The destination of our trip was an area called Galicia. A country whose human destinies are often turbulent and tragic. But also a place incredibly beautiful with the hitherto preserved original landscape full of wildlife as far as the eye can see. This place is often called Wolf Mountains. Today’s picture of the local villages is, in contrast to history, completely opposite. Beautiful, mostly new houses, repaired roads, developing tourism. But no dams, factories or gigantic holiday complexes.
Galicia (Ukrainian Галичина, Halyčyna; Polish Galicja; German Galizien; Latin Galicia) is a historic country in Eastern Europe, divided between present-day Poland and Ukraine. As the Kingdom of Galicia and Vladimiř, Galicia was one of the crown countries of Austria-Hungary. The Austrian Galicia occupied the northern foothills of the Carpathians from the upper Vistula in the west to the upper Prut in the east. The San River divided Galicia into a western part with the city of Kraków, inhabited mainly by Poles, and an eastern part with the city of Lviv, inhabited mainly by Ukrainians.
In 1918, part of Galicia with a predominance of Poles was incorporated into the restored Poland. East Galicia around the city of Lviv joined the Ukrainian People’s Republic. In 1920, the League of Nations finally assigned the territory of eastern Galicia, with a predominantly Ukrainian population, to Poland. After the outbreak of World War II and the defeat of Poland in 1939, the territory of Galicia was divided between Germany and the Soviet Union. In 1941, the Germans occupied the part occupied by the Soviet Union. After the Second World War, the division from 1939 was renewed with small changes and the Polish and Ukrainian inhabitants of Galicia were exchanged, which ended in 1947. The varied history of the area with an area of about 80 thousand square kilometers with about 7 million inhabitants, of which Poles accounted for 58.6%, Ukrainians 40.2%, Germans 1.1% and Jews about 10%.
The Bieszczady National Park, which we visited, is followed on the Slovak side by the Poloniny National Park. This name was given to the national park after the forest-free grassy areas – “polonin”, meadows on the ridges of the Eastern Carpathians above the forest zone. On the slopes of fairly steep ridges, the meadows are bordered by forest, not by a bushy zone. Between 1944 and 1947, the local population was displaced from the territory of the existing national park, and the areas of former villages and settlements began to overgrow trees and shrubs, and wild animals began to appear more and more often. The landscape modeled in this way, partly naturally, partly by human intervention, was given the name “valley landscape”. On the way through the Bieszczady valleys, it is still possible to find traces of ancient settlements – borders and terraces of fields, cellars and buried wells, foundations of houses and churches, alleys and desolate orchards. In order to preserve the open areas, regular mowing and, since 1993, the grazing of Hucul horses have been carried out.
My admiration for nature is universal, but if I have a weakness for nature, it is clearly its bird inhabitants. That’s why I was a bit skeptical about inviting my friend Luboš Vaňek on a trip to Poland. The main topic was photographing bears and wolves. As a bird lover, however, he did not forget to attract me to eagles and other predators, which could be photographed. Even though I hadn’t been anywhere for a long time because of a pandemic, I finally agreed. And he certainly didn’t regret it.
The wild nature is right behind the last houses of each village. One hundred meters from the village, while walking around the San River, you will find a characteristic pancake on the way. Fresh bear poop. Suddenly, the walk becomes a bit more adventurous than, for example, in the Czech Giant Mountains. If you don’t know the right places, you could walk for months and see nothing, then this country is vast. However, the locals know the places. From them, the life of the local wild animals can be observed in almost detail. With a little luck, the true rulers of the endless beech-fir forests can be seen from here. But who is the real ruler?
The mountain meadow is foggy and dark. And completely silent. The darkness changes to morning twilight only very slowly as the fog persists. On the opposite side of the meadow, three silhouettes appear quite inaudibly like forest ghosts. The silence lasts. A belly cut off by the morning dew with the crowns of antlers on its heads, three deer enter the meadow through tall grass. Their dignity cannot be greater. Time stood still at dawn. The ghosts of the forest seemed to be hovering over the meadow, as if floating through the grass. In a few moments, they disappear silently in the gloom and fog as they appeared. Did it happen at all?
The glade is alive. No eagles or other predators fly here. Flocks of wood pigeons and woodpeckers are looking for food here. The jay and the family of ravens occasionally mix in between. Especially their antics and games can be watched for hours.
Bears are real loners. And not only that. They are very intolerant of other members of their kind. In only one case have we observed an old bear, which has endured two young bears side by side, probably her own weaned bear cubs. While the young bears could be observed during the day, the old bears arrived late in the evening in the early morning.
My big dream was to observe and photograph a wolf in its natural habitat. We would have to be really lucky to do that. And patience brings not only roses, but also extraordinary experiences. Like meeting a wolf. It came quite suddenly. No morning dawn or evening twilight. In the bright sun, he suddenly appeared in a flowering meadow, circled two bears basking here, and disappeared again. That was the first time. The next morning we met the whole wolf couple at another place. Everyone marked their territory, wolves with dung, male wolves urinating, they checked the situation and were gone again. Two short moments that will not be forgotten.
We are already making plans when we set out again. Maybe in winter. That might be an even bigger experience.