It started out like any other day since I landed in Europe – wide awake at 7am, no matter how late I slept. Turns out I wasn’t the earliest, my fellow hostel mate from Malaysia was already at the breakfast table. Breakfast was quite a spread at The Ginger Monkey Hostel – there was a basket of hard boiled eggs (gooey in the middle!), bread, spreads (think butter, hazelnut, jam, honey), and freshly-made coffee.
I’d checked in with my roommate the night before on his plans and he mentioned that wanted to hike up “The Saddle”. It was 29 October when I was there and most of the hikes would close by the end of the month. I knew I had to go for the toughest one – a 6 to 8 hour hike. After breakfast, we set off to get some supplies, and started our trip.
Time check: 10am
All was well for the first hour, and shit started getting real. Van, who’s South African, is a seasoned hiker. He had no issues going up and was going so much faster than I could. I thought my fitness level was reasonably well (hey I do Muay Thai and gym a couple of times each week, can’t be THAT bad right?) but I was so wrong.
Van likened a hike to a Half marathon, “The first 5km is always the easiest, you go into zombie mode for the next 10-15 and you’d just want it to end afterwards”. His words kept playing in my head once the hike became difficult. He had to wait for me a few instances and sometimes, I’d no longer see him around.
“Goddamnit I hate him,” was what I thought. I was frankly a little scared – this is my first hike up such a high altitude and I was all alone. There was nobody around me so I only had myself.
And final-fucking-ly, we had reached the peak.
Time check: 1pm
Van wanted to hike up the second peak so we split up from here on. If he could catch up later, he’d join me on the new trail, and if it was too late, he’d just head back the original way we got up.
So I started going solo after a quick snack of a chocolate muffin and two small slices of salami that he’d shared with me. By this time, I only had half a bottle of water left – 300ml – to last through the remaining 4-5 hours.
I trudged on. I was almost at the first lake and I thought, “Wow that’s the green lake, the reason why I’m here in the Tatras”. The time was 2.15pm, I was ahead of estimation by 45 mins! Alas, it wasn’t. It was just the mid-way point to the next Pleso. The lake was half frozen at this point and I noticed that it was freshwater after I tasted it. The genius in me decided to refill my water bottle and I continued going.
According to the signs, the pleso was another 30 mins away. I was secretly feeling exhilarated and proud of myself still that I was coping fine. I was happily taking selfies, occasionally peeing on a scenic mountain (and finding out my period was here argh) and just walking. The path wasn’t difficult since it was downhill and I checked my watch often. The rest of the folks had already warned me that it starts getting dark at 4pm and I wanted to be out by then.
By the time I reached Green Lake, it was already 3.15pm. I had taken slightly longer than estimated. After a few photos, I quickly hurried on. The next bus was at 516pm so I should be able to make it. After all, the estimation was 1.5-2 hours.
I took my time, and along the way, a couple of locals passed by. I never understood why they could walk so quickly. The path from here on was filled with small rocks so it was easy to twist your ankles if you fell. Sometimes, you’d be walking on a mix of ice and rocks so it was slippery too.
4pm came.. Still, I could see pretty well but this time round I started panicking and picked up my pace. I was so scared of having to walk in complete darkness in the woods, as there were no lights and no one was around.
My legs were taking me as far as the light hit on the ground – I was almost flying!
I was so fast I caught up with the local hikers who had overtaken me 30 mins ago. But at one of the turns, I didn’t know where to go so I waited to ask where I should be headed towards. What transpired was a conversation with these locals, who were surprised a Singapore girl was here hiking alone. Thankfully, they were well prepared and had headlights on; I only had a miserable iPhone light.
We walked and chatted along the way and my fears disappeared though I was walking around in complete darkness.
Finally, we were about to reach our final point. From afar, I thought I saw a huge vehicle (likely a bus) passing by. “I think I’ve just missed my bus, and I’ve no idea when’s the next one…”
The locals had reached their car so I decided to try hitching a ride but no one stopped. I was in the middle of nowhere – the bus stop was literally just a sign along a highway and there’s zero streetlights. It was also -9C that night.
The same group of people saw and approached me again. “Don’t wait in the cold, let us drive you to a local cottage and you can get some food and wait there.”
Man, I was SO THANKFUL. They even checked when’s the next bus for me before they left.
When I reached the cottage, no one could speak English. I gestured saying I would like to eat and the owner asked, “Hamburger?”. We even settled with a fruit tea.
I had no Internet connection, no data so I had to trust whatever the locals were telling me. There was also a drunkard and my thought was to avoid all eye contact because I didn’t want to get into any trouble. Unfortunately, he eventually came and sat with me with his friend.
They didn’t mean any harm and even tried talking to me slower in Slovak (like I’d miraculously understand haha). It was hilarious because everyone in the cottage were super keen in this Asian face. Throughout the two hours, all that the locals could say were “China? Kafe (Coffee)? Singapore, oh Singapore? Vodka?” and “Jackie Chan!”.
What a night!
Finally, I left when for the bus back to the hostel, where everyone were worried about my safety. It was such a cold, cold night, but my heart was definitely feeling the warmth.