The Swahili word ‘safari’ means to make a journey and to be out of touch.
It’s a pretty good way of describing how you can spend your time in Slovakia where whole days can just disappear as you find your way into, and hopefully out again, the wildness of its forests, foothills, peaks and rivers.
The endlessly mountainous landscape, and the climb to see it, will take your breath away. But be careful! Once off the beaten path you are truly on your own, there being no convenient bus service to meet you.
There aren’t any shops or countryside restaurants to sell you food and water, no comprehensive signage to tell you where you are and where you are heading to, and no mobile phone signal.
Without any local knowledge, we were powerless to prevent ourselves becoming lost as soon as we left the open road.
Following seemingly established paths on our bikes, we pedalled high in the hillsides along increasingly stony tracks that simply ended in open fields, searching out other muddy and rutted tracks created by tractors that twisted us back onto ourselves and following goat and sheep trails meant we meandered without purpose.
For two days, we wandered amid the panoramic scenery of the Mala Fatra mountains, and foothills of the Lower Tatras.
There was no point setting any timetable other than to return to camp before dusk. A short hour’s walk became a day’s trek as we got hopelessly lost, again.
There were dangers too – Smooth snakes darted across sturdy walking boots and massive bulls eyed us with interest!
Occasionally a hand painted coloured stripe on a tree or stone suggested we might be going one way, or another, so relying instead on the position of the sun we pedalled and hiked about on instinct.
A common sight, incongruous at first, was the many odd-shaped piles of hay that turned out to be shelters for sheep. Built on a simple a-frame the cut grass is layered to dry on the rack whilst being able to provide a sheep or two with shade beneath it.
As daytime temperatures soared back up to 30 degrees and in the thin air of high altitudes we could readily see the need for shade. It was a touching sight.
The sheer absence of people and activity in the mountains was remarkable.
We saw no other hikers or bikers, no dog walkers, no joggers, no Nordic pole-wielders, no dare devil parachutists and no gliders. There were no gondolas or ski lifts to take summer walkers up to the heights, no cog railways or mountainside steam engines cutting through the pass, no roads for coaches to twist up and along, no sky drives and no obvious destination points.
Apart from two farmers and one couple, all on tractors and cutting the long wild grasses on the hillsides, the landscape was empty of people.
Talking to Martin at our campsite in Dolný Kubín, he commented that the neighbouring region saw more people visit because its marketing was more effective. However, he felt that those who spent time in the Orava region loved it precisely because of its emptiness and wildness.
The gorgeous Orava countryside certainly provided a real tonic and time to recharge for two somewhat weary travellers from the bustling south coast of Blighty!
Here’s a gallery: