My attempt to get to Belevezhskaya Pushcha was fairly eventful. It took a good 24 hours after the ordeal to get my blood pressure back to normal. There really is very little information on how to get there and Lonely Planet isn’t terribly helpful when it comes to Belarus. Their suggestion is to get a marshrutky or minibus to the park. Problem with that is, there is no bus at the station to Belevezhskaya Pushcha. You have to ask for a ticket to Komanyaki which is the village outside the park. There are quite a few each day, but it would seem that the buses usually fill up due to the many stops along the way in small towns so you should probably go early to get a ticket.

Despite the fact that I had a piece of paper that said ‘1 ticket to Kamyanyuki’ in Russian I still seemed to have trouble getting a ticket. I had to show my passport and the woman kept trying to tell me something in Russian, as if repeating it would get me to understand it. She eventually wrote it down but that really didn’t help. The entire process was made more confusing and annoying by an old man standing in line behind me who I seriously considered punching and yelling at to shut up in English because he kept yelling at me and to anyone who would listen about what I assume was my bag as he kept grabbing my backpack and making wild hand gestures. Needless to say I held up the line for a little while.

So I finally got my ticket and went to sit down and translate what the woman wrote. The translation made absolutely no sense and half the words weren’t in my translator to make it that much more confusing. My Belarusian friends who I stayed with very kindly came to meet me at the station to help translate this bit of paper (they work close by) and apparently it said something about me having to go across the street to this immigration looking place to purchase an entrance ticket to Belevezhskaya Pushcha. Viktor took me over to the place to purchase it and translated and it cost a whopping 20,000 roubles (about $2.30). Turns out I never actually needed it so just don’t even bother.

I did eventually make it back to the marshrutky in time and Viktor and Olly went off to get lunch. Once again, the amazing kindness and helpfulness of the Belarusians showed through. A man who was with his wife and grandson insisted on carrying my pack onto the bus for me and gave me his seat as it was next to my bag while he sat with someone else rather than next to his wife and grandson. During the trip his wife gave me chocolates and when we got of the marshrutky they insisted on helping me find my hotel. Turns out my hotel was in the direction they were headed and he insisted on carrying my pack (for about a mile) and she carried my bag of groceries while I carried my smaller backpack. When we got to the park she broke off to buy bus tickets for a tour around the park and he insisted on carrying my bag and helping me check into the hotel. Very kind of him.

Accommodation in Belevezhskaya Pushcha is best booked through Brest Intourist hotel in Brest as they have some English speaking staff. Just tell them where you want to stay and they’ll call up and book. I stayed at the Kamyanyuki Hotel Complex which has recently been remodelled I think and the rooms are very nice. I had a double room with 2 twin sized beds, a wardrobe, a bathroom, a sitting area and a television (with 3 channels). It was a nice and comfortable room, if a little expensive for my liking. It’s the cheapest option in the area and it’s still far beyond the reach of the average Belarusian for an overnight trip. Most Belarusians just do Belevezhskaya as a day trip for this reason. The room I stayed in was $32 a night (including a full breakfast), which is extremely expensive for Belarus. It’s obviously a place where mainly just visiting internationals can visit.

The receptionist who greeted me could speak a very minimal amount of English and was able to check me in. The next morning before I went out wandering for the day I was stopped by a receptionist who spoke no English, but she made a phone call to the receptionist who does speak some English who told me that a translator was going to meet me in 20 minutes in the lobby. Turns out they had one of the tour guides who speaks English come to meet me to show me around and answer any questions that I had. This was all done free of charge and without me asking. It’s good to know they wanted me to feel welcome and enjoy myself, which is more than I can say for a lot of countries.

The complex has a restaurant you can eat at which is also a little expensive for my liking, but they have some food on the menu translated into English. If you feel like self-catering the rooms have mini fridges, but you’ll have to get something that doesn’t require cooking as that is all they have. The village about a 10 minute walk from the park has a couple of markets with a small selection of food you can purchase.

The actual park

So now that that is out of the way, I can actually talk about Belevezhskaya Pushcha, which is a UNESCO world heritage site and also the oldest national park in Europe. They have parts of the forest where the trees are between 300-600 years old! The park is absolutely beautiful. Keep in mind it is in Belarus which means it’s flat as a pancake. The biggest hill you will walk up will be where you have to step out of a pothole. The entire place is shockingly green ( a common theme in the Baltic states as well) and covered in forest. I decided not to rent a bike, feeling like walking instead so I wasn’t able to cover as much of the park as if I had a bike, but it did mean if I found a trail leading away from the road I could explore it. You can also take a tour bus which takes you around, but you probably won’t get to see as much that way. Alternatively, if you get a tour bus you can schedule a tour guide that speaks English ahead of time so you’ll get more information than I received.

Because I did so much walking and a lot of it was on random trails rather than the road I was able to see wild boar and deer, however, if you go to certain areas of the park you can also see zoobr or European bison, which Lonely Plant describes as “slightly smaller than their American cousin”. From my experience with American bison and my viewing of zoobr at the open air wildlife enclosures in the park I can tell you that the American bison are significantly larger than their European counterpart. If you are lucky you can also see wolves and wild horses.

In the northeast corner of the park you can also visit Santa Clauses estate. I find it a bit odd that a soviet country has a tourist attraction to St Nick but they call it Father Snow’s estate. I went to the entrance area of it but didn’t really fancy paying to see a bunch of Christmas stuff as I’m not really a fan so sat and rested for a bit while watching families picnicking and playing football (soccer) before heading back to home base for some wild game stew at the restaurant. Unfortunately, the restaurant had been taken over by a wedding party and I wasn’t dressed to crash it so I just went to the market to get some food and ate the last of my peanut butter.

Belevezhskaya is very small and if you take a tour bus or bike it can easily be done in a day if you go first thing in the morning. They rarely allow private vehicles to go through so you won’t be able to go through on your own that way. I spent 3 or 4 nights there because I wanted a sabbatical and that was plenty. You can only take so many days of not speaking to anyone (however nice the solitude may be) before it’s time to get back to civilisation. I definitely recommend going to visit and if you can’t get to Belarus or don’t want to deal with the visa issues for whatever reason, the other half of Belevezhskaya is on the Polish side of the border.

What I’m watching now: 27 dresses (yes, sometimes I like to be girly)

Advertisements