May of 2011 – between paprikash and paella

  Right when we almost got over, or should I say, when we were finally able to get past, or even better, when we pushed the whole Budapest declining us as guests into our subconsciousness, it became obvious that Hungary would come to us. Two students from Budapest would be joining a spanish surfer for a day or two and with a bit of carefully taking care of the two, our luck with Hungary just might change.

  The spanish guy came on a Friday evening, after a really long week for him and us. We got to know each other over some dinner and beers but it’s not really easy to concentrate while looking at the clock and waiting for a phone call from the hungarians. Worries usually increase with the time passing and a sigh of relief, when they finally called, was authentic and rather loud as well. Not knowing is definitelly harder than bad news. Hungary is a bit of a mistery to me, even though it’s a neighbouring country, I don’t know much about it, other than they speak an unspeakable language, it’s more or less a blank for me. After that phone call I could add that they don’t really like to pick up hitch-hikers. Or at all. The girls had the worst luck. The whole day that they hitch-hiked they traveled the whole 40 km from Budapest. They finally called it quits, called their fathers to come pick them up so they could lick the travelers wounds in the comfort of their homes. That kind of fiasko can leave serious marks on ones confidence and overall traveling atmosphere but the girls got up the next day, brushed the dust of the past day off and tried one more time, same place, same time.

  Meanwhile, back at our place, we made some awesome plans for next day. We have been talking about doing this forever but never got around to it. We even had to sit and listen about it when other people did it but now it seemed it would come true. The weather was supposed to be perfect and we we all up for it. Enough suspense, we were gonna rent a boat with paddles and have a nice afternoon on the river Drava. To avoid the usual jetski traffic in the Maribor area of the river, we took a drive to our oldest town Ptuj. You see, on the other side of this town there is a hydroplant for which they built a small lake they called Ptuj sea. They are reviving an old port there, for small boats and some water sports like wake boarding on a line. Perfect for our plan! We were able to get a boat for three people, a yellow plastic monstruosity with enough storage room for some beers. We learned from a story from one of our friends, who took this neat boat trip on the old bed of river Drava (explanation: the river is split next to Maribor on the old bed and the channel for the hydroplant in Zlatoličje, where we used to live, you remember. The two are rejoined after around 20 km or so). He took a canoe and a single beer for the trip, which he thought would last half an hour the most. When he came out of the water, dehydrated and sunburnt, it was getting dark already. So it is very important to take more beers than you can drink, remember kids, you never know what await ahead. But you can prepare all you want, some things are just not predictable.

  We mastered the paddling part instantly, it didn’t take us long to find the courage to paddle upstream. It took us a while be we were able to get to shore next to this old, traditional fish restaurant with a little dock next to it. Just perfect for a little sit-down, our legs needed to be streched, our throats were parched in need of that beer. Right when we were aproaching it, our arms stretched to reach the promised shore, two intruders tried to invade our spot. They looked at us, we were staring at them and somehow, non-verbally, we all decided there was enough room for all of us. Stares became smiles, growling changed to welcomes and how-do-you-dos. If I weren’t convinced that there are no coincidences, I would have been convinced then. They were also couchsurfers, she was hosting him, and he came from Spain as well. It turned out, her couchsurfer and ours went to the same college, just different generations. Can you believe that? It’s like being on vacation and seeing a car with your local licence plate and you feel like you’ve met a long lost friend, but even better. Since we still had to paddle the whole 200m or so back to the port, we said bye-bye and paddled away.

  On our way back we got a chance to observe some wildlife. There were some birds arguing about the best spot on the pillars to await the sunset. Everytime a motorboat approached, they flew away just to return and start the whole argument over again. The more mature ones couldn’t be bothered with the chaos and were peacefully floating on water even when we passed by really close. Suddenly we realized that one of them was more still than others, floating a bit funny and it might have been my imagination but he seemed to be asking for help with this tortured look in his eyes. We thought about what to do for a while but then decided we couldn’t just leave it there so we packed the little bugger into the boat and off we went, all of us. On the way back we thought about passing the poor bastard to the nearest person in some uniform looking clothes. We were quite near to the port when we finally looked up from the bird and saw there were a few ambulances, fire trucks and lots of police everywhere around. That first thought, we really should have left the bird where it was, was quickly replaced with What the hell happened here? We could see it must have been something serious from the worried faces all around us, we could feel the panic in the air. The boat guy told us there has been a jestski accident, two of them colided and one of the drivers lost a leg to a propeller and the divers were in the water looking for it.. Damn! Whatever we might have expected seeing those ambulances, we definitelly didn’t see this one coming. Suddenly our own tragedy lost its momentum, the urgency wore off and we didn’t really want to bother anyone with this bird. We put it in the back of the car and went looking for a vet. Not an easy task on a Saturday afternoon, almost evening but we found one. It was closed, of course but it had an emergency phone number we could call. The lady on the other side gave me the number of a guy who specializes in birds and told me to call him. I did.. While he was explaining to poor old me that there was no way he was driving from the other side of Slovenia for a dying seagull on a Saturday night, I couldn’t stop thinking how we should have just left the menace, at least he would have died in its natural habitat, not dragged five floors up the stairs after a 25 km drive to be put into a bath tub with some grass to die on and be put into a dumpster in the morning. With all this going on I totally forgot about the two Hungarians who sent a text they finally made it to Maribor.

   It must have been a bit of a shock for them when they saw us, a bit burnt from the sun carrying a large bird on its death bed. The usual »Hi, how are you doing?« turned to »What in the world have you got there?« We had to tell our story inside and out instead of normal introduction but after we put the bird into the tub, we finally sat down and were able to forget about it for a while. No showers, though.. half dead bird in a tub is a bad invite for cleanliness. Tomorrow will be soon enough.

  Some pair, these two were. Imagine pairing up a princess and a hippie, one so carefull about her presentation yet so insecure she couldn’t stop talking about her imaginative weight problem just so she could hear the words »Oh, you’re not that fat at all!«, while the other couldn’t care less about how she looks with a stretched out T-shirt and no make-up but with boundless patience to repeatedly and appearing honestly answering to her peers insecurities. It’s a rare sight to witness such contrasts in a tight and loving friendship. Girls promised to cook us something authentically Hungarian that we surely haven’t tried before, ever. I have to admit that the paprikash was delicious but hardly a novelty. Hungarian it may be but a speciality like this made its way across the border long ago. Me and Mitja had this personal little joke about how Hungarians never leave home without at least one pack of red pepper powder and we didn’t forget to ask the girls. And wouldn’t you know it, they simultaniously reached into their bags and presented each their own pack. Our theory holds water ’till this day. Every Hungarian (that we’ve met) carries their own red pepper powder. With that they also carried a mix of spices called Vegeta, they were honestly surprized it was produces in Croatia not Hungary. No wonder the paprikash was so delicious.

After a long and full day and after a big dinner accompanied with lots and lots of questions that were just bombarded to us from everywhere, finally getting to bed was so relieving. Quick check of the bird, no changes, and we were off. Sadly we found out the next morning that the seagull didn’t make it. His little beady eyes were closed and his body was cold, his soul was relieved of all the troubles of this world. Having a death in the house is sad by its self, of course, but I couldn’t help but wonder wasn’t it really us that killed the bird? Would it have made it if we would have just left it where is was? It reminded me of the story about a lady that saved a freshly hatched turtle in a brought day light from a predator just to let other turtles mistakenly know that it’s safe to start a dangerous way towards the ocean when it really wasn’t. One saved turtle means hundreds slaughtered by delusion of safety. What if we started the famous buttefly effect by removing the food source of a minks family and so on.. Was it worth it? Was it worth to pamper our overreacting sence of humanity and bizzare need to help on every occasion just to risk the normal flow of life? I can’t say..

  We said a few words before we threw the bird in the dumpster, trying to right the wrong we might have done but then we went on with our lives, hoping that karma wouldn’t be to mad or at least vengefull. So far so good…

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