niedziela, 7 lipca 2013

Task 20: Hike in Bieszczady mountains

(You may want to read the previous post to know what I'm talking about)

I got my sudden clarity moment on my way to our grocery store, when I sensed a smell of sawmill. And then a smell of wet pine forest. And many other smells that are far away from all these artificial, civilized smells that became so familiar for us. Out of sudden I felt an urge to leave everything and go to Bieszczady. Which is peculiar, because I've never been there. 

When you look at the map, Poland has a shape of a pentagon. The bottom, most southern corner, bordering Ukraine is Bieszczady mountains region, wild and remote, a true borderland. Not really fully Polish, but not Ukrainian either. A bit catholic, a bit orthodox. And it's really wild. Like wolves and bears wild. A hut in Bieszczady is a synonym of not giving a crap about civilization, Sex And The City, glossy magazines and holidays in Dominican Republic. If someone buys a hut in Bieszczady, it means that a) he's going to grow a beard, b) from now on you can reach him only by sending a pidgeon. 

Now, imagine Poland in eighties. No, really, go ahead. Google Chris Niedenthal pictures, they tell a lot about this time. Think about constant lack of everything, about long long queues to a shop, where the only thing being sold is toilet paper (and you must be quick, because there are only 500 rolls available!), about every stupid thing being such a big deal. About needing special permission to go abroad or move to another city. But most of all, think about constant misinformation. On one hand there was the official propaganda and no one believed it. On the other hand, there were gossips, much more trustworthy but still, gossips. And, obviously double standards, some people could have exotic holidays and quality food, some couldn't. You and your family couldn't. And you never knew which one of your friends is actually a secret agent, so you better don't tell that hilarious joke about how stupid the government is, because you don't want sad gentlemen in grey coats to knock your door one day. And this ubiquitous sense of hopefulness, a feeling that your reality is grey and difficult, you can't see the world and it's going to be like this forever. 

It's said that all the tradition of Russian author song was born, because of the crisis in the USSR. People could find truth only in open air activities, such as hiking, kayaking or canyoning. After all day of hiking, they would set a bonfire and songs would just come, out of nowhere. I believe, that this is what happened in Poland in eighties. People were just tired with being bullshitted by the government and the thick atmosphere of Martial Law, so they were just escaping to remote parts of Poland to find, well, truth. Authentic experiences. Freedom. Because the rules are clear in the mountains, there is no bullshitting. If you piss a bear, then you need to run fast. No misinformation, no double standards, no bullshitting. 

That's why Bieszczady mountains started attracting young people. Unpretentious bearded guys with backpacks, fit student girls with checked shirts. Lumberjacks, poets, wanderers, sheperds and artists. And Bieszczady. Wildlife, Simple conditions, shelters with cold water only. Sleeping on the floor. Hitch-hiking. Vodka. Quite a lot of it. Guitars. Young, well-read people. Wolves and bears. Quickly a very particular subculture arose. They started composing music for poems and this is how sung poetry was born. If you ever  find a Polish song for guitar, harmonica and violin, talking about wolf's fangs, lost love, sunrise, wanderers and połoninas, then you know that the authors probably were having beards.

Okay, this is not even Bieszczady, it's Barania Góra, but it gives the vibe, right? You can totally imagine a hot bearded lumberjack with a backpack taking this picture. (The truth is that it was probably taken by one of our scouts, long long ago, but still, it's all about the vibe)

Recently I found old pictures of my scout troop. So old, that there is no chance I could remember them. They were taken in early nineties, at the dawn of culture of Bieszczady, but still, had this very special vibe, that made me long for leaving everything, get some old style backpack, a train ticket and just go to Bieszczady. Wear checked shirt and sing poetry about sunrise in Połonina Caryńska and morning dew and golden icons in empty wooden orthodox churches.

I've never been there, there is a whole ethos of Bieszczady, based on the respect towards nature, people and heritage. At least there was. I've heard that it's kinda difficult to find accomodation there in high season and if you manage to find it, it's expensive. I was told that there are more and more tourists wearing flipflops and 'hiking' in Połonina Caryńska. I may go there and then get a Bieszczady version of Paris syndrome. Still, I'd like to go. I'm stuck at home, doing some work that has to be done and I'm super broke. The weather is beautiful, it's Polish summer at its peak, and I'm dying to hitch-hike to some remote part of Poland, see the countryside and sleep in a tent. I was a scout for 13 years. It means that at this time of the year for most of the summers in my life, I was in some remote part of Poland, sleeping in tent for 3 weeks and hiking in the countryside. I'm pretty sure that one day psychiatrist will research on this urge for leaving the civilisation that comes in July to all those who were involved in scouting and they will call it "post scout camp syndrome" or something like this.

If you want to know more about Bieszczady:

  • Look it up in the old National Geograpics, there were some good articles, at least in Polish edition. They might be translated, and even if they weren't, you can always see the photographs. 
  • Find a book Axing, or the Winter of Forest Folk written in 1971 by Edward Stachura. It's a Bible of people of Bieszczady and a beloved book of generations of poets, lumberjacks and wanderers.
  • Listen to the music