I’d heard that there was plenty of hiking and outdoorsy stuff to do up in the Tatras, a mountain range shared by Poland and Slovakia. I’d skipped the Polish side and thought I’d spend a few days on the Slovakian side.
A few days turned into a week, and even then I wasn’t ready to leave. And it wasn’t like I’d actually done anything…in fact I did basically nothing the entire time I was in Ždiar, a magical little town in the mountains. Despite there being numerous hiking trails, I never went hiking. I wanted to go rafting, but couldn’t get the numbers. What did I do there for a week?
Well, I read books. I watched movies. I baked a cake – two in fact, rather delicious and voraciously consumed by my instant Ginger Monkey friends. I collected eggs from the chickens and introduced a girl to the fact that eggs come from chickens, not just from the supermarket. I played fetch with Wally Dogster, the resident canine with his own Facebook page [apparently he can type] and was constantly bemused by the fact he’d usually come back with something completely different. I hassled Kevin, the ginger cat that adopted the hostel about a year ago and looks like he’s got an expensive drug habit. Kevin wasn’t too bad. He did like cuddles and, like every other bloody cat on this planet, loves to jump on your lap when you’re trying to read and steal your lunch – even if it’s in a bowl on top of a post [not mine thankfully].
I spent a fair bit of time lazing in the hammock. I participated in many an impromptu ‘onesie’ party. I drank far too many shots of Tatranský Čaj, a highly toxic local spirit that comes in a 72% variety and feels as though you’ve swallowed burning petrol. I played terrible made-up drinking games while watching The A-Team – which I decided was a dreadful show within the first ten minutes and ensured it was not playing again for the duration of my stay. I discovered that not all zombie movies are actually good, and in fact some can be a complete disappointment – don’t waste two hours of YOUR life watching Zombie Flesh Eaters! I learned that the US has ‘Right to Work’ states where employers can legally pay you less than $3/hour. I was hypnotised by a British med student and forgot that the number six existed. I drank far too many bottles of cheap red wine – when you get a litre of Merlot for €2.50, wouldn’t you? I went paintballing for the first time and came out with the mother of all bruises that turned my arm into a rainbow. I also learned that paintball paint is far from delicious and that I’m not such a terrible shot after all. I met stacks of interesting and entertaining people from all around the world. I had my first experience of Australian backpackers being outnumbered by American backpackers, but only for a night. I met Canadians who were NOT from Montreal – I’d started to question their existence before this. I visited the one little local shop so often that the lovely lady who ran it actually smiled at me when I came in. I had toast with VEGEMITE for the first time in four months and it was amazing. I was prevented from giving the non-Australian spoonfuls of said Vegemite under the pretense that it was Australian chocolate fudge.
So, about Ždiar…. Ždiar is a small town in the Tatras mountains, about an hour from Poprad by bus. In winter and at the height of summer it’s apparently pretty busy as it’s a popular destination for families as well as backpackers – every second building seems to be a pension. Despite this, it still feels like a local village and the majority of people don’t speak any English, which makes everything a little more interesting. The most exciting thing that happens in town is church on Sundays – the Ginger Monkey hostel is right next to the church, so I watched the place fill up with people on Sunday morning. Everyone in town was there, and the church is not large enough to hold everyone so people crowd around out the front.
At what seems to be completely random intervals during the week, a loudspeaker system through the village plays music and sometimes what may be news is broadcast. My guess was that this is a relic of the Communist era but none could tell me what it was for – I guess you need to speak Slovak.
The church has a large cemetery beside it, and it’s remarkably well cared for. Most days I saw a local woman in there gardening and tidying up around the graves. One of the guys staying at the hostel, Mike, was sneaking around the cemetery one night looking for a toad, and freaked out as he claims he saw a couple of cops were coming after him. That probably needs a little explanation… Basically, a group of us were walking back from the pizza place one night and I found a frog on the road in front of the church. I caught it and it was pretty cute, with bright colours and funny circular markings. What kind of frog it was I don’t know, and given its colouring it may have been poisonous. But later that night, after a few drinks and a few too many Tatranský Čaj shots, Mike decided that he wanted to get high and thought he’d hunt for another of those frogs. So he went running down to the cemetery wearing a bright yellow snowsuit [or ‘Onesie’ as we called them] with his head torch to look for some. Whether the cops were real or a product of his drunken imagination I can’t say, but it certainly made the rest of us laugh when he came sprinting back up the hill in a rather uncoordinated manner.
It’s safe to say that I had a ridiculously good time in Ždiar, despite doing very little for the time I spent there. It’s one place that I absolutely want to return to. Part of that is due to the hostel – the Ginger Monkey has to be one of the absolute best I’ve ever stayed in. The atmosphere there is fantastic, it’s really laid back, and you can’t complain about the view from the veranda. And they not only have an oven, but baking tins! Plus I liked that they have a cat [and a dog]. The only disappointment was that Kevin was not allowed inside to sleep on my bed. This became perfectly understandable however when informed of his history of leaving unpleasant deposits on beds. And the staff there were awesome.
I don’t think there’s anything to complain about regarding the Ginger Monkey. Oh wait – the A-Team obsession. I’m not convinced that having The A-Team box set is a selling point, but then I was widely condemned for holding such a view. I would still argue that The A-Team completely sucks and that the DVDs could best be used as frisbees for Wally, but then they might not let me go back!