Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Tustan Saga, Part 5: Conclusion

Early Sunday morning, we awoke to find that the clouds over the Carpathians had finally opened up. The rain was soaking the already over-saturated ground making a mucky mess. We decided to scuttle the final day of the festival and work on finding a ride back to L'viv.

Erik and Myron set out in the light rain to find a cell phone signal. Zenik was planning to pick us up in the late afternoon, and we wanted to let him know that we would take the bus. Of course, we did not know when the bus was leaving. With the village's only store and restaurant closed, Myron and Erik approached a family of farmers working in their yard. They explained the options for marshrutkas that would get us to L'viv.

As the morning wore on, more and more people began to stir. Vasyl and Nadia, who shared a tiny couch in the living room, awoke (though Vasyl stayed in bed until later). The children and grandchildren who slept uncomfortably in the barn and van came outside into the cold rain. Everyone pitched in on various projects.

All of the men were called to duty to extricate the van carrying the many visiting relatives from a sticky situation on the bridge. Let us explain here that the house was across a small river from the dirt road. We noticed cars across the bridge upon arrival and wondered how they had crossed. When walking across the wood bridge, logs moved, and rotten wood was visible everywhere. It did not even seem fit for pedestrians, but somehow was actually used for vehicles. The driver of the van had come across the old wooden bridge during the night and was attempting to drive it back to the road. In this effort, the van's wheels displaced a log on the bridge and it was sunk in the gap, with the wheels whining, spinning, and burning rubber. Since the very front of the van was on land and the rest was stuck on the bridge, Myron suggested that we jack up the van and place boards underneath to make it level. Then the driver could gently drive it across. But, logic and planning was not called for here. Instead the assembled men wanted to just push the thing out. Erik pitched in and eventually the van broke free. Everyone then helped "fix" the bridge where the van had damaged it, setting the logs back in their places and returning the handrail to its position. It is a great wonder that the whole thing has not collapsed yet.

A makeshift grill, dug out of the ground, with an umbrella overhead, was constructed to prepare breakfast. Some of the men took the lead, skewering sausages and grilling fresh brook trout. When the food was done, the table was set with meat, bread, tomatoes, cheese, and drinks. Everyone was called upon to drink. We passed on the early morning cognac shots, but had vodka with breakfast. Several toasts later, we gathered our things to leave for L'viv.

The relatives with the van offered to take us to a stop. This was an extremely nice offer as the bus would not leave Urich until 2:00 p.m. to get to the main road. Along the main road, buses came relatively often but the trick was to get there. Instead of just dropping us along the road, they took us all the way to their town, a spot about 35 kilometers from L'viv with regular marshrutka trips. We loaded on the marshrutka and paid 12 grivnya for all of us (around $2.40).

For those of you who missed our earlier discussion of the marshrutka, it is a form of mass transportation used all over Ukraine and many parts of the former Soviet Union. In L'viv, the marshrutkas are managed by private companies, but they function like municipal bus services with standard routes, and also provide inter-city transport across the region. You may get off the marshrutka anywhere by asking the driver; they usually stop when someone asks to get off, or someone on the street wants on. Marshrutkas range from large vans to small buses (something akin to short school buses in the US) with 12-20 seats (although the number of seats is irrelevant). We have not been on a new or well-maintained marshrutka yet; they seem to all be in various stages of disrepair. The private companies have the incentive to keep them just at code and fill them as much as possible to make money.

The marshrutka quickly filled. And a filled marshrutka means that every available space is taken - all of the seats and every spot where a person could possibly stand (watching a marshrutka empty out is like seeing a clown car at the circus). Erik had a backpack and duffel bag stacked on his lap; Lea had a diaper bag and Carter on hers. We were squeezed into a corner tightly. But, we were headed in the right direction. The marshrutka let us off at the main bus station where we picked up another marshrutka to take us to the center of town. Myron headed off to his cousin's apartment and we piled in the last bus. It filled to over-capacity as well. Unfortunately, we did not know the street that we were driving down well, and missed the optimal stop. We couldn't ask the driver because we were pinned in our seats and could not get to him. So, the next time it stopped, we extricated ourselves from the crush of humanity, and walked the final few blocks home, arriving around 3:30 p.m.

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