Travis Smith: my resume, bio and photos back to the main blog page

Before I get too deep into the chronology of the day, here’s the plan for the weekend: the Gaspars are going to drive me out to the Matras where they have a house.  I’m going to hang and hike with them and their friends, and come back Sunday.

So, to begin: I managed to get myself out of bed by 8:10, but despite this heroic feat, I still couldn’t hold back the hands of time enough to pack, eat breakfast, dress and make it downstairs to the corner to meet Miklos and his wife in their car as they drove past.

To their credit, they did call me at 8:30 to let me know they were leaving their house.  I completely didn’t expect them to be telling the TRUTH! So ten minutes alter I got another call, saying “Where are you?” as I tried to find the cap for my bottle of water.

I left the bottle and headed downstairs.  This will turn out to be a critical mistake for the weekend, as you’ll soon find out.  I walked down the street and waited at the bus stop on the other side of the busy intersection for a harried Miklos to pull up.  They wanted to drop off some paint tins at the recycling place on the way out of town, and had them in the back of the car, so all my stuff, and me, went in the back seat.

We finally found the “recycling place”, basically a shipping yard of some sort guarded by two growly dogs and a slow moving guy in red overalls.  He took our tins, which has leaked turpentine slightly over the tarp in the back, said “That’s it?” and looked as Miklos in a way that clearly meant, why don’t you pour it into the sewers like everyone else?

Back on the road, and we headed out to the Matras, the mountains North East of Budapest.  They’re really more like bumpy hills—nothing rocky to climb.  But they’re covered in rich verdant green trees.  Some of the type A vegetation had started to turn a yellowish green, obviously preparing to burst into their beautiful fall wardrobes about a day or two after we’d leave.

We arrived at Miklos’ place, and his friends had already hopped the locked gate and made themselves at home.  They’d come out by bus, because there were too many of them to fit in Miklos’ car.  There was:

Gabor: blond, glasses, curly hair.  Had taught high school kids in England briefly, and talked with a bit of an accent, but very deliberately, one word at a time.  He was 25.  Went to school with Miklos.

Judith, pronounced Yudit: blond, longish hair.  21.  Majoring in English, French and linguistics (triple major).  Didn’t act like the youngest person along.  Infectious laugh. Gabor’s her boyfriend.

Agi: Mid 20s.  A little short—this is important later, I’m not just pointing it out for no reason.  She’s a person that is hard to remember.  Very nice, but in no way a forceful personality.  She was studying medicine of some sort.  Spoke some English.

Tamas:  27? Preparing for his Ph.D., I think, perhaps Master’s, but also wanting to teach 16-18 year olds biology and chemistry.  He had mediocre English skills, but an impressive vocabulary—it was a strange combination. Tamas was a really nice guy—very happy to help, and quite observant.  Agi’s his girlfriend.

Istvan:  Unfortunately, he spoke next to no English, but I don’t think that mattered much.  Istvan was the tallest, and the least talkative, of the group.  He wasn’t a loner, yet he was the only person (except me) not to have a girlfriend or wife with them, and I at least have an excuse.  Still, he was nice and we did attempted a few conversations, mostly about gombas (mushrooms)

I have been comparing people I meet to people I know, and in some cases the comparison is pretty close.  However, when you do that, when you say, Miklos is like my friend Cody, or Gyuri is like Rob Cioe, I think you end up creating expectations for that person’s behavior that might be really invalid.

I tried not to do that with the people I met, though it was hard.  I wish that I was younger, when I was meeting people with an open mind, without these other shadows from my past to compare people to.  Though I wonder, when I was little, did I compare people to others I’d met even earlier?

We tossed our luggage form the car into the rooms of the house, and stood around getting to know one another and checking out the Gaspar’s place.

The buildings were built over 100 years ago, though they were renovated in the 1960s.  The lot is long and rectangular, and built on a hill (The hill goes across the width of the place, not the length.  The house was originally a number of rooms all in a row that you had to go outside to move between.  In the 1960s, a long porch was built in front of the house, so there’s not a long light hallway to link the rooms.  However, the rooms are darker because of it.

Attached to the back of a house, there’s a two room building, and behind there’s another two room building.  Behind that is the outhouse.  There’s running cold water from several taps, and one sink as a working drain—the other empties into a large basin.  There’s a hot plate, and a cold room for food.  Every room has a wood stove of some size. We did all our cooking on the fire in the fire pit out back.

From front to back, there’s three bedrooms, a storage room, the cold room (same temp as the other rooms, but used to store food), and the tap room.

On the plus side, there’s several apple trees, with delicious fruit.  On the down side, the roof needs replacing and the place needs a lot of work done on it.

We headed off for a hike directly from the driveway, and within five minutes we were on a trail heading through the woods.  The trails are marked with odd symbols that are color coded and different shapes.  For the morning, we followed some green signs (circle, cross, line, triangle) back and forth across a stream in a valley.)  We stopped to pick mushrooms occasionally—the three guys had taken biology and one of their courses was in mushroom and other plant identification.  There were about 25 varieties that I think I saw over the course of the two days, and the ones they thought were alright, Istvan would put in a plastic bag and carry along.

We got “lost” several times, at crossroads that weren’t on the map, but pushed on and occasionally saw other hikers, but it wasn’t that crowded.  At one point, Agi found a strange looking bulbous berry type thing that Tamas said was an oak cancer caused by a certain fly that laid eggs under an oak leaf.  The effect was very Blair Witch Project—strange unnatural shapes of wood.

After that, we stopped for lunch when we couldn’t decide if left or right would be the better way to go.  Tamas through the map on the ground, and BLAIR WITCH PROJECT flashed before my eyes like a neon sign.  The whole type of forest, the paths, the stream, it was eerily similar. 

Of course, this could have been because at one point, for no good reason, I walked directly into a log that was hanging across the path at exactly head height.  It made a bonk loud enough to be heard by the people ahead of me.  I wasn’t distracted, I was just looking down and not expecting a solid piece of matter in that particular air space.

At lunch, I had these crunchy peanut butter sandwiches I’d slapped together in the morning.  I was mightily wishing for a drink, but didn’t have any water, so suffered in silence.  Poor, sad Travis.  (Send donations to the address below!)

Let me ask you, when ever I eat something that has chunks about the size of half a pea, like this peanut butter does, I get a piece stuck in the back of my mouth between my upper cheek and the gum above my rear molar on the left.  Does this happen to anyone else?  How do you deal with it in polite company?

We would occasionally get split up and not see a part of our group for 15 minutes, as people went ahead or stayed back.  After lunch, we took a short cut across a field because it looked like an establish path led into the high grass.  Well, the path disappeared, but we pressed on.  On the far side of the glade, there was a large metal tower, like a life guard station, rusting on its side.  Gabor said that hunters used it to wait for deer who would come into the glade in the evening.  But the deer got their revenge, he said.  “RUN” was what I was thinking—BWP is a movie that stays with you, let me tell you.

Next step, down a really steep slop for about 300 meters to find the path we’d left to go across the field.

We found it and staggered out to a nearby town.  There was a bar there, and we had a nice glass of watery bitter beer, and I had an orange juice as well.

The whole hike I was thinking, boy do I wish I had a bottle of water.  But of course I’d left in a hurry so I had to feel stressed about dehydration the whole weekend, and wonder why I hadn’t just pulled a water bottle from my camping supplies.

The walk back was pretty nice.  Half way back we stopped at a Hiker’s Hostel, with a nice big field, and Gabor bulled out a Frisbee.  He knew of the game Ultimate, and asked if I did.  Uh, yeah!  So we played 3 on three, with Miklos and Agi on my team, and Tamas and Judith on his team.  Later, two really small kids came and asked to play, and we said sure.  It was excellent fun, though I really haven’t run that hard in ages.

At that point, most of the group decided they wanted to climb a mountain, really a small hill about 150 meters higher than we were.  Miklos and ME were going to hike directly back, and I tried to climb the hill, I really did, but my thighs kind of collapsed after about 20 paces up the slope and I shouted after Miklos to wait up.

On the way back, I took some nice pictures, and we headed back to the house.  Slowly.

Dinner was very Hungarian.  The main ingredient was fat.  On a stick.  Basically, you cut off a few pieces of fat, which has a very hard skin (perhaps it was in fact very hard skin).  You cut an onion in half.  You put the fat and onion on your sharpened stick like so: fat, onion, fat, onion, fat, onion.  Then you hold the stick over the fire with your right hand, and you hold a thick piece of bread in your left hand.

The fire melts the fat, and you wipe the at drippings on your bread every little while.  When the fat has shrunk down and is sizzling and crunchy, and the onion is mostly cooked, you take the fat and onion off the stick and put it on the bread and you’ve got dinner!

I tried to put some paprika on my stick too, but they said that was a bad idea because it would burn quite quickly compared to the fat.  I did put a slice of one of the mushrooms harvested by Istvan, and I’m alive to type this, so he must have gotten a passing grade.

For the record, I will say that it’s better than it sounds, and also that this was the first time I’ve eaten huge chunks of onions with no intermediary mollifying flavor and actually liked it.  Of course, it was cooked, not raw, but still, this is an amazing event.

I had two sticks worth.  I pointed out that in the U.S. no one ever eats fat on a stick with onions.  Gabor said that in the U.S. they ate marshmallows.  I said, true, but not with onions.  That was a rather disgusting concept, and went over pretty well.

Also for dinner home made wine by Tamas’ father, presented in Coke bottle (red) and Gin bottle (white). Very good, if a little tart.

After dinner, two other people showed up: Laszlo and Adrienn.  They had come later for some reason, but didn’t take down the proper directions, neglecting, for example, the name of the village where Miklos was, the phone number, or what road to take.  They called around, and found that Tamas’ mother knew the name of the village (Matrasantistvan) and they came here and started asking around to see if anyone knew Miklos.  Finally, someone did.

That night, most of the people slept outside, but I took a piece of the floor in Miklos’ room, where they had the wood stove going.  My sleeping bag just doesn’t hack open air overnight anymore.



 
 

 

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Joining PF in Budapest

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Breakfast in the Matras Mountains

Overheard

“The sad truth is that most evil is done by people who never make up their minds to be good or evil.”

...who said it?

“Almost every American I know does trade large portions of his life for entertainment, hour by weeknight hour, binge by Saturday binge, Facebook check by Facebook check. I’m one of them. In the course of writing this I’ve watched all 13 episodes of House of Cards and who knows how many more West Wing episodes, and I’ve spent any number of blurred hours falling down internet rabbit holes. All instead of reading, or writing, or working, or spending real time with people I love.”

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“Live a good life. If there are gods and they are just, then they will not care how devout you have been, but will welcome you based on the virtues you have lived by. If there are gods, but unjust, then you should not want to worship them. If there are no gods, then you will be gone, but will have lived a noble life that will live on in the memories of your loved ones.”

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“I play with variables constantly.”

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“Only the person who has learned Continual Love coming from a heart of Gratitude/Worship can effectively deal with the problem of loneliness.”

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