To chase a dream to explore. For the fun, for the adventure, to see some of the most spectacular and extraordinary scenery on the planet. To accomplish an epic physical challenge. There are hardly any carbon emissions involved and it's a sustainable means of travel. To experience new cultures, taste different foods, meet people left, right and center and make life long friends. The list goes on. There is one thing that we heartedly believe in though and that is to see and experience life for ourselves. To not be influenced by political barriers, stereotypes and media hype and make ourselves susceptible only to the truth.
We hid behind some railway tracks that cut across the allotments behind a nearby village and arose early enough to capture the sun breaking through a dewy and chilly morning..
Scrubbed up and tucking into a hot bowl of pure goodness, involving a variety of beans, grains and vegetables, two beautiful little girls were hiding behind the trees and giggling, eager to come and talk with us. Eventually, the older of the two plucked up the courage and shyly asked if we were Australian and her younger sister hid behind her. When we complimented her excellent English, that was it, we had two new friends! Ivana was the name of this little girl and they introduced themselves as Roma gypsies living in a nearby village. We showed them inside our tent and again with the aid of the picture book, told them how David and I met. The little girls were fascinated and super inquisitive. They rushed over to tell their mother (who was the lady that had kindly unlocked the showers) and returned to plead for us to come to their house for coffee. There was a lot of excitement now! We still had lunch to finish and all our kit to pack away and so using a lot of hand gestures and a little English, the girls explained that they would return home with their mother by car and that we should come and find them at No.27, left out of the village. We enthusiastically agreed but were more than happy that we had a little window of opportunity to think about this.
Here we were with this lovely family, excited to have met us and eager to help us in some way, but we were in a conundrum. Our conundrum was that neither of us could avoid the preconceptions associated with Roma gypsies but yet these girls were adorable and completely contradicted this stereotype. So what was the problem then you ask? Well, we were aware that Roma gypsies tend to have big families and keep within their own community and so it would be more than likely we would meet their family, extended family and neighbours and we wouldn't be able to judge the situation until we got there.
So off the girls went, leaving us to pack down the tent and talk between ourselves. So little is known about this fascinating culture and we were too intrigued to not swing by.
Stalking around the houses trying to find no.27, there seemed to be no sign of them and eventually we gave up and got back on the road out of town. Maybe 3 km's along our route and there ahead of us the two little girls jumped up and down, waving their arms and ecstatic to see us. We waved back and they beckoned us over.
"I am so sad, my heart was hurting because I thought you were not coming" Ivana told us.
"Come, come. Follow us to our house, everyone is waiting for you!" The girls were running ahead, bouncing around and telling everyone we passed that we were their guests!
We waved and said hello in Slovakian, we had a mixed response. It seemed as though this community had either chosen to situate themselves away from the main village or they were outcasts.
Arriving at no.27, we were ushered in and instructed to leave the bikes parked up outside the house so that we could go in and meet the family. This was when the situation began to feel terribly awkward. We were more than happy to be introduced to everyone, but we did not fancy our chances at leaving the bicycles unattended. Desperate to put our trust in these guys, we settled for taking our bar bags with passports, money and camera and went inside. At the back gate, a few guys were gathering to look on. Inside, we were embraced by the parents, grandparents, aunties and uncle. Ivana pulled up google translate on the computer and the father prepared a plate of bread and salami for David and I. We could hear a lot of movement outside, but could not see out the window. David went out to 'check on the tracker' and a little bit later I rummaged around in my panniers to find the girls some chocolate bars I had stashed away. The hospitality was undeniable, but it was extremely difficult to relax. Eventually David decided he should stay with the bikes as the guys outside watched on and I took the guided tour of the girls bedrooms before thanking them kindly for their hospitality and politely declining their offer of staying the night.
We promised the girls that we would not forget them and embraced a hug together. We waved behind us as we cycled away.
The sun was setting and our emotions were all over the place, we seemed to be non the wiser. Having travelled for many years now, we both feel we have a good judgment of character. However, in this situation, we could not decipher if our uneasiness at their home was justified or were our concerns irrational and unfair? Reflecting on our experience, it is still troubling us somewhat. And not for one minute because of anything untoward that happened but by our own preconceptions and subsequent reactions. We still can not stop thinking about the raw excitement and beaming faces when we arrived as honorary guests, the sincerity was undeniable. It really is true that we will never forget this wonderful family.