“Tustan!” he yelled out in the melodic tone only locals use. The wind carried the word into the woods and valleys below us. “Tustan!” I echoed him but the sound of my own voice was not as soft and deep as his; he belonged here. Tustan, literally translated, the name of the place means “Stand Here.” I listened to that simple invitation. “Here” was the top of the highest mountain. Made of pure sandstone, it overlooks three other peaks rising into the sky. “Here” was a haven for falcons, tired from their long flight toward the sun, where they sought rest. “Here” was where the great fortress was raised to tower over the rocks and mountains many centuries ago. As I climbed higher and higher I solemnly touched the deep gouges cut into the stone, like old battle scars carved into the face of the mountain. They were the only remains of the ancient construction of the castle; the only signs left of human attempts to interfere with the overpowering forces of nature.
Later, I sat in the sun on one of the warm rocks enjoying the broad vista afforded by my lofty seat. I immediately knew why the kings of old had decided to make this place their fortress and shelter. The view was breathtaking. I was grateful to be “Here” in that moment and to experience this place with no regrets. I discovered the existence of this place several months prior to my trip while studying old manuscripts written by a famous Polish chronicler named Jan Dlugosz, at the Jagiellonian Library in Krakow. I also found an old photograph of this place and it seemed that Tustan was calling me.
Suddenly, I heard raised voices. “Maybe we are not supposed to be here,” I whispered to myself. My guide was already up and explaining something to another man standing down below the rock upon which we had been sitting. They talked until the man’s angry gesture of a raised fist changed into a friendly wave of his open palm. “Tustan is my home,” my guide quietly responded when I looked at him with surprise. “I spent the last five years here working on an excavation site near by. The locals are used to me having the same rights as the falcons here,” he added with a crooked smile.
I had never seriously considered a journey like this one. Then suddenly one day, I began to think about going out into what we in Poland call “unbridled” country which is inhabited by free spirits whose languages I did not understand. Against my better judgment and despite my research on the internet that uncovered stories of bad roads and government corruption, I wanted to discover Ukraine with its melody of limitless fields, woods, and voices which are constantly present in Polish literature. I decided to take my Yamaha XT and for weeks I trained to ride my motorcycle in the worst conditions, in mud, along rough roads, and under the scorching sun in order to prepare for my long journey. I trained until my muscles burned but I was determined to take this chance. After extensive practice, I knew that I would be able to get through the worst of the off road sections of my journey.
The motorcycle ride was like having wings. The wind around me brought the scent of the blooming fields I passed. I felt what was described by Polish author, Adam Mickiewicz”
“I entered the dry waters of an open sea;
My carriage like a canoe plunges in the green
Deep of flowery meadows and passes between
The coral isles of brier and laburnum tree.”
It was not until I was crossing the border, fighting against a hail storm that I started to doubt myself. However, I kept my goal in mind and rode ahead deep into Ukraine in the pouring rain. It seemed like the actual asphalt road ended just a couple miles after I crossed the border and both road and weather conditions worsened. I completed the final part of my journey with great difficulty. Finally the clouds cleared and the castle in Tustan welcomed me with the sun as I approached it. This is the way I will remember it. A place without rain, without boundaries, and without limits.
I sat on the top of the mountain in the company of my guide, a young archeologist, who explained the history of this place to me. As I listened I started to dangle my feet like a small child who cannot reach the ground while sitting on a bench in the park. His voice washed over me as and I sat back, dangling my feet in their muddy motorcycle boots, taking in the view and feeling the warmth of the sun. Tustan!
About the Author:
Klaudyna Szewczyk is a graduate student at the Jagiellonian University in Krakow, Poland. She holds Master Degree in Polish Literature and Linguistics. Her body of work include editing of books and scholarly works and original pieces of poetry published in Polish magazines: Today I am a Poet (Dzis bede poeta), Melanz and Spectrum Magazine in the United States.
Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter our next Travel Writing competition and tell your story.