Dear all, I’ve been away for a long time because (sadly) I left Ukraine and moved to Brussels. Moving house, finding a new job, and starting a new life etc have taken up all of my time. However, I haven’t forgotten about Ukraine or this site – I’m just working out how to keep it alive. That’s why I was delighted to sign-in today and see that its attracted almost 95,000 visitors since I started posting last year! Thank you, all of you.
Anyway, here is the super-late second half of my Hutsel experience in the Carpathians this summer. You can read, or re-read the first part here.
I had no idea what our Hutsel home would look like, or where we would be staying. However, the site we arrived at was beautiful. Set on a ridge overlooking two mountain valleys, the settlement consisted of one small hut, three out buildings (a toilet, a shower and a store) and a large fenced off ‘pen’ area for the animals.
If I’m honest, I had been expecting some delicate traditional woodwork patterns and intricate traditional dress that the Ukrainians are so attached to. This wasn’t the case. The hut was a small wooden shack which had been knocked-up from the surrounding trees, and it was about four meters by six, has some kind of bed, some limited storage and a fire. Yes, a whooping great fire in the middle of the wooden house! There was no chimney, just an open section above the flames which did more to blow the smoke in your face than it did as a ventilator.
In short, it was a little wooden smoke box that burned your eyes and killed your lungs if you got anywhere near it.
Jure, our host, loved it. His son, a 19-year-old forestry student from Lviv didn’t, complaining that smoke was unbearable for the first month or so until you got used to it.
Amazed that anyone could live for more than 3 days in such conditions without dying from smoke inhalation, I vowed to avoid inside of the hut as much as possible. Thankfully, as it was a gloriously sunny weekend, this wouldn’t be a problem.
However, I did stay long enough to see the huge cauldron that hung above the fire (to make cheese) and long enough for Jure to proudly wave some of his smoke mushrooms in my face.
Outside was a small ‘garden’ area and a dinner table that would be the focal point of our whole visit.
After a few stiff drinks, Jerom and I discovered first that we are failures at erecting tents, and secondly that some local villagers travel around the mountains in the back of large truck.
Here’s the situation:
> Jure lives in the mountain for 3 or 4 months per year with his son and nephew, and they look after animals on behalf of the villagers.
> The villagers pay him per animal
> Jure milks the animals and makes cheese
> The villagers collect and sell the cheese and pay Jure for this as well.
> The day we arrived was also the day the villagers had come to collect the cheese.
> They arrived on the back of a truck
I was slightly worried that they were a local village mafia who were going to steal our beer and cigarettes and do nasty stuff to Jerome, but thankfully there weren’t. The villagers simple came, conducted business, took the cheese, paid Jure… and then sat down for a vodka-fuelled song fest!!
I don’t know if they did it for our benefit, or if they always sing and eat when they collect the cheese, but from nowhere a feast of salads, chicken wings, cheeses and breads suddenly appeared along with about 27 bottles of water and home-made vodka, all severed in old coke bottles which made it impossible to distinguish between the two.
So, hours after arriving, we found ourselves deep in song with a whole table of drunk singing villagers …eating, drinking and (in my case) laughing at the absurdity of the whole thing. It was big, friendly gold-teeth smiles all round and while we ate, the young kids chased goats and sheep around the field.
At least twice during the day Jure retrieved a small newspaper cutting from the smoky den which contained a poem that his family had published for him. Each time, he asked someone to read it while he would cry, then drink vodka and then start singing.
It really was an experience that I’ll remember forever and I’m happy to say that we impressed the villagers too. As they left, they also said they would never forget this day. Then, we all took pictures (on and off the truck), said our goodbyes and waved as they climbed on the truck and vanished off into the valley.
The rest of the afternoon and evening was a bit blurry, but we did make it to the top of the mountain, and I remember enough to know that our Hutsel family showed us an incredible degree of hospitality. It wasn’t a culturally rich experience in an artisan, traditional way, but it was still a wonderful insight into a lifestyle that is a million miles away from Western Europe. As a boy who grew up on a village, I was even quite envious of them at times.
We even touched on political issues when Jure insisted that he wanted independence for his people, inside an independent Ukraine. It seems Jure was a federalist.
So, if you ever get the chance to visit this magically-bonkers part of the world – I highly recommend a weekend of drunken extravagance and Hutsel hospitality. It wont be good for your health – but it will do wonders for your soul. As for the penis-enhancing booze, I’ll save the results of that story for another post
See more in the gallery…