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Following the trail of the Čergov wolves

I must confess that my knowledge of wolves was limited before last year. They hunt in packs, pull lost Russians from their troikas and are a menace to Little Pigs and small girls' grandmothers. This was the extent of what I knew.
When I returned to Scotland after the summer to prepare for another year in Slovakia, I began researching the literature on wolves. I was surprised to find descriptions of a family-centered, social animal which is very shy of people. It seemed that, rather than be attacked as soon as I was alone in the forest at night, I was going to have to put a lot of effort into finding wolves and would be very lucky if I saw them at all.

I must confess that my knowledge of wolves was limited before last year. They hunt in packs, pull lost Russians from their troikas and are a menace to Little Pigs and small girls' grandmothers. This was the extent of what I knew.

When I returned to Scotland after the summer to prepare for another year in Slovakia, I began researching the literature on wolves. I was surprised to find descriptions of a family-centered, social animal which is very shy of people.

It seemed that, rather than be attacked as soon as I was alone in the forest at night, I was going to have to put a lot of effort into finding wolves and would be very lucky if I saw them at all.

My first attempt to locate the wolves of Čergov resulted in me shivering through the night of the Winter Solstice at minus 25 degrees Celsius and wading through knee-high snow during the day. We Scots pride ourselves on being tough, bearing the cold dressed in just a kilt (no underwear) and surviving in all conditions with a little whisky to fuel the heart. But this was really frustrating. I am not used to walking less than one kilometer in an hour. And there were no wolves.

I persevered with a British stiff upper lip and, after another couple of failures, I finally discovered, almost by accident, the tracks of one, another and another - five - wolves. My excitement - and fear - were enormous. Here, below the ridge, not more than a couple of hours before me, a pack of wolves had run silently past.

The only live wolves which I had ever seen were in Whipsnade Zoo in England. Looking at the fresh prints in the snow, it was easy to imagine the wolves weaving in and out of the trees, intimately aware of their companions, the landscape and the scents carried to them on the breeze.

I didn't see the wolves that day, but as I lay in my sleeping bag, looking up at the stars through the branches above me, a song drifted across the valley. I have heard wolf howls described as lonely, plaintive cries to an empty world. That was not what I heard.

As sleep drifted slowly over me, I was listening to the comforting, harmonic sounds of a neighbouring family preparing to go out to dinner, at home in an area where their forebears have lived for countless generations, with wolves always near.

This article originally appeared in the Wolf Forest Protection Movement's quarterly journal.


S&S Travel Tips for Prešov

Prešov's Mestský informačný servis has moved a few meters down to Hlavná 67 (tel. 091/186). Once you have negotiated the tricky path formed by the two sets of doors, the staff is very friendly and helpful, but there is very rarely anybody there who speaks English. If you really have trouble communicating, English Services in the Agrostav building, just south of the town center at Masaryková 10 (tel. 091/724-572), could be your savior, as it was for those Aulstralian back-packers.

Getting There

By Train- New inter-city trains from Bratislava to Košice make the journey a little more comfortable and faster. The IC Tatran leaves Bratislava daily at 5:50; change at Kysak and take a local train to arrive at 11:26. Alternatively, the IC Krivaň leaves Bratislava at 17:40. Again, change at Kysak, to arrive in Prešov at 22:48. Both of these trains run via Poprad-Tatry so you should have some good views on the way, weather permitting.
By Bus - There are four direct buses a day in each direction, but all make for a gruelling journey of around nine hours, 264 Sk one way.

Once you are in Prešov, almost all buses and trolleys heading north along the main street outside the bus and train stations (which are opposite each other and linked by an underpass) head into the middle of town.

Lodging

Hotel Dukla- Nám. Legionarov 2, tel. 091/722-741. Between the train and bus stations and the town center. It costs approximately 600 Sk per person and has a popular restaurant.
Hotel Sen- Vajanského 65, tel. 091/733-710. Also, very central but only around 200 Sk.
Škola Stroinicka- Sabinovska 2, tel. 091/718-547. For those on a tighter budget the student hostel at Stredná Priemyselna opposite the Hotel Šariš offers cheap rooms when available.

Dining

Lahôdky Eckhaus- Hlavná 21. Perfect if you arrive early in the morning for breakfast, offered from 6:30 on weekdays, 7:00 on Saturday and 8:00 on Sunday.
U Richtára- Hlavna 71, tel. 091/723-236. Go downstairs into a traditional Slovak atomosphere for a variety of Slovak dishes.
Gazdovsky dvor- Levočská 20, tel. 091/716-089. Good home-grown meat.
Reštaurácia Martin- Jarková 25, tel. 091/731-850. Small but pleasant establishment with traditional Slovak fare. Near Hlavná ulica.

Topic: Tourism and travel in Slovakia


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