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7 October, 2011  ▪  Dmytro Stakhovsky

The Whisper of the Carpathians

The Shypit waterfall and surrounding villages lure thousands of tourists from Europe and Asia
Angel Falls, Venezuela, 979 m Victoria, the border between Zambia and Zimbabwe, 128 m Niagara Falls, the border between Canada and USA, 53 m Kjosfossen, Norway, 669 m

Shypit or Shepit, the name of the waterfall, means whisper in Ukrainian. This remote place in the mountains has turned into a massive pilgrimage spot. People following an “alternative lifestyle” from all over Europe have been travelling here for over 10 years. Hotels, restaurants and tourist buses are mushrooming, as Carpathian tourism evolves.

CHILDREN OF NATURE

“Shypit is a waterfall in the village of Podobovets, Volovets County, Zakarpattya Oblast. It is located by the Gemba hill 744 meters above sea level. The waterfall is nearly 10km away from Volovets railway station,” is the meager description in guidebooks.  

Yet some people spend all summer here, returning every year. These people are the children of nature, all kinds of punks, hippies and others, spotted the plateau back in the early 1990s. They have been travelling to hang out here ever since, coming from other parts of Ukraine and neighboring European countries. Some hitchhike to the waterfall from as far away as Siberia, even with young children in tow.

In the middle of summer, the huge plateau hidden deep in the Carpathians looks like the wild American West. Wigwams stand next to tents and young men and women frolic naked in pairs. This is a typical view here in summer. And if you decide to bring your kids here, don’t be alarmed when naked boys and girls, lathered in soap and completely naked, appear on the upper level of the most aqueous cascade of the waterfall. They are not embarrassed. For them, it is just an opportunity to take a shower.

 The residents of the camp treat newcomers as if they were state reserves, especially a month after their arrival, when they have run out of cereals, cigarettes and tea.  

The least lazy hippies boost the welfare of the nearby villages. They are several kilometers away, so those who don’t mind taking a walk get all the fresh supplies – homemade cottage cheese, eggs, milk and wine, and at bargain prices.

THE BORZHAVA PLATEAU

The local population is no longer as poor as it used to be. Podobivka, one of the villages, now has newly-built restaurants and hotels, and a repaired skiing resort.   

The flow of tourists to the waterfall keeps growing, even in winter. Groups from hotels and resorts in Zakarpattya are transported in to see the place almost every day.

The entrance to the reserve, or rather the path leading to the waterfall, has a turnpike and a hut with a guard who collects two hryvnias, the equivalent of about 25 cents) as an entrance fee. You can get a coffee; eat banosh, a traditional Hutsul meal of cornmeal boiled in cream, sprinkled with cheese made from sheep’s milk or mushrooms; or pick up some souvenirs. Tables with benches and huge trash cans are found closer to the waterfall. Paradoxically, before the ‘furniture’ and the trash cans arrived, there was never any garbage lying around. In other words, cultural tourism has reached even this remote spot, bringing cash to the locals.

Pylypets and Podobivets, in addition to the appearance of new hotels, many private homes have been built or renovated. This shows the pretty good income that the locals earn from tourists as they come to see the waterfall and ski in winter. Green tourism is becoming more popular and growing more civilized: decent indoor rather than outdoor bathrooms are no longer a wonder here, hot running water, bicycle rental and many other services have become a common thing.

More hotels sit along the Volovets - Mizhhiria road, namely in Volovets, as well as in Huklyve and Skotartsky. They are all within a radius of 15-20 km of the waterfall so to get there by car is not a problem. New hotels charge UAH 100-200 for a double room.

The village of Izky, which is about 2 km from Pylypets on the way to Mizhhiria, has become yet another tourist mini-mecca destination for skiing. It is a small resort with cozy wooden cottages, restaurants and a fantastic sauna – and all this can be found right above a highland stream. The classical selection of entertainment also made its appearance in Izky at the same time: with shashlyk at a Kolyba (a Hutsul-style tavern), coffee and a great Hutsul sauna that for some reason, the owners called “SPA House”. The locals offer their own products, including fresh meat, milk, bread, vegetables grown in the Carpathian gardens and honey from their own bee-gardens.

WILD DANCES

Turn left just before the waterfall and you will find a huge clearing in the woods. This is a perfect place for a tent. We stayed right over Shypit. The end of summer is tranquil and quiet here. We are short of wood to burn though, as the hippies have burned everything. But mushrooms are plenty and close – sites where mushroom grow can be found in spruce thickets, which break up the ancient beech forest.

Swimming in the waterfall, especially naked, is a challenge even for the well-trained Shypit contingent. Some Carpathian rivers warm up a little by mid-summer but here, the water is not just cold, it’s freezing, all year round. The entrance to the “shower cabin” is the most dangerous. To get to the most convenient torrent, falling off the cliff you have to balance on the edgeof a huge slippery rock with soap and towel in hand. After that, you do your wild dances under the ice-cold stream of water.

Those who prefer to refresh themselves, but in a less extreme form, can ascend a little higher above the waterfall to beautiful and convenient “bathing spots”, filled with the same crystal clear and freezing water. It is no warmer than in the waterfall but much safer.

From there you can walk to Velykiy Verkh (The Great Peak) and Stohy (The Heaps), the two local peaks. The latter is the highest peak of the Borzhavsky Range at 1,681 m. A strategic radio communication station crowned by three locators – huge white globes – used to to be located there. Even at such a height, standing next to the globes that look like tyrannosaurus eggs, a person appears small and helpless. You do not need any equipment or training to get there but the walk is fantastic, with breathtaking views and huge mouthwatering blueberries.

In our case, the walk back was more rapid descent, an escape from the huge black cloud that can trap you in the mountains in a thick fog. At the same time, it was an opportunity to enjoy the fog, picturesquely flowing down from the hilltops like thick cream.

ATTENTION! ONE NAME – different PLACES!

The waterfall, the river and the village, all called Shypit, are in fact different spots located far from each other. Make sure you know which one you are going to or you’ll end up in the wrong place! River Shypit is in Zakarpattya, but a totally different county, while the village is in Kosiv County, Ivano-Frankivsk Oblast. The well-known summer rock festival takes place annually at the Shypit waterfall. Lyubko Deresh, a young Ukrainian writer, made the place more popular after he mentioned it in his book A Little Darkness.

SIGHTSEEING

St. Michael’s Church (1785) in Bodobovets is a wooden church with an old cross adorned with painted Bible scenes (1903)

A spring of naturally sparkling mineral water, 7 km from Pylypets in the village of Kelychyn on the Volovets-Mizhhiria road 

Synevyr is the biggest lake and one of the seven wonders of Ukraine, located about 40 km away from Podobovets on the way to Mizhhiria, then on to the Synevir meadow  

Stohy Mount is perfect for the warm season. A gentle slope onto the Borzhava Range, about 8 km from the waterfall 


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