Church in Medzilaborce/Gipsy believers with food baskets/Priest
This Sunday, in Slovakia, is ‘second Easter Sunday’. I spend the day in Medzilaborce, with also the parents of my friend Lenka. With her mother I go the church there. Mother Helena has a basket with food with her, for it again to be blessed. At our arrival at the church, there is already a number of women waiting with their baskets, this time not inside the church but around it. From loudspeakers outside, we hear what is going on inside the church. After a while I go see inside. It becomes a boring and long-lasting service. Again outside, I see that the crowd has grown considerably, including a lot of gipsy families. Two hours after our arrival, the priest and his servants come out and t ceremony starts. He walks around the church, abundantly spraying holy water, from a 25-litre bucket, with a large fluffy brush. After this blessing, we hurry home, mother Helena with pain in her back from standing and waiting that long. At home, food is served and we enjoy the sunny day for a while. My friends’ parents are travelling home by train, halfway the afternoon. I go back to Humenné one hour later. Just on my way, still in Medzilaborce, I am stopped by police for identity control. The young policeman asks my identity document. I hand him my driving license. He looks at it, confers with his older colleague, comes back and asks my passport. I don’t have that with me, so I tell him: ‘under European law, my driving license with photo, is sufficient.’ He backs off, confers with his colleague again, hands me my driving licence and let me off the hook: they don’t have a clue.
There is still no news from Ukraine, so the trip to see my friend Mykola in L’Viv becomes uncertain. I checked my TomTom anyway and this told me the length and duration of the trip from Humenné.
For work at the clinic I bought a steel saw and cut sharp screw- and nail points. I helped laying linoleum in two of the larger shelters for cats. Transportation of dogs to and from the suburb where gipsies live, is becoming a routine.
All dogs are available for adoption: Pincher Johanka and Ella, Tara, Lady, Bobby.
At home, in the apartment, the washing machine is causing troubles. After washing sheets, the programme stopped at the spinning and indicated a blocked sieve. After draining by hand and checking the sieve, where no blockage was found, the machine still refused to finish the programme. It probably requires a technician to deal with this problem.
Early morning view with red sky/Church with clouds on the way to Michalovce.
With Lenka driving the garage borrowed car, we go to Michalovce to get her own car back. The winter tires have been replaced. At the dealers for Mitsubishi and Kia, I check prices for middle class cars. You have a brand-new car for under € 15.000. Probably they have, in Slovakia, the same system like in Germany where one does not have to pay the BPM tax like in Holland.
Two big fellows came to the animal clinic, arguing but in the end paying €105 for the treatment of the dog of one of the guys. The dog had been treated for days at the clinic in January. After the treatment the owner got his dog back, but the animal died anyway. Only now the owner and his mate came to pay for the treatment. I was told they are cops!
Trimming Lilly (one of three).
On my bicycle one day, I come past a bicycle shop where three men are standing outside. I am hailed and react, returning from my way. I am told that my tires are not hard enough. They pump them up and we have a funny conversation.
On Friday I was busy with my cell phone, because it told me I could only do ‘emergency calls’. I suspected to be short of credit so I tried to increase that. It failed on Friday and also on Saturday morning. A chat with an employee from my bank helped: switch off and on your phone. I worked. I did, by the way, still have sufficient credit.
Early Saturday morning, I switch on the TV as usual when waking up. The news about the attack of Syrian targets by USA, France and England filled the screen. Of course, I followed the news for a while, but it was very ‘breaking’ and not very detailed. One specific detail amazed me somewhat: I wrote my registration of the trip in Argentina earlier this week, including a discussion in Bajo Caracoles with some European travellers. They were concerned about a speech by Jeltsin of Russia, threatening with WW3! That discussion took place exactly 19 years ago, and now this event. Amazing coincidence?
On the way to Bystre/Home in Bystre.
You want to hide? On Saturday my car was loaded with laundry from the clinic and bottle tops that are worth money: bags full. Lenka guided me to a hamlet called Bystra, in the middle of the countryside, not far from Medzilaborce. You can reach it only via a horrible road inland. At arrival there, we are met with some young people and a very old grandmother. They are taking in the goods, for washing and for selling. We are presented a large cake in the form of a heart, for the birthday of Maria, Lenka’s aunt in Medzilaborce.
Argentina on horseback. 1999, April 8-April 14.
Wednesday, the 7th of April, finished at Ea. El Delphin.
I water Jut and Jil, here at the yard, and leave them to find their own way. I am terribly tired and go to bed early.
Thursday, the 8th of April. 38th travelling day. Departure from Ea. El Delphin. After a good night sleep, I take my time for maté with Manuel. While I am busy with packing, Manuel is gone. He went to find Jul and Jil. When he is back, we have a good breakfast with meat, maté and torta fritta. The weather is fine: a bit of sun and a cool breeze. Manuel explained me how to go and we part. I still thing it necessary to keep Jut at a lead, but it appears a drag. I find a solution after a lot of experimenting. We make good progress now and I can relax and take time to look around. Again, the road is flat and straight, endless straight. I am riding the ‘meseta de asador’. After this plateau, I see a next one with in between the partly with snow covered mountains of the Andes. Two corpses of foxes, probably, are hung from a fence. Small type Armadillos and Tucu Tucus (looks like a Guinea Pig) are rapidly fleeing when we close in on them. Around half past six, we arrive at the planned destiny: Hotel Rio Olnie. The place is looking neat, placed directly at the roadside. I am met by a friendly gaucho, who presents me a bucket and shows me a tap. Both Jut and Jil empty two buckets of water. The gaucho and Pablo, an 8-y old boy, are curiously following all my moves. Pablo’s lovely grandmother, Raquel, is here to take care for two weeks, while her son is on holiday. When the horses are cared for, I settle inside. There is an enormous bar, with a large variety of goods, but no cigarettes. Again, I have to explain my financial situation, with only $7 cash left. I was already told that a meal would cost me $10. I hand over my $7 to grandma, so now I am without cash. I tell them that I will cook my own, which I do: presto pronto, tin of fish, some salsa, onion and garlic. It tastes fabulous. From where I am cooking, I see Jut and Jil, together with a large white horse, happily grazing. Back in the hotel, I rub my belly to show them I ate. I take a chair underneath the only light to write my diary. I am hardly seated, when they put a plate, fork, serviette and a can of cool water in front of me. The plate is soon loaded with two large schnitzels, mashed potato and freshly backed torta fritta. When I am finished eating I may join them drinking mate. During writing my diary, the generator stops working, so we are in the dark. A gas lamp appears, but writing is no longer possible. Soon, all of us are sitting at the enormous bar, listening to my radio and talking. Grandma allows me to smoke her cigarettes. At 10 everybody goes to bed. I have to find my way in the dark, because the batteries of my lantern are nearly empty and charging is no longer possible. One of the connections to my 12V dry cell battery is broken. On my way to bed, I enjoy the sight of the sky, in absolute silence, impressive, crystal clear. I am feeling tiny but very happy.
Friday, 9th of April, the 39th travelling day. Days are becoming rather short, winter in Argentina. Usually I am up at 5 or 6 and it is then too dark to get started. I might find a way to organize my own 12V light to work with. It’s an idea for later, in a town with shops. The gaucho called me for morning maté and before leaving, at 10, grandma gives me a pack of cigarettes. I am riding Jut today and that requires some adjustments in my body: Jil is riding much more pleasant. Soon, we reach ‘el Rio Olnie’. I see no current and only few water, but sufficient for the horses. Far away I spot 5 horses; they run when we are closing in. The view is, again, amazingly beautiful with hill, flats and to the left the mountain tops with snow, ice-cold glowing in the early morning sun. It is good weather, but after a while I have to dress up again. Very regularly, I find gates in the fences where two corpses of foxes are hung, either fully mummified or some with still some skin on them. It is not very busy on road nr.40: in all there were two cars seen. The last 10 kms are going downhill on a strong winding road. Because I have a clear view, I can take a short cut, avoiding the hairpins. After passing the last gate, before reaching Bajo Caracoles I think, I spot 6 horses not too far away. I don’t know why, but I whistle on my fingers, loud and shrill. I should not have done that. The 6 horses just look while Jil, who was probably trotting asleep on the automatic pilot, reacted alarmed, took a run kicking his hind legs. He is carrying the luggage and that comes of during this action. Fortunately, Jill calms down soon enough, but the whole situation took me half an hour to restore the damage, while the 6 horses are watching quietly from a distance. Just back into the saddle, I spot an armadillo, trying to do as if he is not there. I leave the saddle fast and hunt down the animal. From a distance it must have been an extremely odd view, one man in a ski-overall running around and moving his legs in all directions. I catch the armadillo just when it tried to enter a hole in the ground. I studied the creature for a while avoiding getting urine or crap all over. The poor animal is clearly terrified. I get mounted again and now I see much more of these creatures, but also many objects of interest, like a large stone with beautiful collared crystals and other stones looking like tools or arrow tops. A museum would have been interested I guess. We enter a large valley but I see no village. It is a nice valley, with some sheep, surrounded by high planes, flat ones and round ones, with afar the mountain range silent and sunny. In the distance I see a cloud of moving dust and I move into that direction. Around a hilltop, suddenly I see the village: tiny, not much more then a large farm. An eleven-year-old boy, Daniel, tells me how to get there. The road looks like a snail’s shell and at the bottom lays Bajo Caracoles (translated as: at the bottom of the snail’s shell). This settlement is, in fact, no more then a conglomerate of amenities, like a police station, hotel (annex supermarket and petrol station), a satellite telephone station with sun panels and a large disk antenna, workshop, school etcetera. Furthermore, a simple road structure with public lighting. I park my horses at the hotel. Soon many people are involved in helping me and my horses settle: I get an ice cold Gancia and Jut and Jil are fed and watered. Claudio is the innkeeper. With him I organize myself and, most important, a trip to Perito Moreno. Claudio lends me money to cover for a night in Perito Moreno, from Sunday to Monday. Monday morning the bank is open. After a simple evening meal, I walk around a bit and cuddle Jut and Jil, lazily standing in the shadow of some tress. Daniel tells me that Bajo Caracoles has 48 inhabitants. At 9 in the evening, two generators are started to provide electricity for the settlement. One hour after midnight, the generators are switched off. Before going to bed, I enjoyed a lovely shower.
Saturday, 10th of April. It is a quiet day. A gaucho, Jorge, cares for Jut and Jil (for $30). The of my dry cell battery is arranged for tomorrow. I slept three hours in the afternoon. I am not the only passing stranger. A cycling tourist passes but does not stay: the hotel is too expensive ($20 per night, $3,50 for breakfast and $12 for a hot meal). Everything is expensive here, logical without competition nearby. Other guests are a couple from Munich, worrying about the situation in Kosovo and the suggestions of Jeltsin about a third world war. They are hitchhiking and lucky to find a ride to Perito Moreno. Further two Argentinian couples. The dining room of the hotel is suddenly busy and interesting, with everybody telling their story.
Sunday, 11th of April. Daniël, the 11-y old boy who is interested in everything I do and very active in getting me all I ask, rides Jut for a while. He loves it. After lunch, a cattle lorry with 10 bony cows in the back, leaves for Perito Moreno. A mother with a 1,5-year-old daughter and I, join the driver. Claudio, the hotel owner, gave me $100 to cover for expenses on the way till tomorrow. The truck is extremely slow and so it takes 5 hours to get to Perito Moreno. I had planned to register the road, which I will do later this week with Jut and Jil, but the mother and her daughter are keeping me busy. I miss my video camera, because the beauty of the country side is impossible to cover with a photo camera. The scenery is breath taking, with hills and valleys. Lots of rocks with an enormous variety in colours, red, white, yellow and green. In South Afrika they have their famous ‘Table Mountain’. If you’d ask me, that was exported from Patagonia.
At arrival in Perito Moreno I am dropped at the hotel Belgrano, where I get a room. Other guests are 4 Yankees, loudly bragging about their hunting achievements. They come here indeed for hunting ostrich and guanaco. They are a bit older, but certainly irritating.
Monday. I get $1000 from the bank, no problem. I brought very dirty laundry with me and leave that at a laundrette, to pick it up later this week. I had hoped to find an internet facility but failed. In the telephone shop, they will find out if any private person would be so kind to help me, again later this week when I arrive on horseback. After having bought some food, I walk a bit in the direction of Bajo Caracoles (129km from here) and install myself against a heap of gravel, knowing that I may have to wait a long time for someone to take me to back. It is certainly autumn now; the wind is fierce and bleak. After a long wait, I give up and go back to the hotel. The hotel owner organises my return, with a line-bus that leaves at 5 o’clock in the morning. This bus goes on Tuesday and Thursday, from North to South and back again. It appears the only but functional public transport for gaucho’s and traders.
Tuesday, 13th April. 40th travel day. The bus to Bajo Caracoles appears to be a Ford Ranchero with a 7 passengers capacity. The driver is pleasant, talking and driving fast. Today he brings some goods do Claudio, a disk antenna and me. It is 5 o’clock. I have never seen the moon so clearly covered by our own planet. On the way I spot lots of Mara (large hare) and foxes. It is stormy, but not cold. Above the mountain range I see lightning. We arrive at 07:15 at Bajo Caracoles: fare was $12, not much for 125 kisses. It is still pitch dark in the kitchen, where an unknown fellow unloads the goods from the bus. Electricity is on at 9, so I work by the light of a candle, go to my room and sleep one hour. After that I prepare for my departure, no matter the advice from Claudio to leave tomorrow morning early, with a better weather forecast. I turn it down and leave around midday, for a 49km trip to Casa de Piedras. On the way, I find water for the horses. The scenery appears not to change for a long time, due to the fastness of the plane I ride. I feel well, apart from having cold feet. Road workers tell me that I am still 30 km to go, but then I come across a sign that tells me 10km to Casa de Piedras. Daylight is already gone and there is no moon. Following the road without any light is a bit difficult. I arrive at 9 o’clock. Dogs are barking at the yard. I see a light and after some calling, a lantern appears, carefully approaching. I light a cigarette in order to show my face to the person with the lantern. The light is now approaching a bit steadier, carried by a tiny wrinkled man. He is amazed, surprised, but when seen to be trusted, he invites me in. After settling the horses in a corral with enough food and water, he leads me to a place where I can sleep: a stone building with only three walls. When done with the installation, the little man invites me to his living, where I get food and where I can warm my feet. After the meal and telling my story, we go to bed at 23 o’clock. I travelled 49 kms today, in 9 hours: not bad at all.
Wednesday, 14th April, 41th travelling day. It was a very cold night and my feet are frozen. At 8 I am up, packing and saddling the horses. When that is done, I see my host, where 3 other guys are drinking mate. I join them. After some storytelling, I leave at 10. When we come across a pool with water, Jut and Jil crack the ice on it and drink a lot. The terrain is difficult, nowhere it is even and it is littered with sharp black and very hard lava. Jil sprained one foot and after that we go even slower. The scenery is otherwise absolutely beautiful, with the multi coloured mountains nearby. At 4 I arrive at Ea. La Palomina.
Road to El Palomina.
There are horses, but no humans around. I install myself in a large barn, provisionally closed with a board. Two bales of hay are laying there and I give some of it to Jil, but the local horse fights Jil off. Jut and Jil are otherwise well off, with sufficient juicy grass and water. I cook my meal: rice, garlic and fish. I fork out my candles from my luggage for the first time: they appear to be mashed to only fuses and loose rubble of tallow. I manage to make a little fire with it. At 9 I make bed, with my feet packed in a horse blanket and the lot packed in a large plastic bag. That functions: my feet are warm in no time. I fall asleep fast, after these awkward 39kms.