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Travel Writing 2017 Application

Unexpected Memory 2017

Out of my comfort zone

Ashley Merscher

Poland

Despite the late October chill christening the air, the sun, streaming through the branches of towering evergreens, warmed my face. I sat atop small boulders lining the riverbed, digging my heals deeper into the stones below. I closed my eyes. The only sounds were the powerful rush of the Białka River, the occasional bird announcing its presence, and the muffled whisper of restless leaves. The air was refreshing, smelling of rich earth, pine trees, and a hint of smoke wafting from the chimneys of nearby cabins.
My moment with nature was interrupted by the sound of crinkling paper. I looked over and saw Dan rustling through my backpack, retrieving the only snack worthy enough to bring: giant glazed donuts. He passed one to me and claimed his own boulder, stretching his feet out. Sitting back, we enjoyed this moment in nature, a moment of absolute solitude, one that we hadn’t even expected to find.
Rewind just a couple hours earlier and you have an entirely different scene: stranded in the boisterous bus station of Zakopane, Poland. Cars whizzed by, buses sat idling, and drivers bellowed at one another between long drags from dangling cigarettes. Not exactly the pristine nature described above. Our hopes to travel by bus into Slovakia, making our way to the eastern city of Košice, were abruptly rerouted when a stubborn sign declared that no public transportation crossed the border after the summertime tourist rush.
Slightly devastated, we quickly made the rounds, using big smiles and plenty of gesticulation to determine our fate. Perhaps no buses legally cross into Slovakia, but we could go on foot. At least, that’s the advice we received, which sent our imaginations into a spiral of almost 200 kilometers. No, of course we wouldn't walk the entire distance, but rather we could take a mini bus to the small border town of Łysa Polana, cross the bridge by foot, and wait on the other side for the next (Slovakian) bus to retrieve us… four hours later.
It wasn’t our original plan, but it wasn’t a terrible option either. We decided to brave it, timidly pointing to the map until one of the bus drivers eventually nodded, slinging his thumb back as an invitation to hop in.
So there we sat in isolation; one day technically lost, but an unexpected experience gained, one that quickly became a favorite travel memory. We sat in the warm autumn sunshine on a riverbed in the middle of a forest straddling Northern Slovakia and Southern Poland, eating donuts for lunch. And I wouldn’t have had it any other way.


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