Kayaking Ukraine: Sleeping With Hornets

Dispatch No. 5 from Jeffery and Giulio as they paddle the length of Ukraine’s Dnieper River

Jeffrey and Giulio's baidarka.

Jeffrey Andreoni and Giulio D’Eramo paddled the length of Ukraine’s Dnieper River in 2012. As the country they came to love faces its greatest crisis of this century, we take a look back at their journey and the people they met along the way.

Part V: Jeffrey and Giulio head downstream and eventually dock on an abandoned island overrun with hornets.

By By Jeffrey Andreoni and Giulio D’Eramo

We are about to leave with no drinking water, because last night our neighbor kept asking to “borrow” it. First she used some to make kasha, which no one actually wanted. Then she wanted to make tea for everyone in a poorly fashioned hanging pot that immediately fell into the fire, wasting yet another 1.5 liters. Giulio froze in disbelief as he watched the lady pour the remaining hot water into a bucket of her laundry, obviously using his whole reserve of self-control so as not to jump at the lady. Fortunately, upon our departure she produced a two-liter bottle of carbonated water that she apparently bummed off another neighbor. We are overjoyed; there isn’t a town for miles.

We sail fine for one hour, then the wind becomes very weak, and the downstream river flow is completely MIA. Helped by paddles, we continue downriver. Later we encounter our first thunderstorm and pull off on a beach for fear of attracting lightening with the mast. The storm looks bad and we set up camp, but then pack up and continue once the weather clears.

We finally decide to stop for the night in Bobrytsya, a small village about one kilometer from the Kaniv dam. We begin asking locals about how to cross the dam – are they going to allow the baidarka into the lock? How much will they charge? Yes, but it will cost $300 they tell us.

The Kaniv Dam.

We try some samogon (Russian moonshine) at the local bar/cafe/store/disco. Nikolai, the watchman for the fisherman’s cooperative where we parked the baidarka, invites us to sleep in his shack. We share a foam mattress and have a couple more shots of vodka with him.

The next morning Vitaly shows up with his Volkswagen bus to drive us around the dam. He asks us to name our price and agrees to the first one we offer. Our boat weighs only 30 kilograms and is easily managed by two people. Vitaly can lift it with one hand.

The next section of the river, after the dam, is amazing. Families are camping everywhere, hunters’ villages, a summer camp for children, and lots of wildlife.

We are a bit desperate for supplies, because the shops we visited before we left had a very limited selection. We see a sign that says “bakery” and excitedly stop, but it’s just the name of the next town. We use the stop to answer the call of nature and are spotted by a local who throws a loud verbal fit.

The river is more beautiful than it was before the dam. It finally flows downstream at a speed above zero (about one mile per hour) and the wind is not our enemy anymore. It’s our best paddling day yet. We stop several times on calm beaches to swim and ration out what little food we have.

At night we find an abandoned camping site on an island. We assume the families fled after discovering the enormous hornet’s nest three feet from the lunch table. But we are alone, it’s ours, and by the time we set up the fire and the tent the sun is sleeping, and so are the hornets. We enjoy the silence, the full moon reflecting on the Dnieper, the local vegetables grilled on the fire. After the enjoyable, vodka-heavy nights we had up to now with funky Ukrainians, we are in the perfect mood to appreciate the site.

Sunrise comes and we rapidly pack to leave the island to its daytime owners, the hornets.

Follow Jeffrey and Giulio’s Ukrainian River Odyssey

Episode 1: Olympic Refugees
Episode 2: Setting Sail
Episode 3: Welcome to Ukrainka
Episode 4: A Day in Town
Episode 5: Hornets
Episode 6: The Yacht Club
Episode 7: The Shortcut
Episode 8: Snakes
Episode 9: The Dam
Episode 10: Take Out

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