The only thing I regret about our trekking around the caves of Eski-Kermen is that it all went too quickly, the one downside to traveling with a tour group. You either stay with them or you’ve just lost your ride back to town. I would have preferred more time to simply poke around inside some of the other areas we only got to see briefly. The entire time I was bringing up the rear of our group, straying off for more photos from different perspectives and wanting to wander in some other direction than we headed. I later discovered there are guided hiking tours of the region available at reasonable cost, an option which would no doubt afford one greater opportunity to explore them in depth.
(Trees and rocks)
(A fine view)
One spot in particular beckoned to my imagination, a deep, steep staircase cut straight down into the rock which disappeared into utter blackness.
(Watch your step, it’s dark in there)
The guide said it led to a tunnel and some sort of well or water storage system. All I know is it conjured up visions of flickering torches and cave dwelling zombies and all manner of B-movie nightmares that I would have loved to investigate…but maybe not by myself.
(Still more caves)
(Did men or mountain goats live up here)
One thing which impressed me was the fitness and dexterity level of the builders of these cave towns. Judging by the steepness and placement of many of the stone stairways these people must have been half mountain goat, not to mention completely without any fear of heights. I generally enjoy scrambling around this sort of terrain and the higher the better, but there were a few spots that I backed away from with a shake of the head, wondering what sort of crazy person would try going down that way.
(Altar in the rocks)
(Looking back the way we came)
(Town center, cave city)
(The trail down to the valley on the right)
All too soon, it was time to descend from the mesa and leave the caves behind. The path downhill is fairly steep, hard packed dirt with an occasional scattering of loose rock over it which proved tricky to negotiate. I could imagine in rainy weather it would all turn quickly to mud and with one misstep you’d be sliding on your backside all the way down to the valley.
(The stone chapel)
Near the bottom of the trail is an amazing stone chapel constructed by some dude in the 14th or 15th century as a memorial to his wife. The amazing part is that it wasn’t really built so much as carved or hollowed right out of a very large boulder, with a door on one side and a window on the other. Unfortunately it was not open for public viewing. It’s placement seems odd and arbitrary when you’re strolling along the trail back to the bus and suddenly there’s this boulder-chapel just sitting there. I guess this particular boulder was the one best suited to his need even if it is situated in the middle of a bunch of trees.
(The trail along the valley floor)
Emerging from the forest, we took our time walking along the valley floor in pleasant afternoon sunshine and were afforded some good views of the mesas on either side of us.
We returned to our bus and took off heading to the Grand Canyon of the Crimea, located between Bakchisaray and the Ai-Petri massif. At its highest point the cliffs of the canyon reach a not so towering height of around 350 meters, or just over 1,000 feet, and at one point the canyon narrows to a width of only about three meters, or ten feet between one side to the other.
Now as someone who’s been to the Grand Canyon, U.S.A. variety, I have to say I was skeptical of anyplace else calling itself by that specific name, and as it turns out my skepticism was justified. Don’t get me wrong, the Grand Canyon of Crimea is a very nice place as forested, stream-cut, mountain canyons go. If you are someone who’s lived your whole life in flatlands or very dry country, it would be quite impressive, I’m sure. But I’ve lived forty some years in the state of Washington and I’ve hiked through literally dozens of lush, mossy, leafy green river canyons and valleys such as this one. So for me it was a nice hike in a lovely alpine canyon, but nothing Grand about it.
(River of the Grand Canyon of Crimea)
The bus parked, we paid our entrance fee and set out along the trail, dipped our toes in the Auzen-Uzen river (really just a stream) and meandered among the trees. Here you will find pines, yews, beech, ash, oak and maple, among others, so a nice diversity. The undergrowth includes hazel, barberry, buckthorn and oriental hornbeam, and lots of broadleaf ferns. The only real problem with hiking through the canyon, as opposed to hiking somewhere above the canyon, is that you never really get any view or perspective on the whole thing since you’re smack in the middle of it.
After about half an hour it started to rain which sent everyone scurrying along more quickly. Well, almost everyone. I’m from the Northwest, where getting rained on during a hike in the woods is an everyday occurence. I felt right at home.
We packed it up in the bus and headed back downhill toward Yalta and suddenly realized with a sickening feeling that the most distressing part of our day was upon us. We were about to descend along the same damn snaky mountain road which we’d gone down once before when returning from Ai-Petri mountain. I won’t go into the same detail here (you can read all the nauseating descriptions in my section on Ai-Petri) but suffice to say it was nearly as bad as the first time, and this time the road was wet to boot. At least this driver had a modicum of restraint, actually using his brake pedal on occasion, and didn’t talk on his cell phone for half the trip, but it was still the same lurching, swerving, stomach churning, interminable roller coaster ride as before. And this time, one member of our group did lose their lunch after we’d survived the descent and disembarked in Yalta. The price we pay for a little fun, but someday we’ve got to find a better way down off this mountain.
As always, if you’re ever in this part of the world, my recommendation is don’t pass up the cave towns of Crimea. I know I’ll be going back some time.
Coming soon: Odessa