries in Northern Moldavia, a Polish guy and a lot of Romanians, probably traveling to some village nearby or going for the early shift in some nearby factory. Eventually our train arrived with bad news for the tired hikers, respectively good news for the sociology fan: it was full of a huge group belonging to a Catholic organization that was going to Iasi, in North-Eastern Romania. So, for the first time in a long while, I traveled in a first class wagon, where we could find spare seats and also settle a small bribe with the conductor, for we had second class tickets and the official difference to pay was big enough to require him playing the exchange office. We fell asleep and only woke up a few minutes before the train stopped in GuraHumorului. We got off and, as it was about 5 AM or so, we went to sleep on the benches of the railway station. There was this bodyguard in the station asking everybody whether they needed advice or directions for their trips, as GuraHumorului is a starting point for the painted monasteries. It is nice to find out at times there are people that heartfully care about something, disregarding of what that something is and disregarding of a material interest we all seem to be obsessed by these days... When the time got more decent, at 7.30 or so, we moved towards the centre of the town that was slowly moving towards a new working day. Ignoring official and too expensive guesthouses, after asking in a few small shops, I found out that there was an old lady in the area usually renting rooms for the peasants that used to come to the market place. Getting there, we found the charming lady of the house, which lived together with her mother, son, daughter-in-law and nephews. She immediately stopped from whatever she was doing and offered us a coffee with a motto: "life is bitter anyway, so the least we can have is sweet coffee". Also mentioning that she asked for EUR 3 for a room, she beat by far any fancy hotel with fake professional smiles and standard stays. After wandering for a few hours in the town, after spending the night in that lovely house, we woke up early in the morning and got a bus to Suceava. Reaching the bus station in Suceava, we noticed that the bus to Chernivcy was due in a couple of hours, and the "international ticket office" was closed until 9 AM, so, looking for a place to eat something looking like breakfast and preferably not still alive, we incidentally crossed the parking lot next to the market place. Seeing our backpacks probably, a guy asked whether we were going to Chernivcy. So we had a small unofficial (and therefore appealing, just like all unofficial things) van going to Ukraine in half an hour, at the same price with the bus. So we left the luggage with him and went to search for food. Eventually, after checking many places which were all going to open at 10, we found an underground heaven, smelling like roast chicken served by a fat and cheering old woman. A few minutes later we were on board of the green van to Ukraine. A couple of lady smugglers came with two large and kitschy paintings and some other large packages. This was a good thing to know: there was no kitsch in Ukraine, so they had to import it from Romania. And then I wonder, why are all smugglers going on night trains in winter and on small vans with large packages, women? It is below men's pride and honour to stand the chilly weather and the demanding, greedy customs officers, bribing train conductors, carrying large parcels of God knows what and nevertheless bearing on their tired faces a shy, nevertheless sad smile telling their full story? I guess so, but I would rather call it not honour, but cowardness. Apart from the smugglers, there was an old and elegant lady going to visit some relatives in Chernivcy. Eventually we departed, making a detour, as one of the smugglers had more luggage to take from her host. Half an hour later, we reached Siret town, the last Romanian community, where one more stop meant buying two large bags of concrete. Then we stopped and passed pretty easily and events free through customs, with no big line or anything. Neither the Romanian, nor the Ukrainean border police officers understood where the hell we were going and especially why, but they both let us be; it is better not to argue with crazy people than to start a world war because of them; it has happened before and many have died.

Then we entered Ukraine and headed towards Chernivcy. The Romanian fairly tale said there are gangs of gangsters and robbers waiting for people to enter Ukraine so that they can rob them, ask for "entrance" fees and so on. The international fairy tale said more or less the same about Romania. Well, I don't know about the Romanian one and am not the right person to confirm or deny it, but the Romanian one was not true, being probably issued by people that only travel in their bed, in front of the TV set. We reached Chernivcy in one piece, got some advice referring to how to get to the mountains from the van driver, dropped our luggage in the bus station and found out that there was a van going to Kamyanetz-Podilsky immediately, but there was no seat left. Well, we traveled for 1 and a half hours snatched between an old lady and a young girl, in a hot and static atmosphere, as nobody wanted to open a window. Even though the city was pretty large and there were many inhabitants, the guy from Let's Go Eastern Europe was true: one could have easily concluded that the German troops had just left the city. The old quarters were deserted and only a few of the buildings looked cared about or restored. Most streets looked like after the war, with heaps of dust, scaffoldings, abandoned working sites and impressive monuments one had to look for carefully in order to notice them, simply because they were hidden behind some scaffoldings or demolished / ruined house. The local fortress was the only place where some restoration works were underdone, even though there was a funny plate saying "life danger" at the entrance to a wing of it. The only really refreshed site, also bearing that commercial look old buildings bear in all tourist places in this world, was the city hall tower. After enjoying a good beer in the very city hall building (which would have cost a lot in any other place, but was as cheap as plain water there), we fastly moved towards the bus station, where we had to wait for half an hour because the bus to Chernivcy was late. Eventually we got to the city, picked the backpacks and started to walk towards the centre. We found a travel agency and a half drunk man there gave us some directions referring to how to get to one of the only two hotels in the city. yet we were to soon find out there were far more than two hotels there, i.e. three. We found the hotel, which was a concrete square and 70s typical building where the good and old double tier price system was still in use with loud glamours: we paid about USD 24 for a room which cost Ukraineans USD 15. Chernivcy itself had a quite large old centre with a big number of good-looking classical buildings, many of which had been restored or at least repainted. A few late 19th century churches, as well as some picturesque corners and ancient pavement streets completed the image of a typical city postcard from the 20s. The city successfully fit southern Ukraine in the same way L'viv fit south-western Ukraine. The only problem there was to explain the railway clerk that our passports had no page with Cyrillic translation, but eventually, with the help of a very nice man behind us in the line, we succeeded and beat the system. One more stroll through the city the following evening, on the way to the station, made the image complete: with an incredibly chaotic traffic (worse than Bucharest, and that means something), a great background for tourism and a good location (next to a major road and railway), Chernivcy was just a step away from prosperity: will and promotion, yet it was waiting for someone else to make the step and that was wrong. We reached IvanoFrankivsk at the break of dawn. The guidebook said nothing much, only that the city was a business centre. It might have been, but it was more than that. With an old centre fully restored a few years ago, neat terraces and great facades, Frankivsk was simply lying and waiting for tourists. It was the city that shocked me the most in Ukraine. Large hotels, well refurbished, fancy restaurants where one could eat a full meal for less than USD 5-6, cheap beer and good value tourist sights, everything seemed like prepared for a movie set or getting ready for an invasion of the Japanese. Yet nothing happened there except for the old babushkas trying to make a dime by selling vegetables and milk in the market place, respectively the young drinking to forget or forgetting to drink...

A few hours, we got on the morning train towards Rachiv. Isn't life funny? Just three days ago we were in BistraVillage, not even 20 km. from Rachiv and we had to go round for hundreds of kilometers just because of a simple word: "international" from "international border crossing"... Well, not that I regret going round. At first I thought it was a mistake that the train was supposed to make 6 hours over 100 km. or so, yet there was no mistake. The train never got over 20 km. / hours (if ever reaching that speed), stopping in any place that seemed to have been once inhabited by sheep or cattle. The train had open wagons with wooden benches. Fellow passengers included a whole social bunch, with very different types, from mountaineers to rightfully dressed old people, fashionable-meant-to-be middle aged provincial ladies or tired people probably returning home after the night shift. Their faces were telling stories that kept me reading for hours in that heat that was gluing down my skin to the wooden bench. Old women, the always surviving type, would come and go at regular times, offering passengers beer, snacks, delicious home made honey waffles, apples, donuts or sunflower seeds. A middle aged man came selling necklaces and bracelets. Then a couple of young Gypsies with two babies came along. The guy was playing the harmonica, with all of them singing something in Ukrainean that made some of the passengers start laughing. The heat got even worse, but I admit it kind of fit that train and that place, as we were crossing some desolate plains, where time seemed to have stuck centuries ago, behind the different rules the land had been subject to (Lithuanian, Polish, Romanian, German, Sovietic), behind the obvious poverty that existed there and behind life itself. Somewhere to the back of the wagon a group of mountaineers were singing while one was playing the guitar. Despite the discomfort, the heat, the poor train and the slow speed it was moving at, I would say that the very same reasons made me enjoy the ride. Eventually we reached Vorochta and noticed that, just like in Romania, Bulgaria or other former communist poor countries where things are developing at a very slow pace, the tourism industry was organized - if ever - very chaotically or rather it was not working at all. Vorochta was a very convenient place to start to the highest peak in the ChornoHora. Just off the railway station, apart from the people trying to make a living out of selling everything and nothing, there were makeshift taxi drivers offering rides to the base of the hiking paths but, of course, there seemed to be no regular vans or buses or oxen pulled carriages. In a quite poor area where infrastructure - if one could have called it like that - was old and hardly providing a way to go and where tourism was probably one of the few sources of income, this was an unpleasant impression for the first timer in Ukraine aiming at the country's highest peak. Thank God I was coming from a country where things were the same and even worse in some cases. Not agreeing to pay about USD 10 for a ride, we started hiking but were soon given a ride by a small van which dropped us by the entrance to the National Park. Rules to obey: camping was supposedly forbidden in the National Park, we could not overstay the 4 days we had paid for and on the ridge there was no hut. Fair enough, the ChornoHoras seemed just as restricted like the Alps, but - as always - what is written is not always what happens in the real world. Besides, we entered the park through the only place where one would pay such a fee for entering. The lady told us however that just after passing by the highest peak there would be a meteorological hut where we could fiund accommodation. As there were some grey clouds moving fast towards us, we decided to camp at the entrance to the park. When settling down, some young Ukraineans from a nearby tent came and very happily invited us for a drink. They were a very hospitable people and that made traveling much more pleasant. The evening ended with a camp fire, a lot of beer and ad-hoc burnt pork fat.

The following morning we started towards the peak and were lucky enough to be given a ride inside the park by a couple from Kiev. They were also going to the peak. The path was well beaten and there were many people going to this Ukrainean Mecca, groups of children, youngsters, old people, many of which wore tennis shoes, slippers, regular street shoes... The peak was a wide flat area with a stone pillar covered in graffittis and a monument in memory of the Ukrainean state independence from the former USSR. A few minutes later we had to start further, as the wind got pretty strong and a heavy rain started too. Even worse, a thick layer of fog covered the ridge so that one could not see more than 10-15 meters in front. Thinking of the "meteorological hut on the second peak after the Hoverla", we went on and made some Poles.

"We made 3 days from the Pop Ivan here"

That sounded a bit too long, but the weather conditions were reason enough. After 3 hours of hiking (or rather surfing) through the weather and - of course - no trace of any hut, we heard some voices to the left and found a small lake and a tent. We camped there, cooked something and soon another group of 3 arrived and settled next to us. They were coming from PopIvanPeak and they had started that very day. In exchange for the food we had cooked, they offered some vodka and we chatted until night fell. I enjoyed very much this sharing of things and their generosity. The next day the weather was beautiful and we could see the landscape around us. The ridge was pleasant, being covered in grass and a few rocks at times, while the area, surrounded by lower wooden mountains, was quite picturesque. After noticing that we were among the few going to Pop Ivan instead of coming from there, we reached the peak about 4 hours later. Before being overtaken - together with the whole area - by the USSR, the peak and the whole ridge had been on the Czechoslovakian - Polish border and the Poles had built an astronomical observer on the very peak in 1936-1938. Just a few years later, the Red Army came and destroyed the huge building, as well as all of its equipment. Nowadays the stone walls remained like the ruins of a medieval castle, fitting a Dracula story much better than the crap people go to visit in Bran, Transylvania (and which has to do with the Dracula story as much as that building on the Pop Ivan has). There were a lot of people, Ukraineans, Russians and Poles on the peak. We had to start going down and so we did, passing by the ruins of a former Polish hut. After meeting a lot of tents in the area, it was obvious that most of the people were going up from this side because there was no entrance fee to be paid. About 2-3 hours later we reached Dzhembronia, a small village with most houses spread on the hills in the neighbourhood and a lovely and remote atmosphere. There was only one bus to the outside world a day that that was going at 7 AM in the morning. There was one shop with cheap beer, one church and that was about it. The following morning we got on the bus together with a large Polish group and some local people that could hardly get on the bus because of the backpacks. The way out of the village was lovely, with small communities of 1-2 hours gathered in narrow clearings along the valley and people dressed up in traditional outfits. Finally we reached Vichodnia and got on another bus to IvanoFrankivsk again. Ukraine had been very welcoming so far and better was to come. On that bus, being quite close to L'viv and further to Poland, the idea called Crimea emerged. So, just hazardously we asked whether there were tickets for Simferopol and, strangely, there still were, via L'viv. So we went. The ride took 7 hours to L'viv, one hour wait there and then 25 hours to Simferopol, all in platzkartni wagons, and all costing about USD 12 per person. On the way from L'viv to Simferopol we got our beds next to an Ukrainean old lady and her daughter. They were both coming from a village just north of the Romanian border and were heading to Crimea as well. They were basket manufacturers and they were going to Crimea to sell their products. The very nice old lady offerred us some delicious hen roast, filled with polenta mixed with vegetables, as well as home made brandy and the ride seemed much shorter. Not everything was pink for her family though, as she did not have enough money and therefore her daughter could not go to university. Trying to kill the rage stirred by this situation, we reached Simferopol, the most busy railway station I had been to with thousands of people and their luggage waiting for trains which were coming and going every minute to many destinations in the former USSR and some East European countries. As warned by the old lady on the train, the first thing to do was to get return tickets.

"No tickets to L'viv until the end of the month" (which meant more than 2 weeks ahead)





"Chernivcy maybe?"

"No way either, all trains are sold out"

Well, that called for an emergency pull, so we went to the "Service Centre" I had previously used in Moscow and 20 minutes later, when we got in front of the tired lady there, we approached her differently:

"To what destination do you have tickets this week?"

"Well, there are still a couple of tickets to Riga"

"Good, and what route does it follow?"


"OK, two tickets to Kyiv then"

The tickets were more expensive (USD 16 per person), as the train was a charter of the Estonian railways. After a victory scream that made some people (probably not as lucky as we were) angrily look at us, we dropped the heavy backpacks in the station and got on a train to Balchihsaray: we had 4 days to spend in Crimea.

Four days which would be some memorable ones. We started by an electrichna train to Balchihsaray, where a Tatar palace was located. Crossing the dry and desert - like hills of south-western Crimea, the picture was not very appealing to me, especially when we got to this town. A small station, a few kiosks and cafes that had a lovely interbellum look, a few old vans going to Simferopol, Sevastopol or to some village in the neighbourhood and nothing much else. We took a bus to the local monastery, which once was the harbinger of Orthodox religion in the whole area. The monastery had been founded in some caves located in the dry limestone rocks, beautifully being surrounded by pine covered hills. It was not too big or overwhelming, but it had a special appeal of its own. Further up the valley there was the "Fortress of the Jews", a partly natural fortress consisting of a wide limestone plateau pierced of caves, having absolutely no water and a torrid summer sun dying one's blood out. Back to the town, we visited Khan's Palace. Its simple lines, pleasant interiors and beautiful garden were a nice refreshment after the Fortress of Draught. Going back to the station, I saw the places from a different perspective and I could not ignore the town, which attracted me even more than the sightseeing places it hosted. There were so many old and nevertheless small buildings, a few God forgotten terraces with old people watching draught fading the day away, the smell of the shashlik in the air and a few tourists, generally Polish or Russian, every now and then.

Eventually we started towards Sevastopol by a small van. On the way, while talking about the differences between the language areas in Ukraine, we almost started WW4 (because WW3 was already on the way), as an old man which obviously did not understand Romanian, told us very sharply that we should not mock at Russian, because it is the most beautiful language in the world. Well, those building up monopolistic groups of multiethnic and multicultural groups, on the "we are the best, fuck the rest" principle had had no idea of the great damage their theories would have over people's minds. We reached Sevastopol ironically being called "strantzi" by the old man and some other fellow-travelers. We got off the van and were approached by an old man holding a piece of cardboard on which there was written "komnata u mor"; he asked whether we needed accommodation and we did.  He said that his place was 10 minutes from that place by bus, while the price was USD 8 for a double room. However the location was about 30 minutes from there by bus, on the 9th floor of a concrete block. We regretted in the first place, but eventually accepted and even enjoyed the experience afterwards. When one says Sevastopol, he / she thinks of the military harbour, of the history book, of Crimea, but not about the way people live or about the fact that Crimea could be just as block filled as Bucharest or Moscow. Our host, that old man and his family (5-6 persons) lived in a 3 rooms apartment just as badly conceived and maintained as the ones back home, in Bucharest, but they played very nice hosts. Later that evening, sitting on a terrace close to the "komnata" and trying to figure out the menu, two young people approached us in Romanian: they were from Chisinau, Republic of Moldova and they were here on holidays. They gave us some useful advice on the things to see in Sevastopol, as well as a warning: "Yalta is going to cost you a lot of money". We chatted for a while and went home late at night. The following day, after a half an hour search, we finally got an old lady to give us directions towards Hersones, the ruins of the old Greek colony. On the way there, a couple of middle aged Ukraineans showed us a hole in the wall surrounding the old city and we followed them, saving the 6 hryvnas for the entrance tickets. Only foreigners used the main gate, while a line of locals did the same with us. The ruins of the Greek city were not either very well preserved or very well commercialized, but that was the very image of the Ukrainean tourism industry, with a very few exceptions we were to witness the days to come. However the city had its nice buildings and fine terraces along the quay. The time to leave arrived and we moved on towards Yalta.

Things took a dramatic change soon: the coast was very picturesque and the resorts, as well as the road, had nothing to do with my previous experience in Ukraine. Crimea fully deserved its self-promoted "autonomous" feature. The only disappointment in Yalta were the concrete blocks which spoiled the nice scenery, but everything else was simply impressive, starting with the fine hotels and restaurants on the sea quay and ending with the long and so pleasant palm trees-lined promenade along the beach. However people were still poor and the resort and therefore the resort provided places and offers for all pockets, as we found a room at an old lady's place, for the same UAH 40 rate. Yalta was not a place for the average holiday-maker, it was meant for either the very rich or for the very poor and not caring (like us), ready to sleep on a rug and live only on smoked fish and biscuits sold by babushkas forever. From all official Ukraine, Crimea seemed to me like the place where real money were made day and night and where there existed the will and the know-how to create business, even if I personally prefer quieter and more natural, regular places where one can easier penetrate local people's lines. Our host - a woman in her 60s - lived together with her husband in a flat (again), being surrounded by cats. In the evening we discovered close to her flat, by mistake almost, an Armenian church. A middle aged woman invited us in and we went. It was not grand, but the building was well preserved, while its architecture had a lot of sense, fluidity and balance. The lady seemed to be a priest as well, as she put on the mass outfit and showed us all the church, said a prayer and told us the story of GriogorNarikatzi, an Armenian saint that had lived on Ararat Mountain in the times when it was located in Armenia. After spending more than a pleasant hour in the church, we surfed through the city until tired. The following day was to be dedicated to palaces, including Alupka, Livadia and Massandra. The first one seemed kitschy to me and the (real) chords of tourists that would stand everywhere to get photographed at all times were not to my please. Mixing the Arabian style with the Tudor, hosting inside all those different pieces of furniture and planting palm trees on the porch stroke the eye in a spicy and bitter way. From all the visit, the only thing that got my attention was that, at a certain moment, a quite big part of the ceiling collapsed in one of the rooms. While the attending staff froze, a bunch of tourists immediately rushed there to shoot pictures. LivadiaPalace was simpler in structure and more pleasant in looks. The main attraction was the round table which had once hosted the three people considering themselves important and smart while doing nothing but playing a dirty and unfair game with God's dice. I have never been to either Siberia or inside the Palace of the Parliament in Bucharest, and I think I shall never go there, but the pictures with Churchill, Roosevelt and Stalin made me think of what their luncheon ended with. Up the hill from Yalta there was MasandraPalace, the most real one, might I say so. It lacked the awkwardness of the palace in Alupka and the "I am famous, aren't I?" feature of the one in Livadia. Instead it was normal, smaller and much more tasteful, a bit remote from the town and preserving that image of a countryside manor.

As the following day we were to leave and I stubbornly wanted to visit Aivazovski's museum in Feodosia, we went to the bus station in Yalta. A Russian habit, very civilized otherwise, but very inconvenient for those on the run like us, they did not sell tickets for a train or bus unless there are spare seats. So all we could do was to go to Alushta, from where we hoped to find something further to Feodosia or Sudak. All tickets were sold out, even for Simferopol. All we could get was sharing a taxi with 3 other Ukraineans. Because one of the fellow travelers was rushing to a train, the guy drove like crazy and in 25 minutes we got there, mainly sticking to a police led and guarded Hummer limo. Getting to the bus station, we saw a bus was leaving to Sudak in 5 minutes, so we went. The scenery was totally different. While on the coast the communities were much richer and there was tourism, inland there were only poor villages with old and small houses; roads were not as good either. The bus was to get in Sudak at about 9 PM, but we got there at almost 11 PM on another bus, because it broke down on the way. When getting off, we were approached by two ladies offering accommodation: they were Tatars.

"We even have a shower"

That sounded promising. Actually all they had was a not finished yet house made of two rooms. The wider one, bearing a garage-like huge metallic door, was made of a lower area which hosted a makeshift kitchen and an upper area made of a wooden podium on which there were pillows and 3 mattresses, that being the sleeping area. The smaller room was "normal", with two beds and some old pictures on the walls. The "shower" meant an outside cabin made of wood, on top of which there was a water tank which would be warmed up by the sun rays. Another wooden cabin was meant for the toilet, just like in rural Romania. The very welcoming lady of the house cooked some omelet and made a salad for us, as she said that at that hour the shop was closed. They were very nice people and their hospitality would have touched anybody. Unfortunately Feodosia remained out of the question the following day, as there were no buses running there soon enough for us to return at the right time. So all we could do was walking in the streets of Sudak (much poorer than the resorts to the west, even though preserving a draughty and otherwise desolate Turkish fortress) and enjoying some of the local cuisine in a bar next to the bus station.

Then we headed for Simferopol, where we had three hours to enjoy the 200 m. of pedestrian street in the old centre and its monuments. However the most striking thing about the city was the station, a large building with thousands and thousands of people hanging around and waiting for trains going all over Ukraine, Russia and some East European cities at every few minutes. The SimferopolVokzal show was a must-see in Crimea for sure. But the time to leave arrived, with a platzkartni wagon to Kiev. Opposite to us there was a couple of very nice young people with which we had a nice time and plenty of beer. The following day we reached Kiev. I was very curious from the last time I had been there, to see the way the refurbishing works of the station were accomplished. Wow, the station looked more like a bank on the inside, with marble and huge chandeliers, lots of flowers and a very well organized space, with wide halls and very well balanced areas. We had the ticket to L'viv done in a few minutes and we went for the city, to soon discover that it was actually August 23rd (Saturday), while Ukraine's Independence Day was to happen on August 24th. The city was filled with people, parties were on the way, there were going to be concerts all night and the main avenues were closed to traffic, being filled with beer terraces and junk sellers. Even the stalinist architecture in the centre looked between in this celebration wrapping. Prices were higher, much higher than in Chernivcy or IvanoFrankivsk and the city, even in the middle of that party thing, looked proper and much cleaner than other East European capitals. Still there were few foreign tourists, even if the place looked vivid because of the holiday. Another night, another train and this time an almost suffocating ride, as we were next to these middle aged women that closed the window every time I tried to open it. Our Ukrainean leg was coming to an end, even if it wasn't to be the most pleasant of them all...

We reached L'viv in the morning, the morning of the National Day. The city looked almost the same as the first time I had been there and also as the very day Sovietics took it from Poles., with old cobblestone streets, aging tramways making everything shake, but also with those small shops that looked so picturesquely. The centre was full of people even if it was pretty early, and there was some typical communist propaganda music, very loud, in some speakers all over the place. It was strange to see that type of manifestation in a Gothic city and the worse was even to come. This time I noticed a thing that I had previously ignored when visiting the city in 2000. Of the once many Roman Catholic churches in the city, only one still bore the same religion, while others had been turned into Orthodox or Greek Catholic churches. Being a person that does not believe in religion, but rather in the only God there is, this situation did not bother me, but the discordance between the Gothic architecture and frescoes, respectively the Orthodox altars was striking. At a certain moment an old and quite poor lady stopped us in the street. She was Polish and all her relatives had been sent to Siberia; ever since she has not heard anything of them and now she had to beg for a loaf of bread. This element, together with many others, made Ukraine a very complex experience, a country which one cannot just cross and come to a conclusion. It was getting late and there was another place to visit, the former Polish cemetery. Behind the well preserved gate, we saw some nice and also well maintained graves. But before going further, entrance was paid for. UAH 3 for adults, UAH 0.5 for students. Noticing we were foreigners, the guy there said that the discount was only for Ukrainean students, because we were in Ukraine and Ukraineans deserve everything there was. Well, thank you, merciful God for bread and the air was not also meant for Ukraineans alone, for we might have got a problem... Probably considering that he had not showed enough of his intelligent ideas, he went on very sharply, noticing that one of us was Polish, saying that L'viv was an Ukrainean city, all major buildings and attractions there had been built by Ukraineans. Not feeling like taking too much of his Ukrainean time, we went to the Ukrainean cemetery for an Ukrainean experience. And what a unique experience we had... The first graves looked well indeed, as hell is always wrapped up in pink paper. Many Polish graves had been destroyed, with broken funeral plaques; funeral monuments and crypts had been vandalized, while most of the kind of preserved ones lay under a mountain of especially brought garbage. Alleys looked like war ditches, while headless statues of angels accomplished a perfect apocalyptical image. If I had been for a second that man telling his crap, I would have stopped saying that everything in L'viv was Ukrainean, for he blamed himself in a mostly direct and straight way. The cemetery was the last thing we could visit in Ukraine, in the end of a 2 weeks travel in this country and it proved to be one of the saddest things I have ever encountered. If I had lead the Sovietic occupation army, instead of vandalizing and messing up the cemetery, plundering history and indirectly throwing dirt on my own soul, I would have simply razed off the place, building concrete boxes instead. For this issue I give Ceausescu (yet another moron) more credit than that man at the entrance to the cemetery.

We rushed to the station and got on the bus to Przemysl on the last minute. Except for us and a guy probably going to work in nearby Poland, there were only smugglers on the bus. After easily going through the Ukrainean customs, we reached the Polish side, not such an easy place to penetrate. Half of the people on the bus were turned back to Ukraine for they had much more cigarettes than accepted by law. The funny (now) thing was that the punished ones were not those breaking the law, but rather those obeying to it, as the bus was turned back together with the smugglers, while we had to wait out in the cold for a next one with more conscious smugglers, traveling to Przemysl in one leg and with this old lady shouting for we were bothering her with our backpacks. We reached the Polish city at around 3 AM and our bus to the mountains was due at 8 AM, so we tried to go to the railway station, but (welcome, civilization!) it was closed from 10 PMtil4 AM. We waited in a small bar across the street from the station, to discover that (welcome, civilization!) beer or any alcohol drinks were forbidden from being sold near railway stations. The following three days were about an eventless hiking trip to the Bieszczady, over restricted mountains where one had to wait in line in order to follow the path at times, where buses come on time and tourism is rather making money and not necessarily people happy about doing it. Strangely, it seemed to me that the simpler things get when traveling, the worse, for one misses the real experience. When people speak English, when maps are easy to be found, when roads are fully asphalted to the last cottage and when there are no shepherds with which one can trade a chat for a piece of fresh cheese around a sparkling fire in the evening, when - going back home - one's clothes do not smell like smoke, mountaineering is no longer my thing.

After spending a few days in Krakow, as I had got back in the civilized world and paid about EUR 80 for a 2nd class ticket and I left Poland to Belgrade, where I was to meet some friends and go to the mountains in Montenegro. After wandering through Budapest for a few hours, I was waiting for the intercity from Vienna to Belgrade and, seeing its OBB wagons, I was thinking that maybe civilization also meant air conditioning on inter cities. It did not and a ride very similar to the one from IvanoFrankivsk to Vorochta in Ukraine followed. But the fancy OBB train was missing the old people selling everything, the cheering mountaineers playing the guitar, the gipsy family singing for a living, in a word it was missing being alive. After a dry and ever getting dryer ride, I eventually reached Belgrade, back to the normality I was already missing. After throwing the backpack in Nenad's place, we went for a long-lasted-for JelenPivo, and a jelen always calls for a second jelen to come, so I woke up after the long nap I had taken after leaving L'viv. A few days in Belgrade were mostly welcome, crossing the city on the bicycle, watching people enjoying being alive in KneazMihaila and on the beaches on AdaCiganlija, enjoying pljeskavica after pljeskavica and burek after burek.

Eventually we left for the mountains, with a night bus to Berane. Then I entered an area with a very interesting people. Next to the Albanian border and also not very far from Kosovo, we were traveling between Berane and Gusinje. Gusinje was a town inhabited mostly by Albanians, where everything was settled around a living axis, a wide street bearing a mosque at one end many terraces along it, separated by groceries. People would just walk by or sit at some terrace, meeting up friends and relatives, talking for hours as if nothing was going on anywhere, as if they were in the middle of a desert, with nothing around them and with no restrictions, laws, rules, work, worry or event to bother them. Life had stopped in Gusinje. After registering with the local police, as we were going to hike in the border area, we took a taxi and went to a mountain hut, where we dropped the backpacks and headed up in very foggy and wet weather. At about 2000 m.alt.we got out of the fog and could see the impressive scenery ProkletijeMountains were offering us. A huge limestone mountain with glacial valleys and wild ridges, with huge rocks and lacking pastures, the Prokletije were simply impressive. We reached the highest peak and looked around us: score kilometers of mountains and nothing else, with very picturesque sights towards Albania, and with everything topped by the highest peak in the area, the MajaJezerces, lying in Albania. We got down to the hut and, after discovering there were scorpions in the hut, our sleep was not very smooth. The following day we went hiking in the rain, rain that only stopped when we got very close to the sharp, steep and rocky OchnijakPeak, the most impressive of the whole trip. In the evening we got down and sent ansms to the taxi driver which came the following morning to pick us up. The whole area was arranged by taxi drivers. They were going anywhere there was a road or trail, they would come if asked by sms... This unorganized, ad-hoc system worked much better than buses with precise schedules as they had in Poland or Slovakia, for instance. After crossing Gusinje once again and enjoying a great baklava in the local Mecca (nothing else than a confectionery, but a very lively and always full one), we checked out with police and left the town, going to VisitorMountains. Getting off the taxi at the bottom of the mountains, I dropped my backpack on the asphalt to drink some water. A man which had some problems with his car stopped and, seeing the label depicting coat of arms of the RepublikaSrpska I had long ago stuck to my backpack and had also forgotten about, he shouted:

"RepublikaSrpska! DalisitiSrpsku?!"

Both I and Nenad froze, realizing we were in a mostly Albanian area, just 35 km. away from Kosovo. However that man proved to be Serb and he was actually happy he saw that badge. We started hiking and reached a poor wooden cottage close to the main peak in a pouring rain. After doing some more hiking in the Visitor through fog and rains, and after not succeeding to buy some cheese from some Albanian shepherds, we returned to the hut and went to sleep, hoping it would not start raining seriously, for there were many holes in the roof. The following day, in a perfect weather, we hiked up the highest peak, which was partly grassy, partly rocky, and then we went down, took yet another taxi and reached the bottoms of KomoviMountains, meaning that taxi drove over a poor trail up to 1800 m.alt. The mountain was going down along two foothills and each of them was host for a small village made of wooden huts belonging to two different (and enemy) families said to be Serbia's oldest. The same day we went on a 2461 m. high peak. The Komovi were very scenic, with very sharp ridges and huge, but few rocky glacial valleys. The following day we went up the highest peak in these mountains, Dom Kucki, after a short exposed passage, and we also went on the third peak in the area. We went down, washed a little and waited for the taxi that promptly arrived, taking us down to Kolasin, from where, after a great traditional meal in a fancy - we though at first - restaurant (we had to first go in without backpacks and ask whether they accepted us like that), we took a train to Belgrade. A few more days in Belgrade accomplished the trip before entering Romania, with those people hanging around Ruski Car terrace and talking forever, with old people reading newspapers over a cup of endless "Turkish" coffee, with the great smell of the pekara, with a ride to Rakovica Monastery. I left Belgrade towards Romania by car with a Polish friend. We had a long lasted for "Romanian traditional" meal in Timisoara. We visited Brancusi's park in TarguJiu at midnight. We entered a one way street in Pitesti in full speed just passing by the police officer, because we did not see the signpost forbidding access there. We reached Bucharest in a massive rain at 4 AM. A few days later, we were denied entrance into Bulgaria because the Bulgarian customs officer would not understand that a car can have three owners, only one of them driving it at a time and we would not understand that he was expecting a bribe. We crisscrossed Romania, visiting God-forgotten villages in Transylvania and being almost killed on a mountain road by a truck, as its driver discovered that it no longer had brakes that worked. And life went on, re-discovering the place where I had once had the greatest meal in my life, in Oradea. And, while enjoying a shumyogalushka, I was thinking: "where next?". Well, life will tell...

Autor: Alexandru Dumitru
Înscris de: Alexandru Dumitru
Vizualizări: 6995, Ultima actualizare: Marţi, 11 Mai 2004

Legaturi cu Ghidul Montan:
Otto Hauck Otto Hauck, Marţi, 11 Nov 2008, 17:37

The article provides an excelent reading! It contains lots of useful information on travel in your chosen area. I am especially interested in travelling in Maramures mountains. I would like to folow the crest on Romania-Ucraine border on skis. I am not sure whether the terrain alows a passage through it in winter conditions on cross-country skis with metal edges. Since I had been to the area in the midlle of October 1994, I know that on the Ucrainian side is a dirt road which I had folowed from Mt. Stogul (pre-World War II meeting point of three nations) to Pop Ivan Trebushansky. From reading your article it seem unlikely that the terrain on romanian side of the border provides good conditions for cross-country skiing. Further complication presents obtaining permit to enter border area. Can you give me an advice where to apply for it, if I want to star on Pasul Prislop? The description of miles of junipers above the Prislop pass makes me feel uncertain about the trip, but I do believe that juniper will be burried under deep snows in winter, thus alowing easy passage on skis through the area.

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