The day was overcast, there was a slight drizzle challenging us and a foggy mist encompassing all around us but nothing could dampen our spirits as we ventured by trusty 4WD into the land of Ukraine’s shepherds, deep within the Carpathian Mountains.
Only accessible by foot or hard core off roading, these shepherds leave their village life behind for several months a year and head for their rickety wooden huts where they spend the summer caring for fellow villagers cattle (and on occasion sheep). Whilst the cattle are grazing, they are busy boiling and churning cheese from the milk which they then sell to the villagers.
Our 4WD could go no further due to the boggy marsh we had reached, so we ventured on foot. The shepherds dwellings are incredibly basic with simply a thin hard bed to sleep in and a fire which continuously burns as they separate the cream from the milk. The fire also helps dry their cheese (which is incredibly smooth and smokey) and of course provide heat in their non insulated hut. Life is off the land, tough and simplistic.
After witnessing the shepherds start the process of today’s cheese production, eyes stinging from the smoke, it was time for us to go foraging and get our hunter-gatherer on. We wandered through the mist which blanketed the mountains and then explored the lush pine forests as we ate our way through the juicy blackberries, raspberries and blueberries. The flavour was mouthwateringly sweet!
Our main mission though, was to forage for wild mushrooms which we would then take back to our guesthouse and cook up for dinner this evening! We saw huge Mario Kart type mushrooms (red with white spots but sadly not edible) and mushrooms which were vibrant orange and looked like a tangle of coral. Fox mushrooms were the winners we were hunting for.
Once our bags were bursting with fresh mushrooms, we hiked back to our shepherds HQ where one shepherd continued labouring on the cheese inside whilst the other watched cautiously over his cattle. Lunch was slowly sizzling away in a beat up pot over a crackling fire. The aroma of fresh meat and mountain vegetables swirled amongst the mist.
We left the shepherds to continue their cooking as we went to mingle with their cattle. Curious by our presence, they were the friendliest cows we have ever encountered!
The aroma of lunch had wafted over to us luring us back for our simple yet incredibly flavoursome shepherds meal. We learned of the challenges these shepherds face living so remote for several months at a time often without encountering any other people. A gun shot fired in the distance. We jump up and look around for some action. ‘Wild birds’ we are instructed by the shepherds who barely bat an eyelid and continue eating.
Following lunch, we witness the separation of the cream and cheese. It has boiled long enough. A net like cloth is used to scoop out the steaming solids which are squeezed, drained, and hung on a nail to drip the remaining moisture out. This will be cheese in a few days time. Ready for sale.
Shortly, they will bring in the cows for their third milking of the day before they spend their evenings drinking local vodka and then repeat this same process again tomorrow. An incredibly simple yet tough life and what a privilege it was to spend time and simply just hang out with these locals who rarely encounter anyone let alone foreign travellers in their summers months so high in the mountains. We simply slipped into their lives today and watched them do their thing. Nothing planned, nothing structured for tourism. Local life at its best. Untouched, raw, authentic. The Crooked Compass way.
This category of tours involves light trekking, walking, cycling, rafting or kayaking for a few hours each day with a small amount of inclines and declines. You will require a reasonable level of fitness and good health to participate. It is important to note that due to the nature of some of our trips, they may take place in remote areas (with basic facilities) and can involve long travelling days on various modes of transport.
Suggested preparation : At least 3 months prior to departure, it is recommended that you undertake aerobic exercise (this may include jogging, cycling or fast walking) for 30 minutes, three times a week. It is also advised to walk on variable terrain and in variable weather conditions. For a cycling adventure, road cycling twice a week is recommended and for adventures which involve paddling and kayaking, it is important to gain confidence and rhythm rather than speed prior to departure.
This category of tours involve trekking, kayaking and cycling for period of 6 to 8 hours a day at a fairly consistent pace. Ideal for people looking to slightly increase the heart rate. For our moderately rated tours, you must have a good level of fitness and also be in good health. It is also important to be prepared for variable weather conditions. Altitude may also come into play. This category of tours may involve visiting remote areas where facilities can be quite basic. Accommodation may also involve camping, homestays or basic accommodation where facilities may not be considered of western standards. To enjoy this style of travel, it is suggested for travellers to have a reasonable level of fitness and health, a positive attitude, as well as a fairly active lifestyle. An open mind is also required.
Suggested preparation: At least 3 months prior to departure, it is recommended that you undertake 45mins – 1 hour of aerobic exercise, three to four times a week. Some potential exercises that could be beneficial include hill walking with a backpack on over variable terrain and weather conditions, as well as running and cycling dependent on the activity you plan on undertaking.
This category of tours involves trekking, kayaking, cycling or other adventure activities in remote areas for up to 8 to 10 hours a day. It is important to note that with the remoteness of some regions comes a variety of other challenges such as variable weather conditions, accommodation as well as facilities. You must have an excellent level of fitness and good health to be able to partake in this category of tour. You must have confidence in your own ability and be in good physical condition. Includes extended periods of endurance.
Suggested preparation: At least 3 to 4 months of strenuous exercise, four times a week. When preparing for treks it would be beneficial to participate in hill walks with a weighted day pack (approximately 5-8 kg) once a week for aerobic fitness and strengthening of leg muscles. It is also important to do this on variable terrain to prepare for challenging adventures. When preparing for cycling adventures, regular bike riding (at least 4 to 5 times a week for 1-4 hours is essential). It is also important to cycle on uneven surfaces or even participate in other aerobic exercises such as running or swimming to build up strength and stamina. Altitude may also be a factor in these tours.
This category of tour often involves extreme trekking, cycling or other extreme adventure activities. It is important to expect remote and poorly defined tracks and to be prepared for variable weather conditions for 10 to 12 hours per day (may sometimes be more depending on weather and altitude). These adventures are suitable for travellers who have prior experience in strenuous travel and activities, are extremely fit and have excellent health. It is also important to note that some of the terrain on these adventures will involve trekking in snow, at high attitude levels and may require technical equipment.
Suggested preparation: It is important to note that physical fitness should be an ongoing activity, commencing around 5-6 months prior to departure, or even before if you have no prior fitness. Exercise should focus on building maximum endurance and stamina. Four to five hard sessions of 40-60 mins per week should be completed and can include exercises such as going to the gym, running, swimming or cycling to focus on building aerobic stamina. It could also be beneficial to prepare by hiking on rough terrain, in extreme weather conditions or partake in altitude training.