Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Favorite Runs: Holosiivskyi Park

I knew there was no way I would make it out of the park without getting lost, so I tried to plan for it.  Yes, that is correct, I planned to get lost.  Trust me, it makes sense.

The first challenge was that I was going for a run.  I really, really do not enjoy running with a backpack, which meant I was restricted to the two pockets in my shell.  My city maps depicted my destination as a blob of green, so I knew they wouldn't be much use anyway.  I printed a screenshot from Google maps, folded it in fourths, and hoped that would be good enough.  I grabbed emergency cash, my cell phone (which naturally wouldn't connect to the network and was therefore completely useless as a map), and of course my small camera.

The second challenge was that I was going to a very large woodland park with limited road access, but lots of trails.  I've seen places like this before, though.  In addition to the "marked" trails, there are loads and loads of offshoots that could be from animals, or could be run-off gulleys after a storm but look suspiciously like paths when its dry, or were tamped down by people who like shortcuts.  For a stranger like me, these extra trails just make life very confusing.  That's how I get lost.

I'm okay with getting lost though.  It's happened before.  Mwenzie and I once drove to Harold Parker State Forest for an easy 5k trail run.  13 miles and 2.5 hours later, we finally rediscovered where we'd parked the car.

Also, I was tired of running on the unforgiving cement slabs that equal sidewalks and roads in Kyiv.  My legs were angry with me, and I was looking forward to a chance to run more than five miles without navigating through traffic.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Pripyat: Visiting Chernobyl's Ghost City

"What I remember most about the hours we spent in Pripyat is the sound and feel of walking on broken glass."

Thanks a lot, National Geographic, for writing one of my strongest impressions of the experience six months before I even had the experience.

The shattered window panes that adorn the interior floors of Pripyat's abandoned buildings emit a distinctive crunching underfoot, and it's a feeling akin to walking on small pieces of gravel, albeit a shade smoother.  Pause and listen to other tourists moving through a different room or the floor above, and the glass takes on a distinctly musical, tinkling sound.

But there is something besides glass covering the floor in many rooms.  It feels soft underfoot, with a slight give and an occasional slip as it rearranges against the pressure of my shoe.  My soul cringes with each step, and I feel slimy, like I am defiling a precious object meant to be lovingly cherished rather than carelessly thrown on the dusty ground.

Books.  Piles of books, with spines broken and pages fluttering sadly in the silent breeze.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Chernobyl: Where Nuclear Tourism Meets Wildlife Tourism

I should have thought about what I expected to find before I got there.  A barren, rocky wasteland wholly unsupportive of any form of life, with curls of steam rising ominously from the ground?  People wearing space suits as protection from the radiation?  Squirrels with eight tails and cerulean fur? 

I didn't think about it.  I've made up those graphic options in the last five minutes.  But I know that what I did find wasn't what I was expecting, despite how ill-defined those expectations may have been.

After all, Chernobyl is the site of the worst nuclear disaster of the 20th century.  Hundreds died as an immediate result, thousands still suffer long-term effects, and hundreds of thousands were forced into unwanted new lives as all human inhabitants within thirty kilometers in any direction from the plant were evacuated and relocated.  A thriving young city, less than twenty years old and with a population of almost 500,000 people, became a ghost town in a matter of hours, and remains so to this day.

Nuclear radiation wreaks havoc on the human body.  It's not exactly easy on animals either, but give Mother Nature a little time, and she'll always prove that she's far more resilient than we are.  The thirty kilometer evacuated area around the plant became the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone, a permanent fixture banning humans from living in the area and thereby a de facto wildlife preserve, which gave Mother Nature a leg up with her recovery.