This weekend, I decided enough was enough– I am just not a city girl at heart, and I needed some more nature in my life. I saw a posting on an expat group on Facebook about a hiking club that goes out for day hikes every Sunday, which seemed right up my alley. So at 8:30 on Sunday morning I showed up at the train station in my hiking boots. Five hours later, I was skinny-dipping in a lake with two Russian women.
I suppose I should back up a little bit. Although the group was advertised as Russian/expat, the hike ended up being me and about a dozen middle-aged Russians. They were all super nice to me though, asking me questions about my life, what I was doing in Russia, and were very patient with me when my Russian wasn’t quite good enough to say everything I wanted to. We spent hours and hours walking through the forest– I assumed someone up near the front of the group had a plan and knew where we were going. There had been a lot of rain the day before, so we kept having to go bushwhacking to avoid sections of the trail that had turned into giant puddles, although one member of the group just took off his shoes and waded in. I should also probably note that the leader of our group wore socks and tevas for the entire 20km (~12 mile) hike, although he did pull out a backup pair of sandals after a particularly muddy section.
While wandering through the woods and the potato fields, I got asked a number of interesting questions about the US. My favorite by far was whether or not people in the US have dachas (little summer cabins outside the cities where people grow vegetables in the summer.) My response that no, people in the US don’t usually have dachas, was met with confusion. “But Obama’s wife is always on TV, telling people to grow vegetables. Where are they supposed to grow them if they don’t have a dacha?” I wasn’t sure how to respond.
Something that I have long heard of, but never before experienced, is the Russian love for mushroom gathering. And, sure enough, members of our group would periodically dart into the woods, emerging triumphantly with a mushroom in hand, and everyone would stop to admire it. Two of the women I made friends with were also gathering raspberry and strawberry leaves, to make tea out of. When they discovered that I had never tried raspberry leaf tea, I got sent home with a bag of leaves of my own, and instructions on how to prepare it. They told me that, like medicine, you shouldn’t take it too often, but from time to time it is very beneficial. I’ll be sure to report back once I actually get around to making the tea.
We spent the better part of the hike walking around a lake, and stopped for lunch on the bank. I was impressed by the amount an vairety of food that everyone had managed to hike in with them, and before I knew it I was being offered pancakes, stuffed pastries, and even caviar spread. Everyone also had large thermoses of tea, and we spread out in the grass for a wonderful picnic.
After lunch, my two new friends invited me to go swimming with them. When I admitted that I hadn’t brought our swimsuit, they exclaimed, “Oh, we don’t have ours either! Come on, we’ll go out away from the rest of the group!” So I followed and soon found myself naked, in the middle of a lake with two women who were essentially strangers. It was the happiest I’ve been since arriving in Moscow.
Although the water was warm, it was cloudy all day, and after getting out of the water we were all quite chilly. Fortunately the leader of our group had just the solution for us: a flask of… something, which he poured into little thimble-shaped shot glasses and passed to each of us in turn. That with the surprisingly still-hot tea from someone’s thermos warmed us right up. Although this is the part where I should probably be responsible and caution my young readers (do I have any young readers? I don’t know) not to accept alcohol from strangers… I think in some circumstances you should just embrace the experience.
Before leaving our lunch site, our group did a 10-minute clean up of the surrounding area. The one negative part of the hiking was seeing how much garbage people just left in the forest. I didn’t take any pictures, obviously, but it was all over the place. Our group made a commendable effort and filled several large bags, but it was a small drop in the bucket compared to all the piles of trash we passed on our hike. I was glad, at least, to be part of the group picking up trash, instead of leaving it behind.