The surprising wonders of – and incredible hospitality in – Belarus!

Hi folks!

Herewith, a brief interlude to my series of posts on our trek up to the South Base Camp of Mount Everest. Why? First, so you don’t get overloaded with all things Nepalese extreme-trekking; second, to keep you waiting for the best bit – finally getting to the Base Camp (which is just around the corner!); and third, because something unexpected occurred the other week that’s perfectly intermission-worthy: I scored myself a +1 to my list of countries I’ve visted in the world. And it’s hard to believe, but that country… was Belarus!

We were in Minsk for just half a day: I gave a lecture at the Belarusian State University (on the latest cyber-maliciousness and our cyber-poison against it, followed by a Q&A/AMA session), then there were a few important business meetings, and after that we hit the road and headed out into the Belarusian countryside for an ambitious (as in “would we have time to fit everything in?”) two-and-a-half-day round trip to: oversized dump-truck manufacturer BelAZ, then to the Pripyatsky National Park (strolling, snapping), from there to the famed Belovezhskaya Pushcha Forest (more strolling, more snapping), and then back to Minsk to grab our suitcases and back to the airport. Thus, all as per: intense, chock-full business-then-pleasure!

My main impression from the whole trip: an unexpectedly astonishingly positive one based on practically everything we saw there. Minsk is a remarkably smart, elegant city. We only drove through other cities and towns, but they too appeared to be neat and graceful. Even villages were clean, freshly painted and neatly trimmed!…

The first two pics below were taken from my hotel room in Minsk. Elsewhere things were a little less polished, but still most pleasant and easy on the eyes:

Cruising along the overflowing Pripyat river on motorboats brought another unexpected surprise – plenty of fun! ->

Still, people-less, quiet, beautiful – meditative: just as we like it!…

Like I say, our plans were ambitious. Now where should I start?… From the end – it’ll be simpler that way…

We raced around Belarus covering over a thousand kilometers: Minsk > BelAZ plant > Pripyat river > Belovezhskaya Pushcha Forest > Minsk. And if we add the trips from and then later back to the airport – it comes to 1200km. That’s 400km per day more than planned!

First up ~Last up – Belovezhskaya Pushcha Forest. Main thing: bison! Who knew? Not me!…

One of my travel companions had his turbo-charged zoom lens with him, so here’s a photo of his where we can make them out fully. But… what are those dainty things to the right of them? Deer! Oh dear! So, what’s this – some kinda symbiosis?! ->

Another freak of nature we observed here: MASSIVE mosquitoes. In the following pic, those aren’t buzzing around just above our heads – they’re flying about the tops of trees!…

Not a freak of nature, but another symbiosis: of beautiful forest and charming road, if roads can be charming:

Suddenly, yet another astonishment – an angel appeared up ahead of us! WHAT?!! ->

A stroll in the forest – must-do, despite the mutant mozzies. Magnificent oaks:

This here long crack in the bark – apparently it was made when lightning struck the tree! ->

Even fallen trees are impressive:

Not having a tape-measure on us, the ladies measured the oaks in arm-spans ) ->

The bridges that cross the forest’s streams apparently hail back to the Tsarist era, and we were shown how many are still adorned with Tsarist monograms! So – originals? Really?! ->

We arrive at our next stop…

Very nice – and very welcoming too, with folksongs being belted out by that traditionally-dressed sextet! ->

Looks all so innocent…

…But hidden away is… a home-made liqueur distillery! But it’s all certified and above board. And we even got a sip of the freshly-produced product!…

All that high-proof liquor on tap – it’s enough to make anyone lose themselves to drink. Dangerous!…

…You think I’m joking? There’s an entrance (“ВХОД”)… but no exit!! :-))

The hospitality here was off-the-scale; I’d even call it “aggressive hospitality”! The way they feed you a week’s portions in a day, keep topping up your glass, ferry you about everywhere, show you this, that and the other – and always in the warmest, friendliest way. Sounds wonderful – and it is! But get this: it tires you out! Three days of it was more exhausting than the trek up to Everest’s Base Camp! :)

Two other Belarusian must-sees are the Pripyat river and the Pripyatsky National Park…

…Where pterodactyls like these glide across the skies. Must say I’d never noticed such bright colors on them before.

Back into the motorboats, and onward!…

The river hasn’t been this high in years, apparently. In places – serenity defined:

…Even without the calm river the scenery would have been perfect for meditative reflection; with it – reflection²!

Are we sure Constable wasn’t Belarusian?!

Some amazing scenes – and not all down to the camera!

I wonder – is that a road sign or a river sign? ->

Are they trying to tell us something?! ->

The forest here – also must-stroll-in; only – I’ve forgotten exactly where it was…

There were fewer mosquitos here – but the swarms of midges made up for that! ->

Despite the midges – a worthwhile forest walkabout. In places – Leshy totems:

Zmei Gorynich! ->

And assorted other folklore attributes:

…Prehistoric folklore? ->

Meanwhile the midges problem is getting a little out of hand…

And that’s all for today folks. And that’s all from Belarus – the unexpectedly extraordinary next-door neighboring country I never knew about!…

The rest of the photos from Belarus are here.

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