Shawn vs Wild – Slovakian Mountains

It is possible to get Europe’d out.

Bigass church after bigass church. Crowds on crowds. Priceless art followed by more priceless art. Also the constant “No I don’t want a FUCKING selfie stick mate. Beat it.”

I literally saw a lake in between some mountains on google maps and thought that must be pretty!

After six hours on both busses and trains, I discovered I wasn’t wrong.


The hiiiiiiiiills are allliiiiiivvve

I found myself in Liptovský Mikuláš, a small town amongst the Slovakian Tatra Mountains. In the same google search where I found that out, I also found out there were bears where I was planning to hike.


Obviously that didn’t worry me in the slightest, and I totally didn’t fret about it as I left my hotel to find the trail.

Literally before I even found the trail, I got lost. I misread the instructions and ended up spending over an hour trying to find the stupid start sign. I retraced, backtracked, read my phone screenshots over and over, and ended up in some logging camp or some shit. This is where I gave up and decided to just walk to the closest high point and try salvage a view before turning back.


A pretty place to be lost in


The below average view I found before giving up

I had told a friend beforehand if I wasn’t back by a certain time then call the banners, because I’m in trouble. So by the time I finally found the dam sign where the actual trail began, I was already too behind schedule to start. It was a long walk of shame back into town.

So the next day I decided to try again, I walked the same hour to the trail, actually found the start this time, and then I entered the unknown.

It was eerily quiet during the initial ascent, minus my loud clapping every 20 seconds in an attempt to scare away bears. I knew nothing about the woods I was in, there were no other hikers around, and I was relying on these sparse blue markers on trees for direction.

Half an hour in, the blue markers seemed to just stop. Positive I was still on the path I fought through the bush that seemed to stop going uphill. I know hikes usually end up on top of the mountain so this was confusing. After forty minutes without a blue marker, I admitted I was lost. So what did I do?

I took selfies.


Can you see the bear in the background?

If anything it was to show my last moments before the Blair Witch got me.

A glance at the shot clock revealed that I had spent about an hour and a half being lost once I was finally reunited with the blue markers. I had half a mind to give up again, but I would have left Liptovsky Mikulas a failure since I had a bus booked the next day. So I picked up the pace and decided to keep paranoid about bears and carry on.

Who would have known that six months of replacing regular exercise with alcohol, sugar, and croissants would have a negative effect on my fitness. Every 20 seconds I took a tactical stop, which was embarrassing even though no one else was within 5km of me. I felt my new gut sway as I scurried up rocks to stay in the presence of the blue markers. I scoffed my lunch to reduce the chance of the smell getting to nearby bears. Totally not paranoid though.


I turned left onto Struggle Street

It must have been around two hours before I reached the top. I wish I recorded my reaction. The view came out of nowhere and from what I remember I was all like, “Ohhh wooooaaaaWAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAOOOOHHHH!! CHAAAAAHOOOOOO!” This newly unfit backpacker had backed his pack to the top of Mt Olympus. (Technically Mt Poludnica but whatever.)


Liptovsky Mikulas township from the top


No one to judge you for taking selfies up here


Just following Nelly’s advice 

Although I could see my hotel, I was without a massive zipline so I had to reach it the old fashioned way. I began the trip down but instead of clapping, I took to singing some of my new songs to avoid consumption via bear. I took off my uselessly sweaty shirt, and while covered in dirt I skipped through the woods with a second wind only downhill can bring.

I reached a mountainside meadow before it started to shower. I remained dry under an evergreen and listened to the rain hit the grass with a kind of pop I would want everyone to experience. This is where the words don’t reach. Sitting there, listening to nothing but the water finding the ground was a very wholesome moment. The photo ain’t great but takes me back to my happy place when I see it.

pretty serene

Unfortunately despite a small break to encourage me to leave the safety of the evergreen, the once serene rainfall turned into a full on thunderstorm. Easily the loudest crack of thunder I’ve ever heard made my constant bear-clapping seem a bit stupid at this point.

Jogging through the rain in full survival mode just trying to keep my vital organs warm, still without a shirt on because it was too cold to stop moving (strange logic in hindsight…) I stumbled upon this bus shelter thing, which I totally thought was a mirage but it kept me mostly dry. I had time to put my shirt on again and wait out the rain, which must have taken an hour to calm down.


“Oh it’s pouring and I’m lost in the woods, can you help me oh creepy AF secluded cabin?” NICE TRY HUMAN CENTIPEDE GUY 


Where I ended up seeing the storm out

I realized how close I was to the village where I started once I got moving again. The sun peeked from behind the clouds, and I began to recognize where I was. I looked back at the summit from the township and was satisfied with having come from all the way up there. I had celebration ice-cream waiting for me when I arrived back at the hotel, like a good little pudgy traveller.


The mountain I just conquered

I took a few things away from this.

– Read instructions. I wasted a full day being lost because I misread instructions.

– Trust your instinct. I had to admit twice I was lost because something didn’t feel right, and both times I was right.

– Check the weather before you venture into unknown wilderness! It was so sunny for days I didn’t even think to check, but a jacket would have gone a long way.

– Listen to nike and just do it! Challenge yourself. I’ve become pretty lazy in my tired backpacking ways, but I’m so glad I ventured out the next day after failing. It was a real adventure and a highlight of Europe for me.

– Finally, bears hate clapping and singing, because I didn’t see any. Mr Grylls, you can use that tip on your show no probs mate.


Do the rest of the world care about the All Blacks?

“You’re from New Zealand? I love Lorde! Also your relationship with the native people is the best out of all the colonies.”

 …Said no one ever.

Once I tell other travellers where I’m from, it’s still Lord of the Rings and Flight of the Conchords. I mean I love LOTR as much as the next hobbit, but it’s been over 13 years since a GOOD Lord of the Rings movie came out. Yeah I went there.

However in a strangely routine fashion, once we’re done talking about Brett, Jermaine, and Frodo, some will quietly enquire about our national game. It’s almost as if they’re embarrassed to mention it in case I don’t know what they’re talking about.

“So… do you like rugby at all?”

Do I like rugby!? It’s the biggest source of national pride in my country. Some of my happiest early memories are at Eden Park with my family. The 2011 World Cup was the craziest I’ve ever seen Auckland with people shoulder to shoulder as far as the eye can see, some even doing hakas on top of busses. Rugby is the cultural pillar that my country stands upon…

“Bro. Course I like rugby!” That usually suffices.

What follows are conversations that surprise me, because people from all over the world love rugby just as much as we do. Their initial shyness could be because it’s hard to talk about it in their home country, where something else like hockey or chess-boxing might be the sporting religion.


Yes it’s a real thing. One round chess, one round boxing.


I’ve seen All Black apparel worn by all walks of life from Bali to Tokyo to Italy. I’ve talked super rugby with Filipino-Canadians, (who supported the Stormers?!) I’ve had broken English conversations about how sad it is that Jonah died.

The story that sticks out the most was at a bar in Tokyo (that had great tap water.) I was summoned by my friend to go talk to a Japanese dude he’d just met.

“He really wants to talk to you, he heard you are from NZ and he loves rugby.”

Cool I can deal with that.

I’ve never seen someone so excited to meet someone they’d never met before. He hugged me when I said rugby. With his broken English, and my broken Japanese both holding us back, all I really said was names of players, to which he’d freak out at.

“Richie McCaw?”

“Ooooooooohhh Rituchii!!!! Riituuchii!! I love I love!!!!!

He was so overwhelmed I might as well have been an All Black.

After 20 minutes of ‘oooh Rituchie’ he went around in a circle and felt all of our crotches. Just straight cupped us all. Must be a Japanese custom I didn’t read about? We took our leave after that.

Another story that made me laugh the most was meeting a group of Welsh lads in Budapest recently. All I had to mention was one wee word that set them off into fits of anger.


“Aaaargghhhhhh fackin bullshit what the fack so stupid….”

They didn’t know much about Hamilton or Waikato, but they knew their national team, ranked 5th in the world, lost to them.

Finally the French. NZ and France have a healthy rugby rivalry, kind of like Jon and Ramsay. Throughout my French trip it’s amazing how little the 2015 World Cup was mentioned. 2011 was, along with how awfully biased the ref was toward NZ. There was also this gem I found in Nice.


Blame the blur on my below average Vietnamese phone, & the bartender getting weird at me taking photos 

In hindsight they did host it that year, but it was humorous to be confronted with that particular year, while in France, as a Kiwi. I thought I’d successfully erased that morning from my mind.


We can get a bit isolated in New Zealand. I’ve been to many international bus terminals since travelling, and I get the feeling opening one back home wouldn’t be that smart. It’s easy not to realize how big rugby and the All Blacks are overseas, but the rest of the world has nothing but respect for our team, the haka, and our lengthy domination of the game.

I thought if I wore my jersey travelling I was going to be that weird new kid in school who plays with toys no one cares about and gets told to piss right off. That’s simply not the case. We’re awesome, and everybody knows it.

Now if anybody sheepishly asks me if I like rugby, I take a breath, relax, and know the following conversation will be easy, because my team could kick their team’s ass.