Living in nature
Four days in the city, three days in the forest. Such is a regular week in the life of Milka (22).
She combines her psychology studies with a part time job as tourist guide in one of Slovakia`s numerous caves. I meet her on a quiet day and take the opportunity to ask her about life in the forest.
`I am a big fan of mountains and nature and I quickly reacted when my friend told me that she had seen a vacancy for this job in the newspaper. During the months that have gone by since then, I have worked here with great pleasure. The location is perfect: about half an hour walking to the nearest village and another 45 minutes by bus to the city of Presov, which is where I am studying.`
`Spending time in nature is relaxing and I think many people would feel better if they spent some more time out of the city`
`The cave I work at is called `Evil hole`. It has existed for tens of thousands of years, but nobody ever really went there until the late 1990s. That`s when my boss Rudolf and a couple of his friends earned permission to make a path from the main road to the cave. They also built a proper entrance to the cave and a small cottage above it. That`s where we live now, and it also serves as reception desk. I am one of the currently two girls who are helping Rudolf out. The other girl is here when I am not.`
`My job is quite varied here. We get a lot of groups of school kids who come visit the cave. Whenever I am here, it will usually be me acting as their guide. I lead them around and tell stories about the history of the cave. I usually tell about some myths, legends or real stories about the cave and the forest. Some are more true than others. Bats don`t climbing into girls` hair, and anyway, the cave is closed to the public in winter, which is when the bats come back to the cave to escape the cold.`
`Whenever we have no scheduled visits, we spend our days days working on the cottage, building stuff, cleaning the carbide lamps, preparing food, chopping wood. Or smoking cigarettes and talking about whatever comes to mind. Rudolf plays the guitar and he has many stories about all sorts of adventures. We listen to the radio or work on the preparations for the expansion of the cottage to make it suitable to host guests as well.`
`When I am not here, I usually live in Presov because that`s where I am studying. I share an apartment with five girls. One of them was already a friend when we started living there, the others have joined later. All of them make a nice sample to work from when it comes to the psychology studies. My friend is normal, but then we have one girl with boulimia, one is anorexic, another one lesbian and the last one schizophrenic. And if such is at all possible, the our neighbours are even crazier. They knock on the walls when we take a shower after 10 and they get annoyed about everything we do. One time, the woman came to our door to complain, while her husband was making all sorts of gestures down in the garden. One of my friends got so sick an tired of it that she lifted her pyjamas to bare her breasts. That got them quiet for a while..`
`The academic year is over now, and I moved back in with my mother who lives in Kosice. We will look for a new flat at the beginning of the new school year. It`s not worth paying the rent for three months if I have no need to be in Presov. I don`t spend much time in Kosice though. My boyfriend lives in another village and at the start of the weekend, we usually leave for the High Tatra to do some climbing or exploring. My boyfriend is forester for his profession, so we definitely share our love for nature.`
`My friends do not find it strange that I spend so much time in an almost deserted place. I guess Slovakian people understand quite well if people don`t like to spend time in the city. I compare the general opinion about living in nature to what I have also seen in Finland, Norway and Iceland when I was working there on summer jobs. Unlike most Western Europeans, the Scandinavians are quite used to the concept of choosing a quite life outside.`
`Rudolf is in a similar situation. His wife lives in the city and Rudolf visits her about once a week. The lady is sick and cannot work, so most of what she does is play secretary over the cave`s proceedings. Rudolf says that living separated like this is the best guarantee for a long and happy marriage. He would not want to live in the city again and neither would he want his wife to come join him in the forest. She needs to see the doctor too often to make it practically possible anyway.`
`Spending time out in the open is one of the best things there is in life. It gives you freedom, fresh air, peace and quietness, all of which is virtually opposite to what you get in the big cities. When I wake up in the morning, I look out over the fields and see deer, wild pigs and all sorts of animals. The birds whistle so we don`t even need to have music. The cottage doesn`t have electricity anyway. It has an outdoor shower and a toilet that needs no flushing. Just a seat in a shed that is built over a big underground contained. We have a wood oven that serves as heating for the cottage as well as for cooking. Then there`s a tap that continuously pumps up fresh water from within the mountain. We don`t have TV, no fridge and no electric lamps. The radio runs on batteries and we have a small car battery to charge mobile phones whenever needed. The carbide lamps that we use for the cave are equally suitable in the cottage. We have simple solutions for everything.`
`It`s sometimes strange to see how much people grew away from nature. We get children here who are scared of getting dirty, while I think that children up to a certain age should enjoy that. One schoolboy once asked where the toilet was. When I told him that the ladies` toilet was in a small cabin while the boys toilet was everywhere around him, he didn`t understand what I was talking about, and certainly did not want to pee out in the open. The contrary also happens. Rudolf has stories about strange things happening here, like one Polish girl who was wearing a miniskirt and fancy top. They went into the cave, and would not accept that certain areas were not very suitable to explore. She then stripped off all her clothes except underwear and climbed through the cave like that. The girl`s boyfriend was quite surprised about that too.`
`Living away from the city makes me feel at ease. There is no stress here and I can thank of quite some people whom I would recommend to spend some time here. Away from obligations, stress and the constant struggle against time and money. This area is problem-free. Rudolf says he can cure anybody of stress if they would stay at his place for two weeks. It is surprising how few people come and visit this area. Under communism, two nearby hotels were always full of workers from neighbouring countries who came to spend their holidays here. The hotels are now empty and most of the people we welcome here are Slovakian school classes. Although Rudolf has a track record of visitors from at least 46 different countries. Quite some Polish and Czech people, a couple of Dutch guests every now and then as well as people from Colombia, Australia, China, South Korea and many more countries around the globe.
Slovakia is a good country for people who like to watch wildlife. Early in the morning, the view from the cottage is really beautiful and it`s easy to spot deer, wild pigs and foxes in the meadows. Rudolf has had several meetings with one wolf. Some other mountains in the area are supposed to have bears, but we don`t have any here. There used to be lots of snakes before the path to the main road was made, but I personally have never seen any around here. We have a warning sign at the beginning of the path Watch out for snakes, but its use is limited to the effect it has on children who come to the forest. They may get a bit scared and it will make their visit an even more memorable experience.`
`If I was after money, I should have looked for another job. I get a small salary for the time I spend here, with occasional extra money in busy periods. Apart from that, I have free accommodation and food so I am fine here. Depending in how much more difficult my studies will get towards the end, I see no reason that could keep me from coming here at least until the moment I finish my studies. Whatever happens next remains unknown. Finding a job as a psychologist is not easy in the East of Slovakia. I would like to spend some time working in a psychiatric institution, but everything also depends on my boyfriend. We may end up living out in nature as well. We`ll see what the future brings?`
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