Our Trip to the
Waterlilies of Belarus
Text and photos by Theo Germann
Translation from German by Markus Germann
Click images to enlarge
Belarus? Where exactly is that? And how do you get there?
and why would someone want to go to Belarus?
Because THERE you can find wild-growing white waterlilies
But let's take one thing at a time:
"Are you interested in making a trip to the Pripyat Marshland
in Belarus, where wild white waterlilies grow?" Giving me
such a question is pointless. My only answer is, "When can
we start the trip?"
Hans-Peter, a landscaper friend of mine and a member of our
GdW (Society of Watergarden-Friends Germany), is deeply committed
in the "Kids of Shitkowitschi" aid organisation. This
organisation enables kids who live in the Chernobyl area of Ukraine,
suffering from the nuclear disaster in the 1980s, to come over
to visit Germany. They are also working on several other social
projects in the area of Shitkowitschi, Belarus.
Being a gardener, he has of course a special view for the
untouched nature there. The plan to go with a small group on
a trip to Belarus was quickly arranged. Quickly
a country like Belarus that's a relative term. You need to apply
for a travel visa, need a host invitation, and the group shouldn't
be too big, as we need private rooms for our tour members. Using
Hans-Peter's connections, all the problems were solved and we
got a bed for everyone, somewhere
The cheapest way to get there was a 24-hour long combination
of using the plane, taxi and a train. We flew from Frankfurt
to Warsaw, Poland, took the night train to Brest, Belarus, followed
by a 5-hour-long ride in a mini-bus.
A few words about Belarus:
On the west side it borders Poland, on the north side Lithuania
and Latvia, on the east side Russia, and on the south side Ukraine.
The landscape is mostly plains with single hills, not higher
than 300 m (984'). The main river is named Dnjepr (Dnieper),
and one of its tributary rivers is named Pripjat (Pripyat), which
is located in the area with all of its great marshland that we
wanted to visit.
Travelling along the "highway-like" road (just "like",
because tractors and horse-carriages are seen there, too), we
could already feel that this country has another understanding
of time. Traffic was sparse like it is in Germany at midnight.
The sometimes the four-lane road was used by every kind of vehicle
with at least one wheel. It crossed the almost never-ending landscape
where fields of cattle run up to the horizon, and forest - forest
- forest. Half of the agriculture is cattle breeding and dairying.
Map courtesy of www.lonelyplanet.com
Our first destination was to pick up our translator in the
small village of Lenin. People in Belarus have their own dialect,
similar to Russian, and without a translator you are lost.
The next stop at the city hall in Shitkowitschi was necessary
because there is no travelling without having the mayor's stamp
in your visa.
Actually the plan was to stay in Lenin, the small village
located at the Sluzk River. We thought we would stay there at
the homes of several families, mostly without washrooms, and
toilets located across the backyard. Mentally we were prepared
on that, but our hosts didn't expect this for their German guests.
So we travelled to Turów (Typow), which was closer to
the Pripjat Marshlands anyway. We stayed there in an apartment
house with four families, the only house around with washrooms
inside and hot water (because it's near a heat and power station).
No one had to starve, and our "Mamushka" (our host-mom)
found a lot of joy in preparing our meals. We started our days
with a extensive breakfast of sausage, cheese, sandwiches, fish
and many more high-fat treats
a shot of vodka afterwards
was a must for us.
Carefully we went over the logs.
Nobody wanted to be the first one to be bogged down.
Now, let's go to the marshland!! Unfortunately the Russian
biologist who joined our group couldn't give us much information
about the plants, but he was able to show us the place where
the forest is marshy
this was where we wanted to go!!
Except one or two tourist points of interests, like a more
than one-thousand-year-old oak, there was no path, and we were
all happy to have some rubber boots with us. Depending on how
close to the marshland or close to the river we were, we found
always some plants we knew from our own business at home, just
in a greater amount.
In the typically marshy woods, under alder trees, birches
and oak trees, we found several kinds of sedges, water sedge
(Carex) in shallow water, marsh trefoil (Menyanthes
trifoliata) and frogbit (Hydrocharis morus-rane) floating
on the water.
Even in shady places there were lots of yellow water iris
(Iris pseudacorus), calamus (Acorus calmus) and
water arum (Calla palustris). In other places there were,
as far as you could see, vegetation of Sphagnum moss with big
moss-berries - Vaccinium macrocarpon. In August you can
pick the dark-red berries and use them for marmalade or liquor.
I doubt that it's good to harvest them here, because you can
see radioactivity warning sights all over. You should not collect
mushrooms or berries in this area. Regardless, we saw people
selling berries next to the road.
A boat trip took us to some branches of the Pripyat River
and to our first white waterlilies. It was a special moment,
seeing the waterlily blossoms like a thousand diamonds on the
never-ending water, the camera clicks seemed not to end
We found typical shallow water plants like mare's tail (Hippuris
vulgaris) arrowhead, (Sagittaria), blooming flowering
rush (Butomus umbellatus) at the edge of the river. Bitterweet
solanum (Solanum dulca mara) twined through the bushes
and pond lilies (Nuphar lutea) mixed with waterlilies.
Wild white waterlilies near the little town of
Lenin on the Sluzk River
Profile - Theo Germann
The city of Turow is located between Pripyat River branches
on a hill; the vegetation there is exposed to extreme periodic
water level variations. We found huge amounts of water-fennel
(Oenanthe fistulosa), mixed with mare's tail and arrowhead.
We were always tempted to make breaks on our day trips. The
landscape is untouched and worth seeing everywhere. We found
especially interesting vegetation near Lenin at the Sluzk River.
The whole river landscape is hilly and streaked with very old
oak trees between small and large ponds with wild white waterlilies.
It made a very special view, looking from above into those ponds
with their almost black water and uncountable white blossoms.
Next to the ponds, on the top of the hills, we could see thyme
(Thymus) and mouse-ear, also called hawkweed (Hieracium
pilosella), the perfect place for a lunch break with fish
soup and smoked meat.
I have to say thank you to Hans-Peter. We always had everything
we needed on our trip, enough food and vodka. Even the expected
mosquitoes were nice to us; we did not need the chemical repellent
Never-ending Typha vegetation
at Tscherwonje Lake
There are not a lot of tourists in Belarus, but there should
be because the nature is unique. "Cautious tourism"
could be a good source of income.
You can find a slide show with great pictures of our trip
on our German homepage www.wassergarten.de. Click on Fotoshow here:
Neu: Abenteuer Weissrussland - Die Wassergartenfreunde in den
Sümpfen von Prypiat hier die Fotoshow (6.64M download)