Friday, August 13, 2010

8.8.10 tuesday – cофиевка, Ukraine

Istanbul the first time – sunday 24.7.10
when on 9.7.10 we arrived in Istanbul for the first time it was with a victorious sentiment. we thought we had most likely accomplished the most difficult half of the trip. it was amazing to have traveled 2,000km by our own power to, for us, an exotic new world. our host, Deniz and her fiancÈ, Bora showered us with warmth, kindness and generosity – introducing us to family and friends, escorting us to parties and the hamam (Turkish bath), providing free dental care and opening their hearts to us in friendship. we left in tears as Deniz ‘poured water’ after us as a traditional wish for a safe journey and an eventual return. we headed to the Bulgarian border at Derekoy with our plan to arrive in Ukraine via Bulgaria and Romania. however, the Bulgarian border police said that it would be necessary for Valentina to apply for a special visa in either Istanbul, 250km behind us, or Edirne, 100km to the west. we chose to go the 100km to Edirne but when we arrived at the Bulgarian embassy there we were told that the visa could only be obtained from the embassy in Istanbul and might take a week or more and could end up being expensive. it was the low point of the trip and robed us of much energy (it took it’s toll on the tricycle as well – in that 500km segment the universal joint failed and then the drive shaft). fortunately we were uplifted by the wonderful encounter in the little village on the outskirts of Babaeski with the farm workers, their children and elderly, their animals, their warmth, acceptance, trust, generosity and smiles.

Istanbul the second time and the princessa elena – giovedÏ 29.7.10
we returned to Istanbul with the sole purpose of finding passage on a ship to Cremea, Ukraine. a peninsula reaching into the black sea, it’s the southern extreme of Ukraine and so, the closest point to Istanbul. there was only one ship going anywhere in Ukraine that week – the Princessa Elena, a small cargo/passenger ship built in China in 1991. my guess was that it had to have been built in the 1920’s and I still have my doubts but the captain insisted that 1991 was the actual year of its birth. the accommodations were extremely modest on the 36 hour voyage but this is as close as we’ll ever get to a Black Sea cruise. there was an actual dining room serving breakfast, lunch and dinner (included in the ticket price of $180US per person). however, the upper deck inflatable ‘swimming pool’ was filled twice a day.

Cевастополь – 31.7.10
Princessa Elena’s only stop was C
евастополь. we had hoped to go instead to Ялта, where the mountains meet the sea. we seriously considered biking there - 100km east of —евастополь. in the end we decided to not press our luck with the tricycle in the mountains again and headed north. having been prepared for the impoverished and out-dated Ukraine I was surprised by the modern cosmopolitan look of —Севастополь. historically speaking it's like our Siracusa in that it's a Greek city founded in the fifth century BC.
Аскания-нова, nature park – friday 6.8.10
our one detour in the final stretch of the trip was to visit the nature park at
Аскания-нова. it was founded in the 1800's by a german man and hosts many endangered species.
the last night of the trip - friday 6.8.10
it was almost dark when we stopped to sleep in the little village of
Архангельская слобода. while searching for a place to put the tent we met a woman named Нина walking with her child. she suggested that we sleep near the stadium where she works. there was a spot between the birch trees and a field of wild flowers. Нина brought us drinking water and hot water for the thermos for breakfast the next morning. she even returned in the morning at 6am to make sure that all went well on the last night of our trip. we woke saturday morning 7.8.10 before the dawn to eat and prepare the bikes. before leaving, Valentina picked a bouquet of flowers (the common Ukrainian name for those flowers means ‘without death’ because they keep their color even after they dry.) she tied the bouquet on the basket of the tricycle and we left to do the final 25km of our trip to the home of Любовь, Valentina’s mother.
the road along the canal was quiet so we went along side-by-side talking. she told me that her father,Виктор worked for several years with the bulldozer digging the irrigation canal and she told me about the time when she was ten years old and went with him to work. ‘there was a happy atmosphere among the workers – perhaps more so that day due to the presence of Виктор’s little girl. in the van gathering the workers they let me sound the horn for each departure. there was a place covered with flowers were the workers gathered. a man came toward me to ask – ‘do you know who made this floral beauty here?’ he then responded with a wide smile – your father Виктор!’ I passed the entire day at work with my father – a rare and unforgettable experience for a ten year old girl.’
someone along the road said that we should cross the third bridge over the canal to reach the road to Cофиевка. from that point I followed Valentina and we continued in silence. I saw the sign for the small road to Cофиевка – 2km. we turned and continued in silence. after a kilometer she turned on to a small dirt road and I saw ahead a cemetery. she had told me earlier that the last kilometer was a dirt road and I thought that it just happen to pass the cemetery on the way to Любовь’s. instead we entered the gates of the cemetery and I realized that our first stop was to be Виктор’s grave. it was an emotional and sad moment. she took the bouquet of flowers from the tricycle basket and tied them next to Виктор’s photograph. after the emotions calmed she showed me the graves of other family members and friends.

we then returned to the road for Cофиевка, a small village on the big Днепр river. the asphalt soon came to an end and we proceeded by foot on the badly eroded dirt road to the home of Любовь arriving at 09,30 sabato 7.8.10. we rang our bicycle bells and waited for her to open the gate where we greeted one another with hugs and kisses. a few minutes later the neighbors arrived, Cергей and  атерина, the parents of Valentina’s musician friend, Pоман. they asked me to sing some American songs. I took the guitar from my bike but when I began to sing, all the emotions came out – the realization of finally being here at Любовь’s home after 67 days and 3,000km, all that we did along the way, all that we saw and all those we had met. I burst into tears and couldn’t sing any more. (at that point  атерина said - Valentina told me that the people accepted that I’m a sensitive, good man.) I gave the guitar to Cергей and he and  атерина sang some spirited Ukrainian songs in harmony.
soon Valentina’s sister“Tатьяана (with whom I had already had several skype visits and a sense of friendship) arrived with her husband, Виталий and daughter Вероника. we began straight away with work projects. we talked about the possibility of putting a sink with running water in the house. in the garden there’s already an electric pump and a 30 meter deep well with delicious water but no running water inside the house. also we’d like to build a wood burning bread oven in the kitchen. in the mean time we’re doing small restoration projects, exterior painting and there’s always lots work to do in the vegetable garden and kitchen.
last night (monday 9.8.10) Лидия, Valentina’s aunt arrived with her daughter Рита and Рита’s husband, Саша and their fourteen month old, Елена. they’ll all be here for a few days. unfortunately the baby is frightened by my beard and runs away every time she sees me. just after dawn Valentina and I, Любовь, Лидия e Шура (the kind elderly neighbor) went to the cemetery to clean the graves of relatives. after the work was done we ate breakfast there with the dead relatives.

now (wednesday 11.8.10) are in Каховка, 20km from Софиевка, to email this to Charles Ellis for the blog. I’d like to close with a memory of the trip that for me is a metaphor for all the kindness, generosity and acceptance we encountered throughout the 3,000km and four countries we traveled (we won’t mention our misadventure in Bulgaria). we were in Saray, Turkey for our lunch break resting under the trees near a middle school when we saw a woman coming towards up with a tray with a glass platter filled with slices of watermelon. there were forks and knives and napkins - all served in the most respectable manner. in that moment I remembered a excerpt from Wind, Sand and Stars by Antoine de Saint-ExupÈry. after 14 days lost in the Sahara desert without food or water he saw a man from a camel caravan coming towards him with a container of water. in that moment Saint Ex saw that man not as only one man but as all of humanity and he had a feeling not of being saved but of being forgiven and that there did not exist even one enemy in all the world.
alive and stronger to led a hand to others, Liam+Valentina


  1. How beautiful! When I stop crying, I'll write more. (Bring a sheet Bridget!)
    Love to you both and to Valentina's family!

  2. So beautiful! Very moving. Tears everywhere? I am so happy to hear that you have arrived to such a warm welcome in Valentina's homeland.

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  4. We're so happy you had an exciting & safe adventure with a wonderful finale!

    All the best,
    Caryn & Sylvain
    Alencon, France