A Hippie's Take On Dacha Life

The domed shadow of a collapsing church fell across the frozen mud road of the village of Dubrovki. Three horses stamped silently in the moonlight, waiting to take their riders across the Kholokholnya River to Uncle Pasha"s dacha.

In the morning, Pasha"s guests awoke to cold rooms, chickens cackling on the roof, fried okra and a stunning view of the 18th-century church across the frost-covered ravine of the Kholokholnya Ч a tributary of the Volga.

The cold rooms, chickens, vegetarian menu and amazing view were all part of the experience at Uncle Pasha"s Dacha Ч a rural, vegetarian retreat that Paul Voitinsky, aka Uncle Pasha, bills as "Russian Misery Tourism Ч for the sophisticated misanthrope in you.'

"Who cares about wimpy --reality tourism" when you can partake in the real thing?' Pasha asks rhetorically on his distinctive, homemade web site, www.unclepasha.com.

You might say that Pasha, who speaks fluent English, has tried to position himself as a sort of eco-tourism option Ч taking for himself the part of the stereotypical surly Russian, but living in less-than-stereotypical fashion.

The veneer of misanthropy is carried out with a wink and a nod, however, and is mostly expressed as harmlessly eccentric kookiness, gentle tirades, lectures on the English and Russian languages and hands-off, do-as-you-like hosting.

That is the essence of Pasha"s place.

Littered with idiosyncratic signs in English and Russian telling people what to do and how to do it, Uncle Pasha"s dacha is a haven for independent-minded types who have spent too much time in the city and just want to get their hands dirty Ч although for a little extra cash you can avoid the chores.

For 1,500 rubles (around $65) a day per person, guests get the VIP treatment. According to the web site, this means "you are not expected to do anything but enjoy.'

This means assistance with the four horses, riding lessons, prepared (vegetarian) meals, no washing up, drinks and "two hours (a day) of my undivided attention,' Pasha writes on the web site.

The more authentic Pasha experience, however, is the one where you are not treated like a pasha.

This 1,000 ruble option covers everything "as is,' according to the web site. A guest at this level is somewhere between an unhired hand and a drifter Ч but having a lot more fun.

At this level, visitors have to chop their own wood, build their own fires and saddle and groom the horses (although Pasha is pretty protective of them and his staff takes care of most things). You also have to cook and clean up after yourself.

Though the prospect of cooking, cleaning, saddling, splitting, stacking, lighting and grooming sounds more like working than a weekend getaway, you get closer to another "ing' this way Ч living.

Pasha"s dacha was built in the 1940s and he bought it about seven years ago. On his web site he describes the place as having a "minimalist level of creature comfort: bathtub in the kitchen, warm water in buckets, running water in the stream down the hill, outhouse outside. Did you expect anything else for $25 per day including unlimited rides?'

And the rides are unlimited Ч or rather, because there are only four horses, they are limited only by the number of people who have haphazardly arranged for times.

There are no bridle trails, so on the second day, the horse I was riding, Lyagushka (also nicknamed Kicker, since he kicks) turned right out of the gate at a slow clop, passed by a few boarded-up dachas and out into a field of rolling farmland blanketed in deep snow.

John Wendle / MT
Horseback riding is included in the low price but is first-come, first-served Ч random signs make for a fun atmosphere.
Lyagushka, like all the horses, is very responsive, even for those who do not know how to ride. Negotiating a slippery, snow-covered descent to the Kholokholnya, the horse opened up into a passable gallop and then, reaching the Volga, took a rest.

Maybe he sensed the snow coming Ч the rider ahead disappeared in a dense snow flurry that covered the horse in a white coating in seconds, although just a minute earlier, the Volga showed the reflection of a clear blue sky.

But just as quickly, the weather changed back to sunny skies, and the horses clumped up the steep dirt track and entered the yard of the dacha, a log cabin painted bright red, trimmed with white.

The dacha itself is decorated in a style that is a mix between a Michigan hunting lodge decked out by Hunter S. Thompson and a traditional Russian izba.

Besides the signs, books on lesser known Russian physicists, pulp detective novels, horror film DVDs and abacuses dot the walls of the house"s main room, which sleeps about six more or less comfortably.

In one corner, a big traditional, whitewashed clay fireplace glows.

The kitchen is as idiosyncratic as the man.

Saffron and curry Ч two spices not normally found in the Russian countryside Ч can be found next to the much more traditional dill. A traditional Russian brown clay pot is filled with bright pink pickled ginger. Cooking is done on a gas ring or an electric hot plate Ч and meat is a touchy subject.

The main room and kitchen are connected in the back to a slapped-together room called the Hobo Hole, which is warm, comfortable enough and private, with two twin beds and a pretty door painted bright blue and white.

Maybe the most comfortable room is a two-person loft above the detached banya, which itself is sometimes pressed into service as a single room.

In the winter, Pasha"s place can sleep around 11, and in the summer he provides tents, which allows the number of guests to swell to around 30.

Uncle Pasha"s Dacha, though not exactly eco-tourism, is a close approximation and is a fairly inexpensive do-it-yourself holiday in the countryside. The experience has a strong dash of hippie ethos and Russian idiosyncrasy, combined with laid-back bonfires, free horseback rides, banyas, church and countryside exploration, carriage and sleigh rides and jaunts in a leaky, pink-painted boat in the summer.

Misanthrope or no, it"s a fun time on the Volga.

Getting There

The house is reached by driving two hours up either the Novorizhskoye Shosse or the Leningradskoye Shosse. Once in the Tver region, head towards Staritsa. You can arrange to either drive or be met by horses in Staritsa and take the 40-minute ride back along the Volga. This part of the drive takes you along a somewhat difficult road down to the Volga. The second option has less off-roading but forces you to either leave your car in Dubrovki, across the Kholokholnya, or to ford the stream.


Pasha highly discourages calls but answers e-mails quickly. His e-mail addresses are paul_voytinsky@yahoo.com and manfriday@yandex.ru. He will accept calls if they are not too late, but it is best to make reservations through e-mail.

He can be reached at 8-910-932-5546.