Sunday, December 14, 2014


By a twist of fate, winter gear has appeared on the road as a work of Divine Providence. First, Gabi´s wool gloves, which were found lying next to a bench on the Danube, and which now complete the accessory kit that started with an abandoned hat in Madrid and an orphaned neck buff which first appeared in Conques. For the feet, nothing better than some wellies of a poor recently deceased squatter at the abandoned mill that has been our home for a cold week. Meanwhile, Gabi is happy with some neoprene boots he was given in Slovenia, although I can´t complain either about the gloves that Clea (a Valencian who has been travelling with her family in a horse drawn cart for eleven years and has set up winter camp in Hungary)gave me. But what has really allowed us to enjoy cycling in colder conditions has been the idea of ​​Peter to take a couple of second hand anoraks and cut them and then sew them in a way to make mittens that are installed on the handlebars and with which we could travel to the North Pole. But let us take up where we left off to understand how we have linked up this set of circumstances that has made life easier.


We leave the goat farm and our next stop is 500 meters away. Janko and Drahuska ask us to spend a couple of days with them until I am completely cured of a bad cold that I caught the last few days and to let my little toe, which is still giving me trouble, mend. In this home a happiness that is mixed with the aromas from Drahomira´s oven and Janko´s magic potions is in the air. We do not know if we have been cured from all our ills by alternative medicine, good food or good vibrations, or perhaps due to mixing all three elements, but the fact is that we are loaded with positive energy to face a new stage in this journey. For over a month we will travel with a companion, not by choice but because we don´t have the guts to get rid of it: Janko has given us a pumpkin of two kilos, one of the best growing in his garden, but has a slit from one side to the other, like a sneer. We draw some eyes to emphasize the smile and christen him Bonifacio. It will take us almost a thousand kilometers to eat it. Hungary is where we accept the fact that it is better to eat Bonifacio before he goes bad. Our hostess, who performs the sacrifice, also understands us, so after beheading good old Bonifacio in order to grill his body, leaves his head in memory on the kitchen table.

Weeks before getting rid of Bonifacio, Monika helps us to start rolling again. She invites us to participate in her Spanish class in Piestani, and contacts a friend to host us there so we can have a small farewell party. Cycling after a month without using our bikes is worse than the first day, especially the very strong headwind that will accompany us the next few days. Equally pleasing is the company of soreness and a pain in our bottoms, which seem to have lost the callus that took many months to make. However, the biggest problem of returning to the road in November is the change in the weather, thanks to which the sun now sets at 4:30 pm. We have to change our habits to take advantage of the lazy November sun, which doesn´t seem to want to rise too high in the sky and lights the way with its golden light.

We are so unused to things that it seems that we have forgotten how to look for campsites. The day after we leave Piestani, we get to Hlohovec, just 30 km. down the Vah River, climb a small hill and stop to rest at a viewpoint from which we can see the broad valley. As we are tired of pedaling against the wind and sore all over, we decide to set up camp right there. Cars start coming and soon the place is packed with families who have come to enjoy the views and want to play with kites. The sun starts to set, but nobody leaves. One of the last families is particularly noisy, not the children, who are playing  with a mobile phone sitting on a bench two feet from our tent, but by the grandmother who enjoys flying her kite until the first stars appear. Then a couple arrives to cuddle on a nearby bench, a dog tries to enter our tent and two men close deals on the cliff. Another car arrives, and another. We've lost count. It´s two o'clock and a group of young people enjoy tinkering with the gears on our bikes. Tomorrow we hide better.

We continue along the Vah until it generously pours its water into the Danube. Since we are around here, it would be a shame not to try out one of the most famous cycling routes in Europe, so we will travel comfortably on the cycle path that runs along the river to Budapest, taking advantage of the low season. In fact, we only met another cyclist, who is trying to complete the route in record time and tape his adventure in video. It begins to look like we'll never get to Budapest, in the last kilometers everyone stops us, some just to chat, a man offers to take us home and let us camp in his garden and a woman brings us a piece of freshly baked apple pie. But the way into Budapest is not so friendly, and the lack of signs and roadworks make the process even more fun. But it´s worth it. Although normally we avoid big cities, Budapest seems lovely. We have to delay our departure one day because Gabi gets the one of the dumbest viruses that we´ll ever get while traveling: he says his stomach hurts, he feels nauseous, with his arms weak and cold, and it is this last symptom which is the worst of all. I do not believe him until two days later, on the road, I suffer from the same virus, and I have to say that the feeling of weakness in my arms is unbearable! Luckily it is a 24 hour virus and doesn´t keep us from continuing our way to Lake Balaton, the largest lake in Central Europe and tourist attraction in this part of Europe. Certainly not in winter when all the snack bars and restaurants are closed, and the fog hardly lets us see that there is a body of water beyond the overall whiteness. So that we can fully relax, it starts to rain just like old times.

Near the southern shore of Balaton awaits Sophie's family. She and her husband were two engineers with good jobs that made a good living in Germany until they realized that this was not what they were looking for, so they packed up and went to Hungary, where Zoltan´s (Sophie´s husband) grandfather, had a ranch in a small town. There they decided to start from scratch, fix the garden, a small farm and garden on the principles of permaculture and biodynamics, and raise their children homeschooling them. We spend the days we are with them to help them with their project in the garden and learn a lot of educational theories, non-violent language, alternative medicine and new ways of doing things.

"No-views" from Balaton Lake.
While in Budapest we uploaded to internet a picture of our bikes with the Parliament in the background. It was no big deal but the special effects with the camera made a great photo. Frida, a natural traveler who lives across the lake, saw the photo and invited us into her home, even though she would not be there. Sometimes these things happen, you get a spontaneous invitation from someone you do not know, but they tell you where to find the keys to their home if they have not yet arrived, and they open the doors of their home, telling you to help yourself to anything you need. Finally they arrive late at night, but bring some beer and some wine along with some pleasant conversation. The next day we will help her make homemade sunflower oil and will be eternally grateful for her travelers´ tips and enormous hospitality.

Frida making olive oil.

We will not see the sun for the next two weeks. On the way to Szalaszanto, where the largest stupa (Buddhist temple) in Europe is, we enjoyed its last rays. But the next morning when we descend into the dense fog that has covered Hungary, we realize that winter is knocking on the door. It´s not too cold according to the thermometer, we are three degrees above zero, but the damp fog catalyzes the feeling of cold to the bone. At breakfast it did not seem so terrible, when we were still on the hill above the low clouds, so we did not dress for the occasion and we are practically wearing the same clothes we wore in summer. We pedal fast on the flat terrain, with tears and mucus flying freely. The searing cold stabs our hands. No gloves, however waterproof and windproof they are isn´t enough, and we begin to seriously worry about having to pedal in these conditions over the coming months. Just in case we had any doubt about the route, now we decided to head for the Croatian coast "without delay".

Stupa in Szalaszanto.

Peter is worried about us, and soon after arriving to his house in Szalaegerszeg, he says he has seen an invention on internet to keep hands warm, like mittens worn by motorcyclists. You can buy them online for a hundred euros or make some homemade poguis for 5 euros, buying anoraks in a thrift store, cutting them halfway up the back and sewing them up again to cover the handlebars and arms. Said and done, the next day we go to the nearest store and spend all afternoon sewing. Today, the minimum temperature in which we pedaled was five below zero and with a few simple fingerless wool gloves inside the pogui we still feel warm.

Poguis finished.
Ready for winter.
We return to the road happy with our new additions, which also provide a distinctive flair, with the only worry that tomorrow is Gabriel´s birthday and I have no idea of how we could celebrate. We stop at the supermarket in the second largest town in Hungary before crossing the border with Slovenia, looking for a special treat for the occasion, when a woman interrupts our search. She asked us whether we are the owners of the bikes parked there at the door (how could she have recognized us?), She says that she is also a traveler, who left France five years ago and is spending the winter with another friend who is also traveling and also from Valencia. She invites us to accompany her, if only to have something warm, or if we want spend a few days with them or all winter! As we follow Elsa with our bikes, little by little, she tells us who they are and how they live. She has spent five years traveling in horse carts, accompanied by her two young daughters. Last season when she was working in the circus, she met a Valencian, Clea, who has also been traveling the same way, with her three children, goats and chickens for eleven years. In winter, these nomads usually set up "fixed" camps to ensure grazing for the horses and park the cart during the most difficult months. This time they have managed to contact a friendly Hungarian farmer who just rebuilt the old mill in Zalalovo that belonged to his family. As he lives in Budapest, it is convenient for him to have someone on his land, tending his farm and animals. The mothers equally excited as their children, convince us to stay with them for a few days until the big party they are preparing for Sunday, staying at the old mill that although there is no light, no running water, has a wood stove and a pair of mattresses.

Happy Birthday!

The next day it is wonderful to celebrate the birthday with a freshly baked cake, having spent the morning picking Jerusalem artichokes to feed the pigs. The days we are with them we spend helping them with the party preparations and gathering firewood, and when Sunday comes, we celebrate the birthdays of two of the girls. The guests who come are also cart drivers, travelers, musicians and circus performers. All the gifts that the children receive are all handmade: hand sewn saddlebags, a game of finding pairs made from walnut shells, some notebooks with custom-made covers with watercolor drawings... The party is enjoyed by everyone together, children and adults. We do not know who has a better time, those jumping rope or those participating in the makeshift orchestra. We all eat food, sweets and cakes that people have not bought, but prepared with what they have, however poor. Especially good is the quiche Clea has made from wild nettles instead of spinach. In the afternoon (or should I say night), everyone enjoys mime games, both children and adults, without a drop of alcohol, but laughing and dancing like drunks.

But since a chapter of this adventure with a healthy Ainhoa ​​is not a real chapter, on this occasion it´s some sort of stomach virus which almost everyone has had in the winter camp in Zalalovo, and will leave me half dead for the following week, several days and nights especially unpleasant. Seeing that the weather does not improve and that my stomach is a little more stable, we say goodbye to Elsa, Clea and their girls, with the firm conviction that we will meet again on some road who knows where. This world is incredibly small. Clea already had been traveling for a while eight years ago with another Dutch family we met in France, so it is not unlikely that in this random world we will meet, if not them, someone to give us news of so many wandering souls.

Cooking under the rain.
Slovenian Mountains.
We travel through Slovenia without seeing the sun. Low clouds cover everything as if they were fine lingerie: we dream that it is better to enjoy the mountain forms hinted to us instead of their more common form which is displayed shamelessly for summer tourists. We capture their beauty especially when we stop to catch our breath which we lost climbing the steep slopes of the forest covered mountains. In one such attempt to seek refuge one afternoon, the landowner discovers us. The woman gets out of the car, with a beer in her hand and asks something in Slovenian. We respond as we can and ask if she speaks English, so she calls the man who is driving. Their names are Eva and Roman, who do not hesitate a moment to ask us to follow them up to their ranch to sleep under hot roof and offer us abundant food and even more abundant drink and almost force us to wash all our clothing and shower. Roman lived eight years in the US and really savors the words he speaks in this language. Back in Slovenia, he now works for an agency for adventure sports on the Savinja River, and since he wants to help in any way possible, he gives us just a couple of neoprene boots of Gabi´s size. He has had a bit more luck, since the wellies that I got at the mill are four sizes too big for me, but since every cloud has a silver lining, I use extra pieces of the sleeves from the anorak that I cut for the poguis to use as extrawarm socks.

Eva, Roman and their horse.

When we return to the road, the content of my intestine decides not to move forward with me and we have to stop so often that in one day we only manage to do six kilometers. Finally we decide to buy something in a pharmacy and take a break in a hostel in Novo Mesto. Once again we hitchhike and the first car that sees us stops. So we cover the last 15 km that separate us from the city, where I can regain some health and strength. We are so encouraged that we decide to combine two days in one and do the last 80 miles to Slunj, where our host has been awaiting us for days, and who we've driven a little crazy with our delay. As a reward, the sun shines again. At night and at dawn this means that the temperatures plummet, and the landscape is completely covered by a sheet of ice, so that it seems to have snowed. We cross the border with Croatia and continue along wonderful roads up and down the hills, still white in shady areas. Winter has arrived.

No comments:

Post a Comment