Living in a tepee, Slovakia
As we were planning our huge road trip in the summer (for those of you who don’t know, we drove 7,200km around Europe) I came across a tepee for rent in Slovakia and thought it sounded pretty fun. As it turned out, it was! We camped for two nights in central-southern Slovakia in the province of Bystrica banska, on the outskirts of a town called Krupina.
The family had two dogs; one much older and calmer and one much younger and prone to biting, six chickens and four cats. The younger dog was just a puppy at 3 months old so we ignored his biting (which was really painful) and just played with him as best we could by moving our hands and feet out of the way. We later discovered that another family visiting had requested the pup be kept indoors as he had attacked their toddler!
We had a brilliant time, lying in our teepee at night listening to the nearby stag, getting up early to photograph the deer, we went searching for fallen wood in the forests, had a fire, collected chicken eggs, playing on the swings and just had a great time being in the country.
Being asked back
We were delighted when the family invited us back to house sit for them later in the year and couldn’t believe our luck that we were going to spend more time in Slovakia. If you haven’t been to Slovakia, I really recommend it. It is a very beautiful country with lots of old houses, buildings and towns. It is steeped in history with violent clashes during the Ottoman empire and oppressive communism until the 1990’s. It quietly split from its brother The Czech Republic in 1993 and has been an autonomous country ever since.
We returned on the 6th September and left on the 23rd September. 24 days sleeping in a teepee, on a remote farm with no running hot water, a compost toilet, no TV, no wi-fi and no oven. We must have been mad!
The first thing we noticed when we returned was that the puppy (Jaffa) had tripled in size, if not more, and was now the size of a small horse!! No joke, he came up past my waist and was only six months old! He was now twice the size of the other dog, Harik.
The second thing we noticed was that Slovakia in September was not quite as warm as Slovakia in July and that cloud coverage was a bit greater. I’d suggest taking more layers and certainly some trousers if you visit.
Living in the tepee was an adventure. The night-time temperature dropped to about 6-10 degrees but we were snuggly warm under our thick duvets and with all of us sleeping together it made for a great big sleep over. The kids and I are very close and it was really lovely waking up with them (fast asleep), listening to the deer and the chickens and knowing the sun had yet to rise.
The only downside was the puppy who was untrained and due to his new size really strong. He would barge into the teepee and transform into this snarling, biting angry dog who didn’t want to leave or be dragged out. For a number of reasons (he wasn’t de-ticked or de-flead as many farm dogs aren’t) we didn’t want him sleeping with us and we were repeatedly reminded that he was an outdoor dog. In the end we worked out that the puppy was frightened of the older dog (despite being twice its size) and that all we had to do was get the other dog (Harik) to sleep outside the teepee and the pup would leave us alone. Phew. Of course writing this, I feel really guilty because the pup just wanted to sleep with us.
With Harik sleeping outside the teepee, the pup would either sleep on a rug on the other side of the teepee or go and sleep outside the cottage.
The cats came and went according to their whim. Like cats do! Although I only managed to photograph three of the four. They were mostly friendly and very tolerant of the kids petting them. Looking after cats is very easy; you leave food, they return to eat it and mostly sleep during the day and hunt at night.
Watching the kids get hands on with the chickens was great. I find chickens a little creepy and I was trying really hard not to show this in front of them. I don’t think it would have made any difference though because they were enamored by them and constantly pestering to get some. I grew up with chickens and freshly laid eggs but I often forget that the kids haven’t had those experiences. The downside of travelling is the lack of roots you’re able to put down and of course this limits having any pets.
During the mornings they were fed and watered (and petted) and around three o’clock in the afternoon we would re-fill their water and check for eggs. Usually we were rewarded with four fresh, organic, warm eggs. How could I say no when the kids pleaded me to eat them!?
I was most surprised by the kids volunteering to clean out the chicken hutch and shovel chicken poop, especially as the chickens and the coop had mites. Yes, it was really not pleasant to be covered in thousands of tiny mites (which is also very common with chickens) but the kids coped really well with them.
Growing and picking the food
I think it was probably seeing the kids collect the eggs and fallen apples and pick tomatoes, peppers and strawberries and rub their hands through the herbs that had the greatest effect on me. Although I only seem to have photographed Imogen (this is because the older two are less tolerant of the camera!), all the kids took great delight and pride in showing me what was growing and how to water and care for everything.
We had freshly picked tomatoes of all colours, red peppers, juicy strawberries, round pumpkin, freshly cut citronelle, fallen apples and so much more. The flavours were immense.
We cooked in two different ways; on a day-to-day basis we would use the electric hob but once a week we would light the fire and cook something in the oven. It was a challenge to cook for four on a single electric hob but it was an even bigger challenge to heat the water on the hob so we could wash up. I’m really glad I had that experience, I wouldn’t choose to live like that but it really made me so much more appreciative of my oven/cooker.
What surprised me the most was just how time-consuming it was to cook and wash up. In hindsight we probably should have eaten more raw food but as it was we were only eating one cooked meal a day.
Lighting the fire was exciting although I hadn’t realised quite how much wood we’d get through and how quickly you have to cook once it’s lit. Having the experience of cooking on fire was educational and challenging. I am not sure in the long run it would suit a big family though. I was worried about the sustainability of wood and the length of time but I am sure we would adapt.
I’ll save you from seeing any photos from the compost toilet but I’ll let you know that I had to empty it every three days. At first it was a novelty, of course the kids were a bit horrified especially as we emptied it on the compost heat but we got used to it.
The shower was a hose pipe connected to a boiler which heated it as it came through. The boiler was connected to a small bottle of gas, the same as you’d use for camping or a bbq meaning that the temperature would vary greatly. When the weather was warm the shower with its open door and views over the rolling countryside was nice however as the temperature outside dropped, taking a shower became colder.
Training the pup
It took three to four full days of us being there alone before the children were begging to leave. Not because it was remote or they were bored, far from it, they were loving the rurality of it, but because of the puppy. He would attack them for no reason, biting their legs, their heels, their bottoms. He had ripped all of their clothes in some way. If they fell over he would bite their heads, their hands and I couldn’t leave them alone. It was quite gut-wrenching to see the kids dripping blood and howling in pain.
The owners bought him a collar the day before we left and (well aware of his behaviour) told us to pull on his collar to stop him. I’d say this worked for about a day before he sussed what was going to happen and then started biting my wrists and hands. The collar was far too big for him, he’d pull it off and leave it somewhere (eventually we made more holes for it and he couldn’t get it off). The owners also suggested we spray him with water because he was frightened of it. Sadly that lasted all of five hours before he realised it was really fun to try and catch the water spray! Silly us because that pup was clever!
By this time, I was at my whits end. I didn’t want to leave but the dog’s behaviour was tiring and leaving the children alone with him was unsafe. The owners had no new suggestions, other than ‘put him inside the cottage for time out’. They repeatedly kept telling me he was an outside dog and not to let him in the cottage and given that he LOVED being in the house, I felt this was sending him mixed messages. My facebook friends gave me contrasting messages, some telling me there was nothing I could do within three weeks but others were more encouraging and this spurred me on.
I spent an afternoon researching dog psychology, making notes and getting to grips with the idea that if we were going to stay, the dog MUST be trained. So we implemented a few small changes:
- he was fed last; after the chickens, the cats and the other dog, Harik,
- to be given his meal he had to learn to sit,
- he got a damn good smack on the nose with rolled up newspaper for biting
- he was firmly told no in a gruff voice.
- we bought him toys he was allowed to bite
- we bought him a bear to cuddle
It took him two days to learn how to sit for his food (we used treats to teach him this) and the rolled up newspaper came everywhere with us for three days. After that the change in that puppy was nothing sort of miraculous. We could stroke him, we could play with him, he knew who was in charge and really he was a lovely dog! A truly loving, obedient, happy dog and gosh, I miss him.
I couldn’t believe it. Three days to train a dog. And what a lovely dog he was. He became a real joy to spend time with and we all really miss him.
Of all our achievements I think it is this one that makes me feel most accomplished.
Walking the dogs
Although the older dog, Harik, was walked most evenings, the puppy hadn’t been walked so we started walking him and Oh My! He loved being walked.
He was so good too. He would wait for us to catch up and he would come running back. In the end we started walking them twice a day; at sunrise and sunset.
Even reading this now, I cannot begin to comprehend the change in the pup that we witnessed. Just walking him made such a huge difference and to see him so happy was a revelation for me. I stopped seeing him as a delinquent dog and really enjoyed my time with him. He became such a pleasure to spend time with and it really changed my opinion of having a dog ourselves.
Sunrise was my favourite time of day. I got up before the sun rose and before the children. It became my time! My time to walk the dogs, to explore the forest, to watch the sun rise and I really cherished that time alone! The farm was always quiet but sunrise was a special type of quiet that I shared with just myself.
Anybody who home-schools their kids will know just how hectic, time consuming and NOISY it can be. This time by myself became a type of meditation and taught me a lot about myself and my own needs.
The sun would rise at about 06:25 and if I woke, got dressed and scrambled up the hill before that time I could watch the sun rise over the hill tops and watch the fog lift. It was a very special time for me and I do miss it.
Sunset was our time to walk the dogs. It was the end of our long day. Time to put the chickens to bed, to settle into the cottage to make dinner and finally to get dressed into our pj’s and make our way up to the teepee.
When the clouds disappeared, the clarity of the night sky was phenomenal. It was so dark and there was no light pollution. You could look up and see constellations and galaxies. It worries me that as a planet the night skies could disappear due to the amount of light pollution we have.
Once in a while, look up. You won’t be disappointed!! 🙂
All in all our 24 days in a tepee was eventful. I’m very grateful for the opportunity that was presented to us. I feel that we learnt a lot about US; we are much stronger than we thought and we are much more capable than we thought.
We’d love to do more house sitting in the future and this experience has encouraged us to find a new one 🙂