Saturday, October 04, 2014


    There's no better break to work on a goat farm with only one goat. Four months after we left home, with over 5,000 miles on their backs, it does not hurt to park the bike for a while. If the bike can also relax in Katrien's stables, much better. We find this Slovak Paradise through an Internet page called Workaway, which brings together volunteers with people who need help with different kinds of work, (which may be teaching English to the family, making beds in a hotel on the beach, taking care of the dogs on holiday or even building a house). The volunteer does not receive any financial compensation, but in exchange usually receives food and shelter. Therefore, it is a great opportunity to learn things along the way and feel useful for the first time in a long time.

The Family.

    Our farm is actually a farmhouse situated high on a hill in the White Carpathians. Here we live with a couple of cats, a dog, a goat, four hens and three horses. Katrien lives here with her fifteen year old son following the principles of permaculture, cultivating her garden in a traditional way and completely ecological, preparing their own bread, cheese and preserves, a virtually self-sufficient lifestyle. Getting everything you need from the land itself and the revenue derived by renting a cottage attached to the farm as a Bed & Breakfast.

    When we've been here a week, while preparing cheese, she says half joking and half seriously if we do not want to stay here another month so she can go to Spain to finish the Camino de Santiago, which she began long ago but left around Logroño due to excruciating foot pain. A final challenge for a woman who twenty years ago walked all around Europe for twelve months. Although October would still be a good month for cycling through Central Europe, we prefer to give up visiting the Ukrainian Carpathians to rest for a while in this idyllic location. But before Katrien takes the flight to Spain and by a twist of fate, sleeps on our couch, her parents come to Brestové to continue the task of reform at home, so we have two weeks' holiday "before returning to our lives as farmers". Initially we plan to spend those 15 days doing other volunteer work, maybe the straw house our neighbors  are building, or maybe in another goat farm in northern Slovakia. Finally, our spirit gets to us and we return to the road for a rougher journey than we could have ever imagined.

The goat farm with only one goat.
    When we leave the farm and we go down the hill, the sun burns our faces. We haven't trusted the weather for a long time, so now we never even look at the weather report ... although sometimes it would not hurt. We planned a route through the western half of Slovakia that will take us to the most famous castles of the area, or so we thought. We enjoy a summer morning until we get near the  Čachtice Castle. The walls that we curiously admire today, and which are just ruins were once covered with terror, and the lady of the castle turned the place into a nightmare. The beautiful Countess Bathory Elizabeh could not simply resign herself to getting old. Legend has it that one day as a maid combed her hair, she pulled on it a bit too hard. The Countess furiously punched her in the face, which began to bleed. The blood which  flowed from the cut face splattered onto the Duchess' face, who, when cleaning the stain, thought she had discovered that the area of the face on which the blood had dripped now was smoother and younger. Then she thought that the fountain of youth may be in the blood of maidens, madness which was fueled by the advice of witches which she surrounded her. For years she dedicated herself to torturing and bleeding to death an unimaginable number of girls (their enemies speak of over 600) until it was discovered and she was condemned to be walled up  in the wall of the same castle where she had committed the murders.

The ancient home of bloody Bathory.

    With good weather, distance and ignorance, the ruins of the Cachtice Castle look beautiful on the hill. At its feet there is a river where they have built a covered picnic area with a place for a fire with a small forest area which is accessed by a precarious wooden bridge. We like the place so much that we decide to spend the rest of the afternoon instead of continuing to the town of Nove Mesto, or at least until the next gas station to buy fuel to cook. Luckily we manage to make a fire despite the wet wood, at least today we can eat something hot. In the evening  the sky is clouding over; at dawn, raindrops splash on the roof of the tent. The morning progresses, but given the situation, we decide not to get out of our sleeping bags yet. When we start  to feel hungry, we get up energy and go out to the flood. Going back to the road does not seem the best idea, so we decide to stay an extra day at the picnic area, when we realize that a mouse has just eaten a good chunk of the saddlebag where we have our food. Perfect for a rainy day. It takes a few agonizing hours to relight the fire with a few sticks dripping water, and to eat  more than bread and jam. With the hope that tomorrow the sun will come out again, the afternoon goes by  and we go to sleep. Heavy rain and wind don't let us sleep. 

Hungry mice.
A hard rain day.

    In the morning Gabi  unzippers the tent to take a look at things, and wakes me with a question that I do not like: "Holy God! Did you leave your bike well chained?” Before I have  time to reply, Gabi has run outside: the river has overflowed and luckily I'm  very paranoid and changed the bike to a strong tree that was a distance from the river. But at this point, the river has became a torrent that threatens that tree and hides the wheels of my bike on the other side of  the bridge. To get to the other side and reach the road again we have to get into the river which is dragging down trees, up to our waists. We pick up as fast as we can, wring the water out of the sleeping bags,  shake the mud out of the tent, and cross to the other side before the river floods the entire place. 

When we arrived, it was a brook.

    And we are lucky: our Slow Cycling friends who are also "enjoying" the storm in the Balkans, were having a beer in a sheltered place when suddenly the water began to enter the bar. After  bailing water for a while, they went back with the worst feelings to the campsite where they were staying, where they found everything floating around, including a reflex camera which they tried to revive with rice " baths". They had to wait for the firefighters to  give them permission to go in as the water level reached their waists. There weren't many casualties, but the tent looked as if it had been attacked by a polar bear.

Using the imagination to dry the tent.

    We could not imagine that over the next five days the rain would not give us one truce. It took nearly four days to reach Trencin, which is 40 km from the goat farm. Only we can follow a cycle path in Slovakia in this rain, four hours to travel 5 km, with mud up to our knees. One night we were able to find a covered place at the back  of a residential community, where we  put the tent on the saddlebags, like a barn, and scooped the water out. With sleeping bags we can not do much more than wring them again and again to get rid of all the water possible, but we slept wrapped in a layer of wet feathers. Even the food is wet, because  of the mouse that opened a way of ventilation in the saddlebag. The weather  takes its toll on our morale and we feel trapped, because we can not turn around and return to the farm while it´s being reformed, but we do not know whether we will be able to reach the house of Jan and Evit in Banská Bystrica and back in time for Katrien to be able to catch her flight. 

Sometimes, it is our fault.
We would have regreted if we had given up. Bojnice Castle.

    While eating sauerkraut reheated in a bus stop, we decide to move on; we know that if we do not,  we will regret it. We climb the mountains of central Slovakia until the Visyhrad pass. A good weather window for an hour lets us get a view of the mountain ranges that are all around us, but the sky darkens once again not with  gray but black clouds, and we know that we only have five minutes to find a spot. We push the bike up the second highest hill, just in time for me to find shelter under a tree and for Gabi to crawl under a tarp, which he has  anchored to the ground looking for some shelter. Someone has busted the windows of heaven, and it is accompanied by a strpmg wind that makes us fear for our integrity. At the top of the hill we suffer the worst conditions that we have ever had so far, five downpours that separate us  for more than an hour. When it appears that the clouds are empty, we hurry to set up the tent to be more comfortable than under the tree or huddled under the tarp. But history repeats itself (this time it's our fault) and one of the tent poles splits. No time for messing about, it is best to cut your losses. We take the knife and that Albert gave us and try a fix it. When we finish the operation, it's almost dark,we cook groping around and leave the breakfast things inside the tent, because we assume that in the morning it will be pouring again. And  just the day we bought the nastiest bread that can be found in Central Europe, with a pungent smell "something stale indefinitely" that permeate the walls of  the tent  for days. Fighting the smell, in the distance we hear the cry of a deer that does not mind the weather since it is busy with other duties. Good evening to enjoy the bellow, which did not stop until seven o'clock the next day, of course, it was still raining.

Ready for the next storm.

    After almost a week of being soaked, I can not go on and ask Gabi to give us the luxury of sleeping in a roadside motel and  let everything  dry, the tent, the bags, the food and our spirits. Like a bad joke, it does not rain that night, but we don't miss our appointment with water the next day. When we arrive in Banska Bystrica we can do nothing but apologize for turning the house into a dryer. But our hosts understand us well: last year they decided that the best way to celebrate their honeymoon was cycling around Latin America, for which they took a year and a half instead of the normal fifteen days. With them we spent a few days to make it all worth it,  the fire that does not light, the flood, the hole in the bag, the bellowing, Slovak drivers ... everything is like a nice anecdote that readers enjoy more than if we told them nice things. When we leave Banska we have the feeling of having found friends along the way, we'll see them again sooner or later. But it's back to the farm, Katrien has to catch a plane.

This is what happens when Jan can't find a corkscrew.
Our Slovakian family.
Tics!! Came to me!!

    The return trip has better weather and is not as difficult. We enjoy sleeping in the castle ruins of Pusty Hrad in Zvolen without listening to the rain on the roof for the first time in a long time. When we come down from the mountain we do not take the right path and we suddenly found ourselves heading toward the highway, where at the entrance the police stop us. We explain that it was a mistake, the roads are poorly marked, and when we saw the first warning of highway it was also was the last. After drawing us a map to get us out of there (and warn us that the fine for not wearing a helmet is 20 € in Slovakia), they stop the traffic in the opposite direction so that we cam escape the impasse. Law enforcement officials are treating us well in  this country. At night, a park ranger warns us to be alert in the place we have chosen to pitch our tent, because there are bears. Although the only thing we fear is that the dead animal smell in the environment will replace the stale bread that it was only a bad memory.

Pusty Hrad, Zvolen.

    We continue the trip without incident until two days before returning to Brestové, the brilliant idea of juggling on an unstable granite stone occurs to me. The rock slides, I fall and a sharp edge cuts into my big toe (because until the mercury does not fall we continue wearing flip flops). The wound bleeds profusely, and climbing a mountain the next day will not help the process of healing much, but it will be a lesser evil in my bloodied left foot.

With Kathy, suffering the terrible life of a farmer woman.

    We say goodbye to Katrien and prepare for the hermit life of a farmer on a goat farm with only a goat. However, they will be full of social life. The first week we are here Kathy, Gabi's mother visits us, and I'm so happy that I kick the bike lock  barefoot and break my little toe on the same foot that is taking all the hits . This forces me to take my farmwork more calmly, but does not prevent us from enjoying visits and neighbors. When the two volunteers who come to help neighbors with the straw house and have lived with us for ten days leave, Monika takes care of us. This energetic woman lived in Elche for many years and speaks Spanish better than us. She makes us feel at home and introduces us to  the whole neighborhood. Zuzka, Vlad, Roman, Janko, Kaja, Barborka, Drahuska, Maria, Tao, Piri ... Slovakia is a special country, no doubt. A second home for us, a place from which we get a lot, but it has also given us something  forever in this  valley of Moravské Lieskové.

An Angel called Monika.

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