Wednesday, September 2, 2009

A Wikipedia Tour of Rural Slovakia

Due to some technical beef between my memory card and USB ports I am going to have to chill on the pictures for now. Unlucky for you, really. It's a lot of boring scenery mixed in with some drunken hilarity.

As an overall trip, the whole thing worked out perfectly. It was a near 10/10 with regards to logistical perfection and exceeding expectations. Caveat: I generally have low expectations these days. Seriously, when Jozef picked us up at the Poprad train station, somewhere around Friday midnight it all just felt right. He threw open his trunk to reveal an idle machete. Quickly, he brushed it aside. Then obscured it under our backpacks and duffel bags. We saw bear cubs on the way to the cottage. Thoughts of which would haunt me on hikes to follow. Our Slovak fluent friend Erika, lined-up a sweet crib in the small mountain town of Zdiar. Truth be told, homeboy Jozef was an ideal host and the perfect personification of my experiences in the 2 days that followed. Without a native Slovak though we would have been knee deep in shit creek, no doubt. Paddle-less, of course.

The trip changed my perceptions of Slovakia, seriously. A rural mountain village nestled adjacent the Polish border contrasts, much more than it compares with Bratislava. Upon arriving, it was immediately apparent the place we rented was awesome. Outside, the milky way glimmered above. At 896m elevation the big dipper shone directly ahead on the horizon. I had sort of forgotten what stars looked like, or maybe more accurately what stars feel like.

The next days Vancouver-esque climate deflated our motivation to hike. We found a cool cave to explore, which, by nature, was out of the rain. The 70 minute tour was eerie and alien. A cool experience no doubt. The 866 steps would prove as a mere warm-up for the hiking to come. A night around a kitchen table without music or a screen is a great way to explore the lost art of conversation. A fat bottle of Hruska is a helpful story-telling lubricant to have around. Convenient that it is ubiquitous in these parts.

The following day had us adventuring around Zakopone in search of a mysterious lake. The detour into town though was astonishing. Being from uber-expansive Canada it's odd to stroll across a pedestrian bridge and land in another country, complete with it's own currency and public transportation system. A bungee jump mishap -in which the girl tried to grab onto the platform too late after jumping- kept us entertained. I've never seen so many intricately decorated pieces of cheese.

Again, the scenery was absolutely astounding, epitomized when we finally arrived to Morskie Oko. Incredibly pristine.

Jozef picked us up somewhere around the border a few hours later. It didn't take us long to grab a crateful of beers and bag of sausages, and head to the fire pit. It was nice to get out of the city. The air was not nearly as refreshing as the people. That's saying a lot. The night flew by.

As close as I've come in awhile to a grueling climb, ensued the following day. 2 hours, about a third of which is best described as: scrambling up a 45 degree cliff face. Getting up the mountain was exhausting; getting down was mentally taxing. The view at the top was awe-inspiring. The peak altitude was just around 1825m. Meaning, we climbed a vertical kilometer in just over an hour. Not bad, given the hangovers and sleep-deprivation. I have lots of pictures, maybe they'll make it to the internet one of these days. I just need a technological epiphany.

On the train home it didn't take us long to find the dining car. A handful of hours later the only person with a higher bar tab than us was an old, heavily moustached, 9 fingered man, from the Kosice area. He yelled for vodka shots. Stood up with a fist in the air declaring the glory of Russia. Swore and shoved our shoulders when we laughed, before being told to sit down. One of the funnier things I've seen.

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