Kayaking Ukraine: Snakes And A Storm
Episode Eight of Jeffrey and Giulio's Ukrainian Odyssey
Jeffrey Andreoni and Giulio D’Eramo are currently paddling the length of Ukraine’s Dnieper River. Click HERE to read their first dispatch, HERE to read the second, HERE for the third, HERE for the fourth,HERE for the fifth, HERE for the sixth, HERE for the seventh, and stay tuned to CanoeKayak.com for more updates from the field.
Giulio finally comes back from his relaxing stroll to the store and we cautiously untie the boat from the rocky shore and start paddling. We keep singing folksongs, which we believe will perhaps frighten away the dozen or so snakes that have been swimming alongside us, until we find a very nice spot to camp and have some grilled vegetables. In the morning we take our chances with the snakes and venture into the water to wash at least part of our now extremely dirty clothes.
We sleep a bit longer while waiting for the clothes to dry and leave in the late afternoon. We stop shortly thereafter at a fishermen’s’ cooperative and hit the sack early in view of a long paddling day to reach the pre-revolutionary metropolis of Nikopol.
At seven in the morning we show the locals how impolite foreigners can be by refusing their gentlemen’s offer of a couple rounds of vodka shots in the name of “international friendship”. We have six hours of uninterrupted paddling in open waters to reach Nikopol, where we try two different restaurants (one of which is a “stolovaya”, a soviet cafeteria) and twelve different main courses in four hours. For the first and only time in our trip we get a large hotel room. It costs us $15 each.
We are a bit nervous for the next day. We need to cross the lake and there is no current while the wind keeps blowing in the wrong direction. We check gismeteo.ua and it tells us that the wind will be good, but only for one day. We decide to give this shabby website one more chance and prepare for a 30 km ride across the center of the lake in order to get to the end of before the wind turns against us.
At first it all seems wonderful, the wind is gentle and going in the right direction. We often stop to eat some fruit and drink water. It is extremely relaxing. Halfway through the journey we start to spot some seriously dark clouds. Have we just been leisurely enjoying the “calm before the storm”?
As we see lightning a few miles from us, the wind suddenly picks up. It is strong and the waves start to grow, one foot, three feet, then four/five. We are still seven miles from the coast and the baidarka surfs as if we were on rapids. It seems the hurricane we sought to avoid on the last lake had caught up with us at long last.
A couple of big waves get into the boat. The baidarka sinks lower into the water, but the adrenaline keeps us going until we spot a dock and we crash-land on the rocky beach next to Babyne. We take refuge in an empty (except for thousands of spiders) gazebo while the rain starts pouring down.
The next day the waves are still too high for us to leave and we knock on a few doors to ask for food. There is a small shop that sells only biscuits, beer and eggs. We buy everything we can and later ask Viktor, a local, to sell us one of his many chickens. He assures us he will kill it and clean it for us but as soon as he slits its throat he just hands it to us. We pretend it’s ok with us and prepare to do what we never did before as we use what little battery and internet access we have to Google “how to butcher a chicken”.
The next day we leave with a strong wind against us that will accompany us for the next 70 miles to the next dam. We proceed slowly. The journey will take several days.