US-born David McLean in mid-July set off on a 1,500 kilometre, 12-week hike across Slovakia. He will be contributing a bi-weekly journal of his adventures to The Slovak Spectator.
I left Trnava on a Tuesday morning, a cool, relatively clear day after all the rain of the first week. I crossed fields most of the day, stepping through mud and watching eagles overhead and eating plums along the way. Various plums line a lot of public roads, especially in farm country, and they're there for the taking.
I reached Jahodník village but had trouble finding a place to stay. One place would only rent full cabins, another was closed, a third had no reception or office. I decided I would sleep in the woods, but storm clouds were brewing, so I went back to the closed place and poked around. There I met Jano, the caretaker. I told him of my dilemma and he agreed to give me a cabin for a small fee. He even brought me a hot plate and made me coffee.
It was a damp, dank cabin full of beds and musty linen. There was no running water, but Jano had collected rain water for flushing toilets and washing dishes. I had trouble sleeping due to the smell, but I was grateful for the space, especially as the rain pounded down all night. Around four a.m., a critter crawled in upstairs and for an hour I listened to what I think was a medium-sized mammal devouring a small mammal. There were claws scrabbling and the sound of bones crunching. In the morning I checked upstairs for a carcass, but found none. The nocturnal dinner seems to have taken place between floors, or under the staircase.
In the morning I headed off and after a tour of Smolenice Palace, I accidentally climbed the highest peak in the Malé Karpaty mountains (Záruby). I tried to avoid it, but lost the trail, then found the only way out was up. It was hard going, but the view from the top was magnificent. I could see my entire 26 km walk from the day before in a glance.
Then I fell off the mountain. Going up had been hard; heading down was a nightmare, akin to descending a glacier in bedroom slippers. Each step was either on slick mud or slippery stones. I fell twice, once catching myself, the second time pitching forward onto some rocks, adding a popsicle-sized bruise to my left forearm and gouging a nasty coin slot into my left shin. I was relieved to reach safe ground.
The land has a way of providing. The plums, as mentioned, but after my fall on Zaruby, I lost the trail and ran out of water. Two hours later I hadn't run across so much as a krčma to fill up. I still had two hours to Dobrá Voda, my proposed stop point, but I was spitting feathers, as the English say. Then, as if by magic, I was drawn down a driveway, thinking I might knock on a door and ask for a drink. I didn't need to. There was a little cistern drawing water from a stream. There was even an old yogurt cup to drink from. I sat down in the rain and began gulping the cold, clear water.
The drink seemed to change my luck. The rain stopped and I got to Dobrá Voda in good form. Instead of the usual closed chaty and lack of accommodation, there was Pohoda, a summer rec area. Within minutes of arriving I had a room, the promise of a shower, a cold beer, and was chatting with three young soldiers on leave. Then dance music started blaring and three scantily clad models began practising their catwalk strut in the restaurant. There was a summer modelling school taking place in that very place.
I spent one night in Dobrá Voda and the next day met the soldiers after lunch and spent the night at their cabin in the woods near Naháč. We, of course, played guitar, sang songs, ate slanina and drank lots of home-made repak, or distilled beet juice. I left them early in the morning, a long 34 km ahead of me.
I returned to Dobrá Voda to start where I'd officially stopped (we'd driven to the cabin in the woods). I then headed for Piešťany, over the hills and out of the Malé Karpaty. After a quick look at Chtelnica, I headed across fields of sugar beet and sunflower and wheat. The fields had dried sufficiently and the wheat harvest was in full swing. The field walks on previous days had been quiet. This one was a mass of combines and trucks and tractors cutting hay and threshing wheat.
I passed three farm-workers taking a break. They asked about my trip and we chatted for a minute. The big, jovial one then offered me a raspberry soda. As I left, he winked and tossed me a second bottle of soda. The only trouble that day was a 400 metre battle with thistle, nettle and bramble I faced due to a mismatch in land and map. I have to admit it: the plants won.
I rested in Piešťany. I took a thermal bath and got a massage and wandered around between cups of coffee and ice cream cones. I learned in Piešťany that comfort is a danger on this trip: I was sorry to head off on Sunday morning on tired legs, but I did. Two days and about 55 km later I arrived limping into Trenčín.
It's been a great start to the trip. I've already seen a Slovakia I'd never seen before, and met nothing but pleasant people along the way. Looking forward to turning south in a day or two.
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I love the writings of David McLean, and I hope to read this as a book someday!
Good on you Dave, keep on trekking mate! I hope you finish it. Good luck!
Go, David, Go!!! I admire people with the determination and long-range vision to attempt such mammoth projects. Looking forward to the book. Best wishes for a blister-free hike!!
Godspeed and good luck!
13. Aug 2001 at 0:00 | David McLean