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Trail of honour through Hungary… (5/9/07)


Hungary began in a blur of exhaustion, relief, and celebration a month ago, and since then things have only continued to be a dream like experience. Hungarians, whose ancestors come from the steppes near the Urals (the Magyars) have a culture that is far more closely related to the steppe nations than to Slavs, and so their understanding of my journey has meant that I have been treated, privileged, spoilt, and I feel like I am being kind of cradled to the finish. Peter Kun, (who I will write about below) pulled me aside a week or so ago and said: ‘So you realize why all these people are willing to help you? Because for us your journey is in honour of our ancestors who also came from the East by horse.’

In some ways the wheels are starting to fall off my journey at least symbolically. My compass broke, my tent ripped apart, my video camera stopped working, my digital still camera has a blotch inside the lens, and my laptop which has been carried in the horse boxes the whole way I think is near to death.

Personally though I feel strong, Tigon is running more than ever and never tiring, and most people are astonished that my horses are in such good condition. I am now 19 days from the end of this journey. The Danube is just two or three days ride. Before I go on I must pay thanks and tribute to Janos Loska who has and is going out of his way to help me on a very insightful journey through Hungary.

I began in Hungary by crossing the Tisa river to Tomas Petrosko’s camp in north east Hungary near the village of Kisrosvagy. Tomas has six or seven Yurt tents and had himself traveled 4500km by horse in 1996 from the origins of the Hungarians together with a back up truck and seven other riders. Upon arrival in Hungary he had gone about setting up a park to teach Hungarians about their ancient culture as nomads.

One afternoon he dressed up in traditional clothes, the big fur hat drawing attention to his intense and wise almond eyes. Tomas must be in his late forties or fifties but suddenly sitting high in the saddle on his horse and moving to a gallop he looked at least 20 years younger. At a full gallop he let go of the reins and took aim with a bow, the thwack of the arrow hitting the target had only just registered when he was turning backwards, still at a gallop, and let the second arrow fly. With this display it was not difficult to imagine just how intimidating a few thousand Mongolians with their supreme archery skills must have been.

Tomas learnt archery from a man well known in Hungary called Kossai. Ironically, Hungarians, who lost their nomadic ways many centuries ago have preserved the art of horse back archery- while this tradition has been lost in Mongolia and Kazakhstan.

Tigon gets into a scrape again………

I spent five days at Tomas’ camp sleeping in a Yurt tent and feeling very much at home, my horses nibbling the surrounding green pastures. The border experience had left me pale and drained, but just when I felt like I was on the mend at Tomas’s camp….Tigon disappeared. He was there one minute, then as usual he was out of sight running around somewhere in the peripheries, but this time he didn’t come back. It was late, about 9pm, and by 10pm I began to worry. At midnight when I went to sleep, he was still not there, and when I woke in the morning to an empty yurt tent I felt cold. Usually he would wake simultaneous with me, yawn, stretch, and beg me to get moving so he could again run and chase hares. I saddled up Taskonir (darkie), and was soon off searching, calling for Tigon. The landscape was confusing. The natural lay of the land was broken by drains, old canals, shelter belts, reeds, corn crops, some fences, and all around in this largely flat landscape were villages. Knowing just the words ‘black dog’ in Hungarian I realized that I was in trouble. I trawled the streets of two local villages. Tomas alerted the local hunter so that Tigon would not be shot. Some villagers said I should go to the border patrol station (for the Slovakian border), and the neighbour of the hunter said that he was sure he saw Tigon walking the streets early in the morning. More than anything I was paranoid that someone might have tied him up (I found him once like this in Ukraine), and hidden him around the back of a house. Many dogs came running and barking, but no Tigon. I went down to a small gypsy community, and they also said that they might have seen him but couldn’t remember when. A local farmer told Tomas that his dogs had chased away a foreign dog too. These were all candidates, but where was he? Surely he wouldn’t get lost?

I returned to Tomas’ camp empty handed and at lunch time Tomas and I set off with the car, criss crossing the local fields and villages, but no one was the wiser and so we returned home. By evening I was sure that something was wrong. He was either lost, hurt, stolen, or trapped. But where? Towards sunset I saddled up taskonir one more time. This time I rode along the back of homes peeping into backyards, looked for tracks in the forest, but all that moved were a couple of wild deer. In one village I rode to another large gypsy community where I was quickly surrounding by shrieking children and men who pointed at my horse asking if I would sell. No one had seen a dog here but I left my mobile number with one man just in case.

It was dark, and I was returning home dejected and numb. Then suddenly Janos Loska rang:

“Tim do you have your dog?.........He is in tusze!”

Tusze was the village from where we had traveled four days earlier. In getting to Tomas’ place I had crossed the Tisa river on a ferry, and followed a complicated route in and around villages, roads and forests about 30km.

“We don’t know yet how it is possible, but we think he must have swum across the Tisa. He has been waiting in the garden of the family with whom you stayed. What we also don’t understand is that he does not have a collar, but a long wire attached to his neck.”

As it turned out Tigon had arrived at the home quite early in the morning but at first Yuribachi, the owner, had not believed it could be tigon (and if it was he later recounted, ‘then what happened to Tim?). He had left a message on Janos phone but only now Janos had got the message. Luckily Tigon had not strayed too far and within another hour or so Janos confirmed that Tigon was tied up and safe! What had actually happened to Tigon I could not understand and never will, but the important thing is that he was safe. In the morning Tomas and I drove to pick him up, put a new collar on him, and I had the feeling that once again Tigon had narrowly escaped disaster. ‘Super dog’ said Tomas shaking his head again and again.

Hungarian Palinko, goulash, and generous hosts…

From Tomas’ place myself, Tomas, and Susan from Budapest rode to the village of Karos where we were met by another horse archer, a man with a large powerful face and again almond eyes. He could have been a Kazakh with his dark hair and bold wide face. We had only just arrived and sat down in his garden when two or three different ‘Palinkos’ were offered. Palinko is the national spirits drink usually made from plums, apples, peach, or cherry. Just when I thought I had seen my last days of swilling vodkas and spirits in Ukraine it was well and truly on again.

‘Drink, eat!’ In the hot sun the Palinko soon made my legs and eyes heavy and I struggled to coordinate the spoon and fork to eat the goulash made over a small backyard campfire. Later I was adorned with gifts including a Hungarian archer’s shirt and souvenirs from Tomas, but it was all lost in my palinko induced state. The heat, the dust, the drink the food, the dizzy feeling, I was back in Kazakhstan, the ill feeling I got when I knew that I then had to saddle up and keep riding when everyone else was resting. I just wanted sleep, and sleep.

That I promised myself was the last time I would accept Palinko during the day which is decidedly stronger than vodka and definitely more potent than a bowl of fermented mare’s milk.

By early evening Istvan, a tall powerful man with long curly hair arrived on a shiny black horse. He also had a slightly Kazakh look in his eyes and face and met me with a big smile and strong handshake. You could easily imagine him galloping in with a sword or bow and arrow….but of course his tight jodhpur pants and English saddle were y a little bit conflicting with such an image. Istvan ran a horse stable and a summer camp for children and worked as a physical education teacher in the town of Saraspatok.

Tomas rode home at a gallop with a ‘yehah’ down the street and Istvan and I headed in the other direction. Near the edge of the village of Karos we stopped at an ancient grave site. Fifty years earlier they had excavated and found remains of locals who were among some of the first Magyar communities in the Carpathian Basin. Tomas had been instrumental in having the graveyard preserved and marked by memorials. Colums of low light cast a golden light over a series of Mongolian style cairns of rocks (called ovoos) with small shaman trees and ribbons. A great memorial had been built on the site of the richest grave by a Mongolian with the depiction of horses, riders, and birds all caste in glazed turquoise, flying towards the sky.

“this is a very special place. Its unbelievable that we don’t know more about our history” said istvan.

From here we rode head on into a dirty grey cloud that was raking across the plains and picking up dust, dirt, and sending everything back down to earth with heavy drops of rain. We rode straight into it, and soon we were trotting into the sheets of horizontal water.

“Look Tim, if you are thirsty, open your mouth and point it to the wind!” said Istvan. The rain drenched us and the horses to the skin, washing away the heat of day, the palinko, and leaving just a smile, and the feeling that I had really arrived in hungary.

I stayed several days with Istvan being treated to the Tokai wine, local Hungarian dishes, and getting to know Istvan’s family, and his friends at his stable and childrens camp. There was an incredible calmness in his family, and a great honesty, patience, and generosity. I felt I had made some great new friends and was sad to leave.

Istvan guided me to Sabolc which was one of the ancient capitals of Hungary. The remains of an earth fortress can still be found and within its walls a yurt city would have once been found.

As we crested the top of the earth fortress at sunset we were met by locals who had goulash simmering over a campfire. One man, ‘Geysa’ took me to a ‘shaman tree’ not far from the campfire where a letter was hanging in an envelope by a string. It read ‘to friend’ and in the envelope was a ceramic amulet and some information about sabolc. This man Geysa, who was also apparently an archer, explained that he was a guardian of the fortress and that he would let me camp inside the walls, and graze my horses.

Wine, palinko, and goulash were free flowing after dark around the fire, and Geysa began to rave about ‘the Huns way.’ He was convinced that he was actually a Hun, but it didn’t really matter to me. My journey could just as easily have been the Scythian’s, Avar’s, Magyar’s. Hun’s, or Mongol way. The fact is that nomads over thousands of years had constantly moved back and forth across the vast Eurasian steppe.

Many people arrived to greet me and see the horses that night, and I have know idea how many hands I. I was astonished by what seemed to me an onus that these locals had taken upon themselves to help, honour, and escort me through their country. Sitting by this fire, looking up at the clear sky beyond the rim of the earth fortress it did feel as if I had stepped into an ancient land closely connected with the steppe through which I had been traveling since Mongolia.

I fell asleep by the fire and was only woken when Geysa began raving more about the Huns way and the one big blue sky. As he walked home he stopped every now and then and began calling out and singing like a shaman. I slept well under the stars and woke early to see the silhouette of the horses grazing on what could have been any one of hundreds of campsites I had made to date.

The next two days meals were brought ready made to my tent in the fortress grounds, and tourists walking around the fortress walls peered down curiously at my horses. Geysa, who was actually an artist who specialized in wood carvings and ceramics, spent much of his time with me gazing at the horses, practicing archery, and talking about how old and ancient the scene was to have my horses grazing here.

A night in a castle and riding with Janos Loska…

Geza and his friends arranged my next transit to the village of Tisadob, and I was escorted by a mix of bicycle and car, and given a huge lunch of chicken schnitzel in someone’s front yard. Most of my equipment was transported to Tisadob to save the horses since it was a 50km day, and the heat was up around 35 degrees.

Arrival at Tisadob was certainly far from the desert of Kazakhstan. Beyond large leafy trees and green lawns, a 19th century castle rose with its spires. To one side of the castle a large hedge maze had been preserved, and I was met by the director, and her daughter. The castle and surroundings were actually part of an orphanage.

My horses were soon tethered to nearby pasture and given Lucerne. Tigon and I were led up to a kind of ‘royal’ guest room with a huge bathroom, red quilted king size bed, and views over the gardens. It had been a very hard 50km in the heat and I fell onto the bed with a crazed smile finding it hard to believe where I was.

The next day Janos Loska, the man who has already helped so much and is coordinating help for me on my route, arrived with his driver, son Marta, and two of his horses in a horse float. Janos is a horse breeder, former Hungarian equestrian team member, and has worked as a horse tour guide for 26 years. He set up the equestrian tourism association of Hungary, and knows just about every nook and cranny of the country by horse. This means that I can travel entirely by tracks and paths under his advice and direction- something that I could never have done by myself since Hungary is a densely populated country with a vast network of busy roads and towns.

We set off in the heat of the day, and after a couple of hours had settled into a rhythm, and were beginning to relax. We talked a lot about Hungary and horses. One comment by Janos stuck out it my mind:

‘The day that Hungary has fences is the day that it is not my country and I will leave.’ He said this just after we had been galloping along an open stretch of pasture in the evening light. Although far from nomadic, and even riding in English style on horses that nomads would not recognize, there was something still there, a love of the open, and freedom. For me that sums up Hungary very well- a country of steppe people who settled in Europe and have a culture that often successfully combines the advantages of both lifestyles and cultures.

Late in the evening we arrived on the open ‘puszta’ on what is known as the Great Hungarian Plain. The air was dry, the moon was rising, you could smell and hear sheep settling down for sleep in pens on the open pasture. After finally arriving at a farmer friend of Janos’ we ate kilos of freshly cooked Hungarian Pork, black sausage, and drank local wine. I felt incredibly lucky to be so well supported by janos and everyone I met. Janos joked: ‘No one will rob your horses, there is grain, there is grass, your have made it, and we have to gradually civilize you again for the finish of your journey.’

Peter Kun and the Eurasian steppe of Hortabagy….

The next day we rode to the Hortabagy steppe, the place where nomads held onto their lifestyle for longer than in any other region of Hungary. As the Mongols began their push west, they displaced a group of Turkic nomads called the Kipchaks, or also known as the Cumans. They moved to Hungary and largely settled in this region, and today are known as ‘Kuns’ in Hungarian.

Here on the Puszta I felt myself very much at home again, as if the Carpathians had just been a mere blip on the map, a small break on the great Eurasian steppe. The heat, the salty earth, the grass dried to a crisp, smell of dried dusty dung, and herds of animals always on the horizon.

After midday a lone rider came cantering towards us. He sat straight and strong in the saddle and met us with a handshake and tough but friendly smile. He had long hair tied back tightly and rode like myself with no bit, but a rope halter, and sat in a saddle reminiscent of a Kazakh or Mongolian design.

“So you are Tim. I am Peter Kun.”

I had been waiting to meet this man for some time now. Peter had lived three years in Western Mongolia and Kazakhstan, spoke fluent Kazakh, Mongol, had finished his PHD researching Kazakh horse traditions, and had published a world first book about the heritage and connections between Mongolian, Kazakh, and Hungarian horsemanship.

At once he knew my breed of dog, the kind of horses I had, and told me something that no one else would have done:

‘three years from Mongolia to Hungary…its nothing, its quick.’ His notion of time was clearly different, and later he explained to me that he didn’t wear a watch because he didn’t want to be a slave of the time. In fact the Hungarian word for time is the same as the word for ‘weather,’ which makes a lot of sense when it comes to time among nomads.

Here on this steppe I recognized the wormwood plant, and salty grass that my horses had eaten so much on the steppe. Peter said that if you picked up a piece of the wormwood and smelt it you feel yourself on the big Eurasian steppe immediately.

We galloped part of the way to Peter’s home, visible as the white Yurt tent dome on the horizon. I would stay in this tent which he had transported from Bayan Olgiy in Mongolia, and in which he had lived for a year or so while he and his wife built and renovated their farmhouse. Next to the yurt was a well, and reed roof shelter. Upon arrival we were greeted by the huge Hungarian Commondor dogs, this incredibly shaggy hairy canine that the Kipchaks brought with them from the steppes of central Asia 800 years or so earlier. The advantage of the thick, long, and often matted hair is that dogs and wolves cannot physically bite through the hair to the skin. It is said that comondors can fight off four wolves at once.

I had only just said goodbye to Janos, when Peter came over to me with a rope and asked me to hold out my hand. I understood what he was about to do immediately. Around my wrist he tied a special knot that a Mongolian had taught me during the first few days of my journey. The knot, which is like a bowline used by sailors, is tied in a very unique way by steppe nomads and is crucial for horsemen.

“This Tim is the Kun’s knot, and we say that you are not a true horseman if you do not know it. Interestingly it is only known east of the Danube river in Hungary on the steppe.”

I could hardly contain my excitement. In Mongolia it was known as the Mongol knot, in Kazakhstan the ‘Kazakh’ knot, in Kalmikia the ‘Kalmik’ knot, and now I had come all this way to be told it was the kun’s knot! Everything seemed to crystallize before my very eyes as I looked down at the knot on my arm and then showed Peter that I knew how to do it identically. This one knot was a link to the steppe, to the nomads, the peoples of Eurasia who had traveled by horse for eternity over the steppe. I had in this one knot found the connection I had hoped to find between the many people between Mongolia and Hungary.

Peter was equally excited, and his next words were also astonishing:

‘And you know I was born, like my father, and my grandfather with a blue patch on my lower spine. This is another link.’

And true it was. In Mongolia, Mongols had explained to me that a true Mongol was born with this blue patch which they believed was remnants of their ancestry in the blue wolf. In Kazakhstan they had the same story, as in Kalmikia, and among Nogai people, and possibly tatars. The slavs I had met in Ukraine neither knew the knot or had the blue patch, and so it seemed probable that this was once again a connection between steppe nomads, the very people whose footsteps I was following and honoring.

Peter’s home was laiden with saddles, whips, photos, steppe talismans, and a bookshelf that stretched across an entire wall with hundreds of books, mostly about the steppe and nomads. In the two days I would have with him I tried to use every minute to tell of my experience, ask questions, and compare with his experience. His every word to me made sense. I could conclude now for sure that the thread tying the people of the steppe was only possible to find by traveling by horse. Furthermore if I had started in Hungary I would have traveled to Mongolia with European eyes and never been aware of these connections between Hungarians and their brothers on the steppe.

In the late afternoon while peter went to another farm I stood out by his yurt and watched his herder bring back a herd of sheep to the well. The air was dry and hot, the steppe all around had but a few skerics of shadow and shade. Dust clouds followed the sheep, the whistle and calls of the herder, the smell, the moving of the sheep like the running of rapids on a river. I realized that I was not being transported ‘back’ to the steppe. I WAS ON THE EURASIAN STEPPE. This might have been Europe, but these were not people trying to live an alternate way of live or pretending to be something that they weren’t. Peter was a kun, a Kuman, a steppe man, a nomad, and lived on the Eurasian steppe even if it was the far western edge. Hungarian people, surrounded by Slavic and Germanic nations are not of Asian origin by accident. Waves of nomads had moved to the Hungarian plains over millennia because here lay the Eurasian steppe, the landscape that was most familiar to them, and which supported their way of life.

Standing out on the steppe Peter later relayed to me:

“I went to Mongolia and Kazakhstan to learn about my origins. I work in the university to teach the youth about our history. But only here on the steppe of hortabagy in Hungary do I feel myself at home. Here with my horses, my sheep, no fences. My life is balanced and rich.”

Peter was now 34 years of age, but his mission to discover his culture had started young. At college he had begun learning Mongolian language from Mongolian exchange students, and at the age of just seventeen he had ventured to Mongolia for the first time, almost with no money. At university he became an orientalist, learning Mongolian, Chinese, Kazakh and ancient Turkic. Then his journeys began to the east which totaled more than three years. The way he spoke, the way he stood, and the look in his eyes was unequivocally nomad, and I thought of how the Kazakhs and Mongols must have had such a deep respect for him. In fact Peter told me that for Hungarians it is relatively easy to learn Kazakh and Mongol because the logic of the languages is similar to Hungarian, and that the Kazakhs and Mongolians consider the Hungarians brothers.

Peter’s gift and the meeting of the Csikos…

The next day I was in for a very special surprise.

“Tim, it is hot today, 38 degrees, and there is only one reason good enough to go outside……to see the wild Prezwalski (or Taki) horses.”

Hortabagy has the largest population of Prezwalski horses outside of Mongolia with a herd of around 100. The Prezwalski horse is of course one of the ancient ancestors of the domestic horse, and it is most likely horses like these and the Tarpan (another wild horse that is now extinct) that were used by the first horsemen in history on the steppe. The horse is the life, breath, and soul of the nomads and they believe the horse connects them to the great blue sky. The prezwalski then had to be a very special animal.

With camera in hand I calmly stepped out of the 4WD and onto this large open grassland. Ahead lay the unmistakable herd of Prezwalksi horses. Drawing closer I felt the hair stand up on my back. A young stallion with his sandy coloured back, white belly and zebra stripes on the legs, lifted his head from the pasture and gazed in our direction. His bones with thick and strong, his head bulky, neck short thick and powerful. He began to move, his short mane quivering in the breeze. Then he was gone, trotting off to a safer distance.

Closer to the herd we came across a scene that could have been from the wilds of the east or even Africa. At least seventy or so horses were lazing in and around a waterway. Suddenly a stallion lashed out with a bite at a competitor and the race was on. The stallion chased at a gallop his younger competitor beyond us under the sun, before dashing through the water onto the other side and disturbing a mare and her foal. Then most of the horses began to rush into the water, the sounds of hundreds of hooves breaking the still mirror finish, some of them stopping to eat reeds in the middle.

I could recognize at a glance the similarity between my steppe horses and this breed- the tough body, wary character, and short legs. My Kazakh horses, like Mongol horses are far more closely related to the Prezwalski than the thoroughbreds of Europe. It is for this reason that only steppe horses could have endured the journey I had taken and lived in such difficult conditions.

“Tim, this is my gift to you.” Said Peter. This was especially true since the herd is usually only accessible to scientists.

I said goodbye briefly to Peter Kun after two days and rode to the village of hortabagy, but was to meet him that Sunday for a ride to the meeting of the Csikos herdsman. At 8am with two of his friends we set off at a trot across the plains to a farm where an annual meeting of the Hortabagy herdsman would take place. The Csikos are the herders who historically have a had a reputation as tough men, notorious for their horsemanship and ability to steal. In fact two centuries ago the Hungarian authorities banned the Csikos from herding sheep and cattle on horseback, forcing them to go on foot or ride donkeys. This was to stop them from stealing. This of course did not work, and so the next steppe was for the authorities to ban the use of a girth strap on the saddle (the strap which attaches the saddle to the horse). It was thought that the Csikos could therefore not outrun the mounted police, but they were again mistaken.

“Look, just like Mongolia, cars, dust clouds, cows, horses, all together” said Peter as we arrived.

As we entered the crowd still on horseback an old Csiko man with his long blue dress, black vest and large round felt hat passed Peter bottle of palinko for a swig and this was passed around.

In the crowd was a blur of fascinating old characters and faces forged from a lifestyle and origin on the steppe. Many men carried herding sticks decorated with bone carvings and colorful inscripted paintings. Whips could be heard cracking every now and then, and as groups of bow legged old men wandered about, leather pouches dangled from wide leather belts. There was something almost oriental about the look of these men, yet most of them had pale eyes, large noses, only their eyes reminiscent of a Finno-Ugric people, slightly almond in shape.

We rode home 15 km in high spirits, and the next day I was to continue my journey to the Danube.

Seven days of riding in the protection of the Hungarian horsemen…

‘You are my guest in this country, whatever you need you just have to say.’ This was to be a common expression coming from Janos Loska, peter and others.

Early on the Monday morning I was met by Ference who arrived by horse with a long open sleeved shirt, vest, traditional hat, and sitting straight and proud on a traditional Hungarian saddle. Ferenc had a short beard and humbling smile. He seemed very quiet and composed, his eyes at once wise, searching, and patient. He had arrived to guide me to his home, and as I discovered he was also an orientalist who spoke Mongolia and had lived in the east. Eventually he got riding and in broken English he managed to succinctly describe his feelings.

“I am not an academic…I am Malchin (the word for ‘herder’ in Mongolian)” – this was despite the fact that he was part way through his PHD dissertation on Mongolian and Inner Asia bows. “For me the Hungarian sheep is very lovely” “I like Mongolian steppe, but Hortabagy steppe is most lovely. I am kun, this is my home.”

We rode across open plains, along wetlands where birds flurried out of the reeds and eventually to his home.

One year earlier he and his young wife had bought this old farm from an old man with the dream on making a life on the steppe. They lived in a two room shack with no electricity, and in the spacious old barns they had a small herd of thirty or so sheep, four cows, and two horses.

“My life now is like a rose bud, but in a few years it will be open and big” said ferenc. I had to admire these two who had moved from Budapest to take on a life that was unimaginable for most city folk.

I left them feeling very much inspired. To the town of Tisafured I was accompanied on horse by a tough man named Koilman who had his own stables and equestrian tourism business. He was astonished at how good my horses looked after such a journey and asked me how I did it. From here I rode alone to the edge of the Tisa lakes and spent a night with farmers who treated me with Palinko and a nights rest in the ranch kitchen. The next day I made a mistake and traveled an extra 1-2 hours the long way to the village of Kotelek. Quite stiff and tired I soon forgot about my riding day when the local mayor invited me to the city hall. There Monica- who spoke English and whose husband would help me the next day-, the mayor, her husband and father in law, a local Mongolian woman who had married a Hungarian truck driver 20 years earlier, and others joined me for a feast on a long table in the Mayor’s office. At one end of the table soft drink, different palinkos and spirits, beer, and wine were on offer, and more remarkable was that the Mongolian woman had specially prepared for me a Mongolian menu! We had an evening of toasts and good food followed by a presentation of my photos and video on my laptop. I rested in another home, and again was offered hay and grain for my horses.

Morning came and again I saddled up, this time for a very long day along the tisa river to Szalnok to the village of Toszeg. Here my horses were given luxurious stables and Tigon and I slept in a guest house. In the morning I was met by what Janos described me as ‘The western Riders.’ Four horses arrived in horse floats, and three men with long leather chaps, cowboy hats, and spurs on their riding boots. Their saddles were laiden with lassos, leather bags and decorations. “Sheriff” was the nickname of the leader who owned a ranch called ‘Silverado’ which was two days ride away. One of the men was from Slovakia and the third a local named Janos. Also accompanying them was a woman named Jeno who spoke English.

We spent what was for me a surreal two days riding together right through village streets, stopping each day for lunch at local pubs, and the first night sleeping in a hotel which was able to accommodate our horses in a special yard with hay and grain. I rode ahead setting the pace and since we had a large herd I let Taskonir free, but he would lag behind me, kicking and biting the four riders, not letting them get close to me and ‘his herd.’ It was comical to turn around and see little Taskonir refusing to let four big horses and western riders pass. Sheriff was a very calm and kind man who I came to like immediately. In normal life he was actually a software developer who had woken up one day and decided to become a western rider and build a western cowboy ranch. “Too many john Wayne movies I watched earlier in life” he said.

Finally on Sunday I arrived here at his ranch which is a fifty hectare property just two days ride from the Danube river. My horses are grazing in a green paddock, and I have been put up by Sheriff in a luxurious room near the stables. Sheriff is also a good friend of Peter Kun’s, and so the feeling that I am being protected and helped by the Hungarian horsemen is very real.

Now I am practically only six or seven riding days away from the end in Opusztazser. I am trying to enjoy this experience, but know that I will have very mixed emotions when it comes to the day when I actually have to let go of my horses and when I won’t need to saddle up. I feel sick in the stomach at that thought sometimes, and at other times a sense of excitement and relief.

Soon Mike Dillon, the cameraman who joined me in Carpathians will arrive, as will my brother Jon. My mother, neighbour, and good friends from abroad will be coming, and I know already that the end of the journey in Opusztaszer will be a very emotional event.

Everyone is welcome to join me for the end by the way!!!


Latitude: 46° 52 Min. 10 Sec.

Longitude: 19° 32 Min. 44 Sec.

Click to see where Tim is on a detailed map.