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Back in the saddle in Vinnitskaya Province (23/4/07)

(CLICK HERE TO VIEW FULL LIST OF DIARY ENTRIES ) I had received the blood test results from Kiev for the horses, had a new international passport for Tigon and transit permits to the Hungary border for the horses, sent the last unnecessary items to the city by train, and now I sat down with Vasya at the old collective farm concrete barn to eat a smoked herring. Vasya, a blue eyed aging man with fingers of leather from a lifetime of work had been the person who had tended to my horses while I was gone. Every day he arrives at the old collective farm barn (that look as if they are actually abandoned from the outside) with his horse and cart, and spends his time feeding and tending to around 100 head of cattle and at least as many pigs. Further up in the adjacent concrete barns are about 5000 geese, huge old soviet incubators, and a bakery where the collective farm grown wheat is sold as bread. Its hard to get words out of Vasya, he usually just swears lovingly in a mix of Ukrainian and Russian at his work horses from the seat of his rickety old cart. On the sly he is however always ready to suggest a quick shot of home made vodka, and then he brightens up. I had given Vasya some money (which workers at the farm are short of since their wages are about $80US a month), a model of a dolphin, a couple of photos, some vodka, and a bullsnap clip for his horse. There weren't many words said, but over the herring he wished me luck, and I thanked him again. Then it was time to leave. A small band of people came to wave goodbye. Among them were Oleg, the deputy director of the farm who had been so extremely helpful and understanding in looking after the horses for all this time. Tigon couldn't help but run circles around me, tangling his lead such was his excitement. After some rehearsed goodbyes for the video camera, I finally set off.

Again the rush of air. Ogonyok shaking his head and kicking in joy at the sense of movement, Tigon tugging so hard at the lead that he was almost pulling me out of the saddle.

Over the next couple of days there was a feeling of utter relief among all five of us. For the horses, the feeling of being in green open pasture, for Tigon the boundless opportunities for running and sniffing, and for me a chance to try and clear my head and re focus after a very difficult few months.

At camp Tigon is so excited that he doesn't know what to do first. As soon as the tent is up he runs in and snuggles on a horse rug. At the first sign of my movement though he is leaping out, and following me as if we are off somewhere. Then he jumps up to my chest demanding attention, and of course hoping for some tinned meat. In the morning he runs circles around the horses trying to leap up and lick their faces, and when I lay the map out for some route planning he leaps all over it leaving paw prints. He wants to be a part of everything and despite being tied up for almost five months he doesn't seem any the less fitter for it.

On the third day I woke to the sound of rain on the tent which soon became the pattering of snow flakes. A cutting north wind came blasting over the murky white horizon. I decided to take the day. The horses of course loved the chance just to be in the hills. Ogonyok was trying to playfight with the other horses and leaping around erratically like a bucking bull in the ring. Overnight it then dropped to about minus five degrees and in the morning everything that had been laiden with wet snow was frozen solid.

The last four days have been similarly cold typified by cold gusty wind that only calms down at night. For late April it is unseasonably cold, each night dropping to four or five below zero. It suits me though because the horses move freely in this kind of weather. My route has taken me over little back muddy tracks, winding through gullies, wheat fields and of course many many villages. I am in Vinnitskaya Oblast, and here village life is far more healthy, as is the Ukrainian language. The villages are tucked into the and river gullies and valleys out of the wind. Small plots descend to the meandering water courses, often bordered with old stone fences. Often the main street is cobbled, and in every village the cupolas of the orthodox church rise above the clutter to glint in the sun. Geese, chickens, pigs are the most common pedestrians followed by bent over babushkas wrapped up in scarves. 'Hey, Gypsy, where is you caravan off to!' can often be heard as I pass, usually followed with a well wishing grin.

It has been a challenge to navigate through this maze like environment, and after six days I was happy to have covered about 105km as the crow flies (actually we have traveled about 140-150km by road). It's a good start, and I am feeling positive. To have wells in every village, and green grass I every gully is the kind of paradise that couldn't have been imaginable back in Kazakhstan!



Latitude: 48° 36 Min. 54 Sec.

Longitude: 27° 57 Min. 44 Sec.

Click to see where Tim is on a detailed map.