I arrived at the little sanctuary in the pouring rain and was met by two young Danish boys were also there, also hiking the shvil. They were not long out of high school and were very sweet. It was fun to talk to someone else who was hiking the trail and I wished that Jennifer could have met them. She would have enjoyed it. They told me that the house was maintained by the family of a boy who was hiking the shvil and died when he fell into a river.
The next morning was finally sunny again. I was eating a breakfast of oranges and dates on the veranda, looking out over the valley and thinking what a wonderful way the family had chosen to honour their son – to provide shelter (in my case, shelter from the storm) to other hikers. I thought about all the losses we have to endure that are part and parcel of living and how we get through them.
I packed up and as I walked up the the stone pathway heading out, a light breeze was blowing the blossoms off the trees, and again it hit me how fragile life is and how precious and beautiful. With a silent prayer of thanks, I said goodbye to the little house and began the days hike. And what a day it was!
The scenery was a real mix. It began with the mud flats where 5 days of rain had washed the trail out. I opted to wade through the thigh deep thorn bushes rather than be swallowed by the soft mud, which measured half a pole deep. As the day progressed, the scenery changed to rolling, grassy hills with wild yellow flowers and vibrant red poppy-like flowers that made me think of wearing a frock and singing about the hills being alive. And then it was the forest…where I was almost attacked by a dog.
I am hiking along when a lady and her dog come down a hill in front of me. The dog runs up to me and starts to bark. Being a dog lover, I put my hand down for him to smell. Some kind of pointer/pit bull mix, he starts to growl and bare his teeth. I immediately put up my pole in defence. The lady is trying to call the dog off but he is ignoring her. Speaking to me in broken English with a strong Ukrainian accent she indicates for me to calm down and lower my pole…that I am scaring the dog. “Scaring the dog”, I say incredulously. Meanwhile, the dog and I are facing off, circling each other, me with my pole up and him with teeth bared. Very cautiously I lower my pole slightly, thinking that maybe she is right, maybe maybe my aggressive stance is making the dog aggressive. The dog lunges at me and tried to bite me again. My pole immediately goes up again, this time I’m steeling for fight mode. She says she is sorry, the dog only listens to her husband. “Then get your damn husband here fast”, I say. She’s frantically calling for him. Finally, (it was probably only a couple of minutes but felt like much longer) an older man walks up taking his sweet time. Without so much as a glance at me, he barks an order to the dog in Ukrainian and the dog backs down. They get in their car and a moment later I see them drive past, with the woman in the back seat and the dog in the front with the husband. The wrong pack order if you ask me. I wasn’t amused.
Shortly after, I was avoiding yet another mud flat and wading through tall grass when I scared up some kind of fowl right beside me. I nearly jumped right out of my skin. I cursed the old man and the dog again.
The trail was hard to follow. There were lots of turns and it was poorly marked. And as it happened, I hiked right past the camp where I was planning to stop because it wasn’t marked. According to the trail guide o hiked 33 kilometres. My Achilles’ tendons were (are) very swollen and sore, my legs scratched, and I was done for the day. I found a well hidden spot to make camp. Safely ensconced in my tent, I collapsed into my sleeping bag for the night after a bowl of warm oatmeal gruel for dinner.