A.K.A. The 10-Day Beer Run
Magyarország, Majus 6-15 (259-269-dik nap)
As a student at Jefferson Community School, I became accustomed to the tradition of yearly Expeditions. Each year I was granted the opportunity to step away from my ordinary life and just travel for a couple weeks with the rest of the school. Understandably, this opportunity is not available to those who live on a different continent. Faced with this fact, I was delighted to find an opportunity that, at face value, appeared similar. In conjunction with Hermes Tours, AFS-Hungary offered a 10-day sightseeing trip exploring a number of cities in Hungary. Though I signed on with hesitation, I soon found myself hauling my bags onto the tour bus.
As it turns out, AFS and JCS are very different organizations, and this fact is very evident in the way trips are handled. AFS-Hungary failed to demonstrate the ability to hold its students to the same standard that JCS does, with both interesting and dangerous ramifications. Most evidently, a massive amount of alcohol was consumed during the course of the trip. I mean, sure, JCS students and chaperones sometimes drink on trips, but they are expected to at least try to cover it up somehow and be in decent shape for the following days' activities. With AFS, people were vomiting and blacking out on a nightly basis and volunteer-sponsored beer runs were a daily occurrence. We left a trail of beer, wine, and liquor containers in our wake. Despite this, I assure you that AFS students are always attentive and respectful under the light of the sun. Except by "attentive and respectful" I mean "no one could ever hear the tour guides over the sound of 60 people talking." Honestly I'm impressed our guide put up with us for so long.
So what I'm really saying is that when we left a completely trashed tour bus behind, I wasn't surprised, just disappointed.
If you're wondering how my teetotal self handled 9 nights of drunken orgy, the answer often ended up being "play poker until all the drunk people shut up." Anyway, I suppose I should exposit on the non-alcoholic elements of the trip as well.
Day 1 - Eger
From Budapest, the bus immediately began travelling East toward the city of Eger. On the way, we stopped for an excruciatingly slow-paced nature hike. There was supposedly-drinkable water in pools near the pictured location, but most of us were too sketched out to do more than just throw it at each other. Afterwards we set up camp in a hotel-like building in the center of Eger. Though it had a prime location, the building came with the minor inconvenience of only having one bathroom. All the drunk people somehow made that work out. Also, Eger has some pretty cool street art:
Day 2 - Travelling South
Back in the day, Hungary was the front lines of the conflict between the Ottoman Empire and their European rivals. Midway through the 16th century, the Turks had steamrolled most of the country when the commander Dobó István led a heroic defense of Eger Castle. For this deed, he and his champions are immortalized with a number of larger-than-life statues. This contrasts directly with the medieval torture museum housed in the same castle, which I will touch on no further than remarking that having a weight suspended from one's balls looks particularly unenjoyable. We stopped for the night at a nice housing complex with a hot tub, and prepared for the rural portion of the trip.
Day 3 - Hortobágy National Park
Continuing south, we entered Hortobágy National Park, a World Heritage Site and Hungary's largest protected area. Hortobágy is the largest semi-natural grassland in Europe. This day was dedicated to exploring traditional Hungarian life, as we rode around in horse-drawn carriages and looked at farm animals. The highlight was a formation of horsemen with whips, who I was too busy watching to take pictures of. That is not the last time I'll be saying that this post. On a brighter note, that night we had the best housing of the trip; a small village of houses with solar panels, hot tubs next to a swimmable river, and a lawnmower robot.
Day 4 - Adventure Park
Passing through the city of Szeged was about the apex of our tourism for the day, as, in direct contrast to the previous day's focus on Hungarian culture, we found ourselves spending most of the day in an "Adventure Park" featuring Airsoft and an aerial obstacle course. The former was of particular interest to me because for several years, seemingly all the boys around me were into Airsoft, but I never joined them. At the time I rationalized it by not wanting to make a large monetary investment in something I wasn't sure I'd enjoy. I do not regret that decision, but I'm glad I finally got a taste of what I missed. Unfortunately for my teammates, that particular word choice also aptly describes my gameplay. In my defense, airsoft guns have a bad habit of not functioning as intended after I pick them up. As for the aerial obstacle course, I approached it with skill and valor. On second thought, wobbling on a tightrope screaming "fuck my life" isn't really reflective of either. I did somehow make it to the end of the course, but after a while I just ended up taking ziplines whenever possible.
Day 5 - Pécs, Cave
I apparently did not take any pictures this day, because there really wasn't much to take pictures of. We passed through Pécs, marking the southwesternmost extent of our journey, then began travelling East toward Kaposvár. We stopped in the rain to visit a cave. Then we kept travelling.
Day 6 - The Competition
The southeasternmost extent of our journey was marked by our arrival at a farm outside of Kaposvár, where we split into 8 teams to compete in a variety of events, with the winning team getting free alcohol. The events included mock fishing, rolling dice, stacking blocks, projectile weapons (I missed the javelin, throwing cross, bow&arrow, and the beanbag throw, but landed the bolas perfectly somehow), whip use, fitting lots of people on top of a wooden horse, a teambuilding-exercise setup with stumps and wooden boards, stilts, team path-laying for a marble, and horseshoes. After all that the winner was a a team with an Italian name that translated as Team Blowjob-Givers. I suppose that's easier to work with than explaining the in-joke behind my own Team Cinquenta y Cinco.
The other advertised event for the day was horse-riding, but that wasn't quite as exciting as advertised.
There we are. That's the horse-riding. One hops on a horse, rides around that little area, and then gets off the horse.
After that, we visited Kaposvár. It's a very pretty city - my favorite of the ones we visited during the trip. That's in no small part because I found this gem of a statue:
Day 7 - Balaton in the Fog
After visiting Kaposvár, we sped back toward Budapest, reaching the Lake Balaton. The biggest lake in Central Europe, Balaton is referred to as the "Hungarian Sea" for good reason. When the weather is good, it offers stunning vistas and peaceful swimming. So of course we got fog and rain.
That's not to say the day was ruined. Indeed, this was my favorite part of the entire trip, because this was the day we went hiking in the rain. Starting from the shore of Balaton, we went up into the hills. Spirits were low, as rainfall and hunger dampened morale. After merely half a kilometer, the whining attained a crescendo pitch. So the quarter of the group who were willing to go all the way ditched the losers and pressed onward. Half a kilometer of stairs and a rolling ascent later, we managed to reach the apex of the trail. Even more impressively, we oriented ourselves and managed to go down the correct way as well. The steps flew by even as the full force of the storm hammered through the canopy to drench us through and through. When we emerged from the forest, the storm unleashed its final fury, inflicting yet more wetness on those who did not take cover under umbrellas, before abating at last and leaving us with our victory.
Oh yeah, and our weird hotel with doors that refused to open, some rooms with yellow water, and at least one shower that flooded an entire floor. I guess you can't win them all.
Day 8 - Zoo
After waking up to the present surprise of actual visibility on the lake, we headed to Veszprém Zoo. All things considered, the zoo had a very impressive collection, but this entry will be dedicated to one animal in particular, and an incident I really wish had been caught on film.
See, in the modern world it is easy to get disoriented. There are many challenges that nature simply could not have prepared us for. However, sometimes one finds a situation wherein therer are some basic, primal, rules that ought to apply. Rules that make the difference between reproducing successfully and dying painfully. Rules like "don't piss off a tiger" and "especially not on purpose."
As it turns out, my survival instinct is capable of accounting for fences, because for some reason I pissed off a tiger. The results were, to say the least, absolutely stunning. Now don't get we wrong - I've seen tigers in zoos before, but they've always been sedate, at a distance, or simply well-concealed. Not this time. This one looked me directly in the eye from across the exhibit. Moving with all the power and elegance of an apex predator, it strode over to my side of the exhibit and began pacing not two meters away from me, growling as it went. So of course I decided to tense my entire body and grin at the thing.
I knew the tiger was angry. I knew that baring one's teeth is a sign of aggression. I was still caught off guard when it roared at me.
Remember what I was saying about primal instincts? As far as scary things that can happen to a human in nature go, hearing a tiger's roar from a meter away is pretty near the top. That's my excuse for flinching so hard and I'm sticking with it. Had the fence not been there, I might be counting myself among this year's tiger mauling victims. As it was, it is my place to pity the tiger, being trapped in an undersized cage with little protection from gawking zoogoers.
In conclusion I probably wasn't perfectly moral there, but I'm going to choose to focus on the fact that tigers are awesome.
Day 9 - Visegrad, Esztergom
Those last two days pretty much marked the climax of the trip for me. Visegrad is a pretty cool castle, but it also happened to be one I'd been to before. Which I appear to have failed to write about the first time. After that, we went to a big Catholic church in Esztergom, before returning to the hotel for the final night. A lot of people were planning for an all-nighter, but the chaperones intervened in favor of people sleeping at about 2:30 in the morning.
Day 10 - The Return
Though the trip was advertised for 10 days, the 10th day was really just the bus ride back to Budapest. We said our goodbyes Hösök Tere where we began, made promises to meet again for the final orientation in a few weeks, and hugged a lot of people.
So, now that the trip is over, I get to return to my normal life here in Hungary and continue with my Senior Project and preparations for the ECL Hungarian Language Exam. With all that pressure to actually get stuff done, I'm glad I don't have some kind of giant doomsday clock counting down my time before my life gets massively shaken up again.
51 Days Remaining
See? It's not a giant doomsday clock. It's just text.