Once I was touring Mesa Verde and a tour guide, after giving us a detailed explanation of how ancient Anasazi dwelled, asked us whether anybody could imagine himself living that kind of life. I was the only one who raised her hand. Anasazi or ancestral Pueblo people made their dwellings in the alcoves within the canyon walls. Just to get water for drinking and cooking they had to take a trip down the canyon and then carefully climb up with a heavy cargo. Life of ancient Indians in Mesa Verde wasn’t easy. It reminded me, as I was touring it, of my hiking trips in Bieszczady Mountains where I would go each year during the summer with a group of my friends. We were well prepared for three weeks of life in wilderness each of us carrying a backpack well stocked in canned food, basic camping gear and clothes. I remember that my backpack was approximately 35 pounds heavy.
We were taking a train and travelling in the night to wake up to a magnificent view of beautiful mountains in the morning. The last train station was just a beginning of our first day route, we had a goal of reaching a camp site that was about 15 miles away and 500 feet elevated. We were lugging our heavy backpacks and tents and although the distance wasn’t that long it seemed to take an eternity to get there. Once we arrived at our destination we set up our tents and started cooking our meal of a day. We made our fire and set up a metal construction that held our large cooking pot. We fashioned a soup and it had a heavenly taste as it was cooked with a spring water on an open fire and wood from the forest. We spent our first night on our camp site and next morning took a bath in a cold mountain river followed by a breakfast and scrubbing our pots and pans in a river. Every day of our expedition was filled to the brim with experiences of crossing fast running rivers, marching through forest, climbing up the steep slopes to arrive exhausted but happy, as youth can be, in a hostel or at another camping site. Sometimes we would slow down and spend half a day picking blueberries for the evening meal. Sometimes we visited scarce grocery stores that carried only a few basic food staples. I remember drinking a whole bottle of milk in one big gulp.
Bieszczady are not very tall mountains, in fact they are just perfect for young people to enjoy hiking and experience the raw beauty of unadulterated nature. This part of Poland, at that time, was completely unindustrialized and one of the poorest regions but it was a mecca for young sixteen year olds like us to come and explore it. Bieszczady is a remote place with a poignant history. During the forties its native people Boykos were displaced and had left behind empty households and beautiful orthodox churches. It was a strange feeling for me to see old abandoned wooden houses half forgotten and half fallen in the middle of wilderness, empty and spooky. It was an eerie feeling to walk into an old orchard that had not been tended to in at least 50 years or so. There were remains of old orthodox church but again it all seemed so surreal and mysterious to be walking in the place that once had been vibrant and now is inhabited by wind and rain only.
Bieszczady, Fotograf: Marek Silarski 2005 from en.wikipedia
Hiking in Bieszczady was one of the most character building experiences in my life. There was no room left for fussing and acting spoiled. There had been a sort of a daily plan to be accomplished as we needed to get from one camping site to another. There were no restaurants so we had to carry our food and cook it at the end of each day. Nobody was there to wash our dirty socks, there were rivers and we took cold baths and washed our laundry in them. We needed to figure out many things by ourselves and help each other. Setting your tent isn’t easy when you are trying to do it fast before a torrential rain makes all of your things wet. We slept in our tents snuggled to each other to keep warm because up in the mountains nights tend to be chilly. One morning I woke up half frozen because there was a rain in the night and somehow my sleeping bag got wet. Luckily, the morning sun took care of it. There was a strong camaraderie between us, we had to trust each other and rely on each other for support. It still is one of the finest memories of my teenage years.
To conclude, I was given a large autonomy by my parents and the freedom to learn how to be responsible and take care of myself when I was relatively young. Not only this has been a beautiful and learning experience but gave me a strong base for the future to know my strengths. I know I would be able to survive in a remote place without modern technology and amenities. I wish only that I could offer such experience to my daughters one day.
You can read more about my Polish memories here.