Friendhopping – Part II: The Botanist

The holidays are nearing and it seems that there is some hitch hiking in store for me. In memory of my past trips, I decided to work through my old travellers’ blogs, take the mistakes out, change the names where necessary and post them here piece by piece, on Wednesdays. I’m starting with the final trip I took so far, written just after I finished my studies. The series contains a storyline about love and friendship. It has six parts. This is part two.

July 28th 2011
The Tatra mountains are not so high, but their peaks are everything you expect from a mountain: sharp, rocky and silent. Z., H. and I are sitting on one of the ridges, eating our well deserved and delicious Slovak lunch. We can see Poland rise above the clouds. Our guide is a 60-year-old energetic female botanist, also called Z.

There are several ways to distinguish a true botanist from the wannabes. Firstly, professional botanists drive around in 4 x 4 cars with big trunks. This helps them access awfully remote and unreachable areas and bring back significant amounts of preferably scarce types of local vegetation without any moral hesitation. Secondly, they wear camouflaging clothes – several layers -, ranging from hats and zipp-off pants to rain clothes and fleece jumpers, suitable for any weather type you can imagine. A true botanist could survive months in any place on earth on car and clothes alone. But most importantly, the real botanist can be distilled from charlatans by his remarkable skill in noting and recognizing a variety of plants species that most people would fail to see even if their face was pushed into the meadow. Z. scores high on all criteria: we have a real one.

Z. the botanist speaks some English, but she gets along far better in Slovak with our Z. For a botanist she talks a lot. Sometimes she turns to H. and me. She then explains us how the mountains have shaped the vegetation, what different plants there are and how some places are called. She also shares anecdotes. She met a bear last week.

Meeting H. in Trencin has been good. I had missed him without realising it too much. Long before H. moved into our house, we used to call him “Iron H.” because of his rock-in-the-tide way of being. I still do sometimes. He is brief, to the point and a strong worker. But he has also shown more sensitive and funny sides during the months preceding his departure to Slovakia for an internship. The last week on the Pohoda festival turned out as cool as ever.

Meeting Z. was awkward. She expecting, me distant. Staying overnight in Brno has not made things easier. And I am never the most caring person on events and festivals. In the crowded business it took two days before we took a moment together off the terrain.

One moment we´re in the sun with a breathtaking view; the next we are surrounded by clouds reducing our view to the spot we are on. We finish our food and go back down aided by metal chains tied to the rocks. I can see the abyss right under me when I hang a little to the right. The botanist takes us down to flowery meadows with big marmots. She guides us over boulders.
“I usually go straight down here” She points down a steep slope of rocks. No road to be seen.
“But we´ll take the path because I´m with you”. The is one of the steepest mountain paths around. Not much easier, but her story about the deceased minister in the Tatras convinces us we are taking the right slope. She keeps gathering plants along the way. The fog around us makes it look as if we stand on a tiny green island in a vast space of white nothingness.
“It is as if this is the only place on earth”. I have not spoken the words, or I see a sweet little forget-me-not smiling at me from the grass.

We eat the rest of our food on the rocks downhill while our botanist keeps looking for plants. Quite exhausted from the steep walks, we look around silently.
“You seem sad”. Says the botanist when she gets back
“We are”. Answers Z. She´s right.

Later this day we´ll have a final beer with H. Saris.
I´ll get the amazing idea of eating a pizza in Italy.
And I´ll break up with Z.
After that we´ll have two wonderful days together. It had never occurred to me before that the Dutch word for Vienna, Wenen, means “to cry”.

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One thought on “Friendhopping – Part II: The Botanist”

  1. I like your idea to arrange your memories and trips like you started. And as always I like your writing. The way you describe nature and people shows a true observer who is capable not only to truly see things, but to make them familiar to the readers as well.

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