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I Made A Friend In A Slovak Folk Village

My definition of adventure is meeting yourself for the first time. Adventure is a tool that can be used to learn more about yourself and others, through interactions and connections in a range of environments.

The more you travel, the greater your appreciation for the world becomes as you start feel more like a participant, and not a spectator. Afterall, no single country is our home, all of Earth is our home.

With more experience, you might start to realise that your travels around the world are all part of the journey of life itself.

Where do I fit into it?

What is the relationship between everything?

Are we really that different to those living far from our home? 

As we explore deeper, we meet new people we felt like we were destined to become friends with. It’s at that moment we realise we are all largely the same. Travel takes us to places so magical, we couldn’t have imagine something better by ourselves. We witness life lived in many different ways, offering different perspectives on humanity. A lot of the time, travel changes our perspective of life for the better, and it seems  the bigger picture slowly starts to make sense.

Many experienced travellers consider solo travel to be the most rewarding approach. However, as we’ve found, at times it can get lonely. Always on the move, following our curiosities it’s easy to miss the feeling of a place that feels like home. You begin to miss meaningful interactions, laughter and friendship.

The truth is, you don’t have to be alone when travelling alone. People are out there, everywhere, just waiting to be met and befriended. So how easy is it to make new friends on your travels?

In the beginning of my solo expeditions, I thought it was quite tough. I made friends with tourists and backpackers here and there but I didn’t feel like I was getting an authentic experience. I felt like my perspective of the places I’d ended up in were limited. I knew I had a desire to meet some local people but I didn’t know where to start.

This is the story of how a solo motorcycle trip through Slovakia opened my eyes to the previously unknown possibilities of travel. I took a leap out of my comfort zone and because of it, I was rewarded. I met some local people that I became good friends with. To my surprise, we all had a lot more in common that I would have expected. Even still, our friendship grew stronger and I’ve since returned to visit them 2 years later. We stay in touch regularly, sometimes I have to pinch myself knowing that I made friends with some locals in a remote folk village in Slovakia.

A New Adventure Beckons

Having ridden from London to Poland solo, I met up with a friend of mine that used to live in London. Since she had been living back in Poland we didn’t get to see each other at all. So, as I was approaching a lengthy vacation from work and her current project was coming to an end, we agreed a motorcycle trip was needed. I was so excited about it. Our plans were to explore Europe for the whole of August with the intention of making it to the Black Sea in Romania, before heading up the coast through Belarus and Ukraine, ending up back in Poland to end the advenutre.

When I arrived at her hometown, we went out to a restaurant for some food and drinks. I was so excited to be there, but for some reason something didn’t seem right. The atmosphere was a bit unusual. I couldn’t put my finger on it, maybe she was just nervous, I couldn’t be sure.

The following morning, we started our motorcycles and started riding south to the beautiful city of Krakow. A 3-hour ride took us 6 hours, I could tell she was frustrated and a bit pissed off. She wouldn’t tell me what was wrong so I decided to give her some time, and carried our luggage into the hostel for the night. I approached her to see if she was okay, but there was no hope. We had a big argument and she just wouldn’t calm down. I left her to it and decided to enjoy my night by going for some drinks in the city with some fellow travellers from the hostel.

That evening I thought about what to do. 

By morning, it seemed she made the choice for me. All of her stuff was gone and she had left. I walked to where we parked our motorcycles and only mine stood there alone. I wouldn’t say I felt lost, I was more confused than anything else.

I had one more choice to make. Either I headed back home to London, or pushed on with the adventure alone. Well I think it’s clear what I decided to do.  

I packed my luggage on my motorcycle and soldiered on. I had never travelled in another country alone before, so this was a journey into the unknown. A few hours of riding and I reached the border with Slovakia. Crossing the unmanned border, the landscape soon started to change. Rolling hills we covered with pine forests and interesting villages to ride through. I was beaming with smiles. Now this trip really felt like something cool.

The first cafe I saw was a cute little log cabin so I stopped to stretch my legs and drink some coffee. Sipping away, I looked on the map at what was around me to get an idea of where I could reach before nightfall. The Tatras mountains weren’t too far ahead of me, just a couple of hours’ more riding. 

Looking back, it didn’t really matter to me where I was going. After such a rocky start to the journey, I was finally enjoying myself and I felt freedom in a way I’d never experienced.

Drizzly rain loomed over over the countryside and as I started slowly climbing the hills it started to get cold. Unusual I thought, considering it was summer. One more coffee break later and a random city caught my eye, Ruzomberok. I’m not sure what came over me but I thought to myself, I have to go there. 

One Creepy Photo Changed Everything

I arrived in Ruzomberok with roughly an hour of daylight remaining. I was pretty tired and my leather suit was soaked through. Nonetheless, I felt happy and accomplished somewhat. I booked into a roadside hotel. It looked like the kind of shady motel you’d see in those American movies. In fact, the whole town had an ‘end of the road’ trucker kind of vibe to it. 

I showered and came downstairs to the restaurant, everyone’s eyes peeled on me. I felt like a boy again, emerging from his room in his Sunday best. What a peculiar feeling, I guess they didn’t see outsiders much out here. Two young ladies manning the bar in the restaurant waited on my every move with curiosity, giggling childishly. There was a light-hearted energy in there. I tried my best to communicate, which only made them laugh more. So I resorted to mobile translation to get by in conversation while ordering my meal.

Turns out I was the only Englishman in this city, I’m not sure I’ve ever been in that situation before, but it’s how I imagine an alien would feel if they landed on Earth and just walked out of the saucer like everything was fine and dandy.

That evening I did a little light research into what was in the area. After nothing especially caught my eye, I came across a black and white photograph of a village that looked haunted and eerie. It was in fact a 700-year old folk village with wooden carved mannequins all around the village, like some kind of guardians. Even the style of houses looked unusual compared to what I had seen so far on the journey. I read some articles on the place and to my surprise, not only it still exist – it was only a 10-minute ride away. Wide-eyed in amazement I knew that would be my mission for tomorrow. 

I woke up early and arrived at the village at 8am, I was the only visitor there at that time. The small parking area was empty and so I entered the village and started quietly exploring, true amazement written across on my face.  

The village was called Vlkolinec. A 13th-century Slovak folk village, it contained roughly 45 log cabins made from whole pine trees. There was a tiny school, a church, an animal farm, a gallery (which served as the museum) and a cafe. The village had a simple but interesting layout, located on a steep hillside with views of forest-covered mountains all around.

A little wandering around lead me to a side alley with a sign for the farm. It was a very small farm but it was home to some interesting animals. Turkeys, chickens, ducks and goats all contributed to the calming sounds of the farm as I got closer. Shortly after I started to film, I heard the deep bellow of some dogs barking. I could just about see a young man working, throwing grain for the animals. The dogs were German shepherds. Once they got a clear view of me they quickly ran in my direction barking.

To say I wasn’t a bit scared would be a lie, yet the dogs went from seeming scary, to being docile and friendly.

I waved to the farmer and he waved back immediately. Noticing my hesitance to proceed, he signalled for me to walk up the path and meet him, the dogs acting as an escort, with their warm, authoritative presence.

We met face-to-face and I greeted him in Slovak, probably missing accurate pronunciation, but much to his joy he continued to communicate with me in Slovak. I did not understand much of what he was saying to me and soon discovered he didn’t speak much English. That wasn’t a problem however, we managed to get by. I pointed at an unusual breed of chicken and asked him about the species. He held the chicken in his arms and pointed to its features.

Somehow, by means of gesturing and stumbling around tricky words, here I was, in the Slovakian mountains, talking with a local on his farm about his chickens. For a moment, life felt truly special in its unpredictability. 

We continued to communicate, sometimes using the mobile to translate words that were impossible to describe with hand signals. After an hour of talking and being shown around the farm, I was taken around the village for a tour. It all seemed to so natural to me, there was no second thought regarding trust or safety.

By lunchtime, he took me to the small cafe in the village and showed me his favourite dishes from the menu and which were more traditional. We sat down and ate some delicious Slovak food together and afterwards I headed back to my hotel to relax for a while.

I had been invited back to the village that evening after the allowed visiting hours, to see his house and meet a few of his friends. I was overwhelmed by the kindness and hospitality he showed me. We had only just met and we already felt like friends. 

By the second day, we went for a walk in the nature beyond the village. We walked among densely forested foothills, through glorious meadows and to the top of small mountains.

He seemed to enjoy frightening me with stories of wild bears living in the area that sometimes entered the village. The time we spent exploring and appreciating the surroundings gave me a unique insight into what life was really like for villagers there.

I met with some of his friends, a couple who spoke good English and together, we hopped in a car and visited a snooker hall in the city of Ruzomberok. After conversations, lubricated by dark beer, I found the group of us were not too dissimilar, despite living in wildly different locations. 

Everywhere we went together, I had a great time. We drove through the grasslands up a steep green hill and saw incredible views of the city, lights from faraway buildings twinkling under the stars.

Soon after, I was introduced to his arctic fox that was rescued from a fir farm. I even got a chance to hold this majestic animal, truly a one-of-a-kind experience that I’ll never forget. I was lucky enough to explore the inside of a few other houses and meet more locals in the village. These surreal moments started to make me feel like a local. 

 

By the third day, I had to give the keys to my hotel room back and all of a sudden the hotel was fully booked, mainly with Czech and Slovak tourists. I rode back to Vlkolinec and told my friend it would be my last day there, as much as I wanted to stay a bit longer.  

‘It’s no problem’ he told me,  

‘If you want to stay for longer, tonight you will stay in Privat.’              

I was unaware of what ‘Privat’ meant.

He responded by pointing to a second house to the side of his parents’ house. I looked back at him with raised eyebrows.  

‘I’ll be staying in there?’ I asked him

‘Yes it’s no problem, everything you need is in there, you can put your things, nobody is else is in that house.’ 

I almost couldn’t believe it. This was incredible, he was offering me a free night’s stay in a 13th-century UNESCO village. For one night, I would be the only tourist in the village.

During that incredible stay in Vlkolinec, I was shown so many things and learned a lot about where I was and things that happened there. The real history of the area and how people’s lives really were, experiences that didn’t exist in any guide or Wikipedia. It all came from the desire to meet locals and having the confidence to engage and trust people I didn’t know beforehand.

This story just goes to show, no matter how shy you are, there is great value in making these connections and refusing to be an outsider. By becoming friends with locals, not only do you learn unique things about people and their surroundings, you have a much more meaningful adventure, one that you’ll never forget.

These new doors can open up for you and unique opportunities will come your way if you’re willing to trust those around you and be a little resourceful with your means of communication. Try it, and you’ll find that looking for locals to meet on your travels will become part of every journey you take.

The only thing that could stop you is your willingness to try.

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