Levoca / Slovensky Raj, Slovakia

Trip Start Jun 07, 2006
Trip End Ongoing

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Sunday, August 6, 2006

After driving about 350km eastwards through the pouring rain (again), we came to a town called Spissky Nova Ves, which borders the Slovensky Raj national park. After being advised against staying in our chosen campsite, we had to drive about 15km away to the town of Levoca which had a pretty, although wet and uneven, campsite at which we could stay.

The following day, we drove into Levoca town for a quick look around and to try and find (a) some hiking boots and (b) a car battery place, as Big Green's "house" battery had been failing to recharge, leaving us without lights and water intermittently. It was one of those towns with a very neat and pretty central squa re, but decay and ruin everywhere else. After determining that there was neither (a) nor (b) to be found, we headed for the larger town of Spissky Nova Ves.

On the way out of town, we finally came across a battery place. I say "finally" because we had been looking for one for at least a week with no luck at all. Now, how to explain to the Slovakian mechanics that the battery worked fine until the super charger became hot and that the problem only manifested when the power switched from DC to battery? Hmmmm. Neither of the guys spoke English, but one spoke a bit of German, so we attempted in our pidgin-German (with the help of a dictionary) to explain the problem. Apparently we were as clear as mud, so one of the guys called his wife who tried to translate but to no avail. Eventually, they decided the connections to the terminals were shot, so they repaired them and under pressure from Andrew accepted about 5 euros for the job.

So next on to S.N.V., where we managed to locate an outdoor sports shop and bought some brand spanking new Hi-Tec hiking boots. After a delicious lunch in one of the local cafes, we decided to drive out to see the Dobsinska Ice Cave. After consulting the map, Marnie said "Let's take the road through the national park, it will be pretty!" "Right!" says Andrew and off we go. Being somewhat mountainous, the road through the park turns out to be as windy as a snake and with more pot holes than a teenage dope fiend's carpet. Not to mention wet. And narrow. After an hour of driving pleasure, we arrived to find that the Closing Time Faery had really done us this time: the caves are closed on Mondays! We made the best of the situation by breaking in our new boots with a short two hour hike, which was very nice. Marnie picked out a new route home, which she assured Andrew was much better than the way there. It wasn't. After another hour of bends and curves, passing the wonderfully named towns of Dedinky and Mlinky ["What else could it be? A minkey?" - Pink Panther], we eventually arrived back home.

The following day, we awoke to discover that our battery was still playing up, so first thing we took it back to the mechanics. Official diagnosis: "das batterie ist kaput!", so we agree to pick up a new one the following day.

Next stop, a hike through the Sucha Bela Gorge into the Slovensky Raj national park, in what will later be referred to as the "Brown Undie Hike". Slovensky Raj translates to "Slovak Paradise" and the name is not too far from the truth. The hike we took runs up a creek bed through a high gorge and I really mean it goes up the creek bed. It seems the attitude was "why walk next to it, when you can walk straight up the middle?" Admittedly, with the steep walls of the gorge there was really no other way.

After an hour or so of hiking in, around and over the creek, we arrived at our first real obstacle: a series of metal ladders hammered into the side of the gorge over the top of a waterfall at about a 45 degree angle, with just one chain (on the rock side), to help you keep the fine balance between safety and being pulverized on the rocks below. This was immediately followed by a 25 rung vertical ladder [no safety equipment provided], then some horizontal metal ledges once more banged into the side of the cliff. We negotiated this with a sigh of relief, to see that more ladders and ledges and a variety of other unsafe climbing devices followed. Despite the adrenaline-inducing fear of death or dismemberment due to poor OH&S standards, the gorge itself was really pretty, if somewhat overcrowded.

After making it in one piece to the top of the gorge, we headed along a ridge for a while and the started a descent towards the Hornad River Gorge. About this time Marnie's knee, which had been troubling her since our epic hike in Zakopane, started to really give her trouble as we headed downhill. We fashioned a walking stick from a straight branch and she soldiered on to the bottom. The hike back to the trail head was pretty tough though and it was a bit of a struggle. If one part of the trail really stands out, it is the bit quite near the end where you have to walk across a series of 7 or 8 metal ledges fixed into the rocks about 5 metres above the flowing river below. The grates are quite narrow and the rock juts outwards from bottom to top, meaning that you have to turn your face to the cliff and your bum and back are pretty much dangling in free space over the edge of the grates, and if you look down all you can see is water running below you. We don't call it the "Brown Undie Hike" for nothing!

All in all, a super day, topped off by a night in a great camping ground bordering the edge of the forest.
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