When I first came to Slovakia, I saw it as a beautiful, tranquil, and safe country. One free of natural disasters and war. I still believe this statement, but I learned something today: Slovakia is a wild country, with the animals even wilder.
Today we went up to my host families cottage, which is located in the National Park of Veľká Fatra. In Slovakia, there are three main mountain ranges: the Veľká Fatra, the Nizky Tatry, and the Vysoké Tatry. As I might have said in my previous post, it takes about 50 minutes to get to the cottage, with a large portion of that time being traversing up a beaten dirt road. The main attraction in the vicinity of the Horský hotel Kráľová Studňa, which my host family owns. This hotel and cottage has been around before the second world war, however the history of these buildings is for another post. Today I will be talking about the surrounding nature.
Once we had unloaded our things, my host brother (Martin) and I started our exploration. We began by walking a little ways down the mountain, and finding a nicely perched rock with some caves underneath. When trying to climb the rock that we found, I discovered that Slovakia has stinging nettle. I wish that I hadn’t discovered it by brushing my leg all up on it, but I guess you have to find out somehow.
We then walked back up to the cottage, then began making our way up to the closest peak. That sounds easy, but as we were trailblazing it turned into quite the difficult task. It might have only been +/-25C outside, but it felt like 50. Nearing the top of the peak was a memorial to the soldiers that died in the Slovak National Uprising.
I must give my many thanks to my host brother Martin, as he took some phenomenal pictures for me while we were hiking. Once we finished checking out the monument, we climbed to the top peak, where I became the fabulous model for my host brother. Lunch time came before we knew it, so we shimmed our way down the mountain, to go to the hotel where we would be having lunch. Little did we know that our real adventure would begin shortly after.
We decided that we would hike to a rock formation known roughly as the King’s rock. This was approximately 30 minutes walk from the hotel. Dawning the top, we saw a smaller, but still prominent, rock formation just a few hundred meters away. With more than two hours to spend, we decided we would try climbing it before we headed back. The first portion was rather easy, as we just had to cross a meadow. That is just about where it stopped being easy. We were less on a trail, and more on a less dense area of the forest. Before we knew it, it became a rather thin section of rock that we could barely climb up. But we persisted, although looking back I wish we would have thought it through just a little bit more. Once we were just to the top, we heard some noise in the bushes off to our side. Convinced that it was either a bird or a rodent of sort, we didn’t give it much thought. This error could possible have been fatal.
The top of the rock was fairly satisfying. We were greeted with a great view, allowing us to see things like the distant city of Martin, and also a particular rock formation that may be associated with legend. I would include it here but I can’t find enough information online to confirm it. Maybe next time. Interestingly enough, we also found a small crystal wrapped in a rusted wire, with the crystal being about 5″ long and maybe 2″ wide. It obviously had been there a while, as it had been nicely packed into the ground and the wire around it was well rusted. I don’t know what kind of person would put a crystal in a place like that, but more power to them I guess.
Our macro photo session at the top of the rock had come to a close, and we began to head down the mountain. Only a few meters from the top of the rock, was an area where you had to jump through some rock “islands” to get to the “path’. These rock “islands” were surrounded by thick impassable bushes. I lead the way, making my way to one of these rock islands. Before I could jump to the next one I hear some rustling in the bushes beside me. Martin then said the words that I wish I never would have to hear: snake.
I scramble to find this snake, although being careful not to make too sudden of movements. The snake was right between Martin and myself. Getting to the backside of the rock, I found a small passage back to the “mainland” where Martin was standing. Then the snake disappeared into the brush. As Martin and I are calmly deciding what the best course of action would be, we hear more rustling, this time in a closer bush. Although I didn’t see it, Martin claims this new snake was larger than the last, roughly 3-4″ in diameter, possibly more. A sudden thought comes to me. The sun had just come out from the clouds, and we were standing right on some nice warm rocks. The perfect place for a snake to relax and warm itself up. We then heard more rustling in the bush, this time from multiple different locations. Did I forget to mention this path that we took up is the only reasonable way down?
We were in a predicament, that is for certain. We then decide that our best chance of not being bitten by a snake is to shimmey our way down the rock face on the side. Although not completely vertical, it was extremely steep. After around 30 minutes of barely escaping death climbing down the rock face, we made it to a point where we could get back to the path, around the snakes. As we were walking out of the woods, and into the meadow. I was thankful that death-defying was over. But little did I know, we were not out of the woods yet.
As we were walking back through yet another meadow, I saw something move out of the corner of my eye. With adrenaline coursing through my, I screamed many things that my mother wouldn’t be very proud of. I took around 5 steps back, while Martin did a little run-skip-jump to about 10 meters away. Of course, we found another snake. This one however, was very friendly and photogenic, and also a different type from the one that we found on the rock (from here on out to be called Snake Rock).
Once we got back home, the first thing I did was search the types of snakes in Slovakia. I found that there are five different types of snakes: the Smooth Snake, the Grass Snake, the Aesculapian Snake, the Dice Snake, and finally the Common European Viper. A cold feeling struck me when I read the last one. Out of all the snakes that we could possibly be, there was no way that we would see vipers, right? Some google image searching confirmed my worst fears, we had stumbled upon a viper nest on the Snake Rock. We believe that the second snake that we found to be the Grass Snake, although we are not certain. One thing we are certain about though, is that we saw vipers. There simply is no other snake in Slovakia with that color and pattern.
What did I learn from this adventure? Perhaps that you shouldn’t go wandering off the beaten path to explore some random rock. You might just find some magical crystals and vipers.