Day 36: Thursday 17th September
We awake to another perfect sunny morning (and the sun stays with us all day). Our fresh water fill-up last night allows us to have full showers this morning. Then we return to the car wash to finish off where we left off. It’s fortunate that we do so as Harry had left the tap adapter attached to the spout at the garage! One of the forecourt attendants explains that they got told off by the proprietor for letting us have water (but they don’t care as they expect another tip). We hand over another 10 grivna, some sweets and a packet of fruit tea.
On our way out of town we follow the same route and dump grey water in the same place at the edge of a wood by a field track – nobody would be inconvenienced by it.
Simferopol is bigger than we expected and it’s hard to navigate through it. We follow some signs, apparently erected to steer people away from the centre, but the roads are diabolical and progress is slow. Then we miss the sign to Cherson and are on a road signposted for Nikolajev, hundreds of kilometres to the north but actually on our route. Something is amiss but we continue for 45 minutes before stopping to consult the compass, the maps and the sun. We are heading west when we should be heading north. A closer inspection of the signs and the map shows our mistake – we have been heading for Nikolajevka, a small town on the Crimean coast! We do a U-turn and head back to Simferopol, spotting our mistake as we retrace our steps out of the town centre. The sign had been partly hidden by foliage. An hour wasted. The ‘inner ring road’ is, in fact, a series of back streets linked together to divert traffic and the surfaces are very poor. Even when we eventually get on to the M24 heading for Cherson we find it little better – lumps, bumps, holes, craters all the way. Progress is slow. Ukraine is obviously short of cash.
There are fewer police checkpoints than in Russia and we have not yet been stopped. We saw another motorhome on the road to Cherson, only the sixth in our long journey from St Petersburg. Along the way out of Crimea the countryside flattens out to something more like black earth steppe and the roadside stalls increase in number with the usual water melons, and veg, but now also with zillions of flat red onions, pale yellow peppers and odd handicrafts. A few kilometres beyond Cherson, on the Odessa road, we pull off on a side road and look for a stopover spot. There’s an open field and a word with a couple of farm labourers seems to secure the OK. But this is more than a farm track – dozens of vehicles are using it to get somewhere beyond our horizon – is it a village, a canning plant, or what?
Later we see the clearest night sky yet – there is something to be said for a collapsed economy.