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Haivoron, part 1

May 9, 2011

About six months ago, I took part in a photo contest and exhibition, and met a group of photographers from Ukraine. Since that time, I was also invited on their winter excursion, but I was at a training event and was unable to go. A little more than a month ago, I was told about another excursion, to Haivoron (Gaivoron in Russian), in my oblast. The excursion was to be without cost, as it was trying to showcase the city (which is a Rayon center) for green tourism and its attractions. I was excited to get the invite, but thought I would not be able to go. Invite others, they said, even if you cannot go. So three other PCVs signed on.

But plans change. My original plans fell through and I signed on to the trip.

So it was that after my trip to Beregove, which is in Western Ukraine, I hotfooted it back (inasmuch as I could, with the transport system here) to Kyiv, met a PCV there, made it back to Kirovograd on the evening of 1 May, where another PCVs joined us that night and a third one the next morning, pre-departure.

Sergey K, the person who had originally invited me, told me to bring “warm” clothing as it was to be rainy and cold. Being as I had just been in Beregove, and in shirtsleeves, I checked the weather forecast. It didn’t look too bad, so I brought one lightweight sweater, a couple of long-sleeved shirts, a tank top, and a short-sleeved shirt. I did not bring heavier layers than that. I mean, it’s May after all…I forgot what May is like in Ukraine, and this decision turned out to be a mistake.

Who can resist this photo opp?

But back to the narrative. We knew it was going to be a great trip when, on the way to Gaivoron, we were on the Odessa-Kyiv Highway and passed three different complexes of restaurants and hotels. We were curious about this. We stopped at the first to use the restroom and honestly, it was like being in the U.S. again. Although we had to pay for the privilege, each toilet had its own room, and a sink in the room, with more sinks and hand dryers in the main area, AND there were couches with cable tv.

This is how exciting things like clean bathrooms become after a while!

We then stopped at the next complex and ran into a very famous Ukrainian singer named Mikhail Poplavsky. We had arrived at a restaurant, and outside the restaurant was a HUGE billboard with him on it, holding a bottle of vodka with a picture of he and his mother on it. Well, this was too much of a photo opp to miss, so we posed in front of it, went inside the restaurant for tea, and who appeared but the man himself! I asked if it was his restaurant and he said (and I quote) “this is my town”. He was not exaggerating…he owns ALL of the complexes, and each has a number of restaurants with different “themes”. One of the restaurants offers 50 varieties of varenyky, another is a sushi restaurant (but that is the most ethnic they got – they were otherwise Ukrainian overall, though one was Soviet themed).

We could not even believe we were in the presence of such a celebrity, so what did we do? We

Our photo opp with "the Don"

had our photos taken with him (of course!). Then we had our coffee/tea/juice, a couple of people bought vodka (more on THAT later) and we chased him down at the next complex to have him sign the bottles for the people who had bought it. He did not look at all surprised to see us, and one of the men who was with him had a marker at the ready for him to sign the bottle (this was clearly not the first time such a thing had happened).

As it turns out, MP’s (aka, the Don) complex is not too far from Gaivoron, and we arrived at our destination faster than we thought we would. The two women in the car (Theodora – different one from Beregove and I) were shown to our room in a separate, small house and the men were brought to their dorm. After being shown our room (five beds, four in bunks, but real twin bed size and real mattresses) and the bathroom (which had a shower with hot water, and, inexplicably, a bidet in the same room as the shower but different room than the toilet), we decided to check out their digs.

Apparently, we were in the luxury suite, because somehow they ended up in a building where they were in a room with six men and toilet in the building. None of us had heat (or so we thought – found out later one of the rooms in that building did in fact have heat) but compared to their beds, and the fact that we not only had a toilet but hot running water, we felt like we had high style in our accommodations. With time to spare while others arrived and before dinner, we went out exploring a bit.

I decided to ham it up for the camera

Green tourism is an interesting concept, and I think it has different meanings for everyone. We stayed in a facility that was basically camping facility, and is in fact used for camping in the summer. It was in a nice area with green space and a beach nearby. We ran into some little boys who thought it was great fun to show us the beach.

The day ended with dinner and the first few people showing their photos. We had been requested to bring 30-40 photos to share…no one told us to put it in a slideshow format with music. Whoops.

During that time, I hit my wall of exhaustion. I had been in Beregove and even though I was in a nice hotel room, I did not sleep much. I then took an overnight train back to Kyiv, a bus to Kirovograd, and was up until 1 a.m. with the other volunteers before getting up at 7 a.m. to get ready for the trip to Gaivoron, then the excitement of meeting the Don, meeting people I had not seen in a while…well, it all added up all at once and I was done.

However, seeing as we had such a good first day, including travel to the place, we could only wonder what was to come next.

Photos and more blog entries are coming soon!

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