Months ago I saw something about Hungarian cowboys. To see them, we need to head to the Puszta area. It turns out that means we are heading to the Hungarian Great Plain. (You have to admire the people who write tourist brochures. They can even make driving through flat countryside sound exciting).
It is hot again today. There are only six of us for this tour, plus the guide and a driver. There is just enough room for us in a mini-bus, but the air conditioning works well enough, so we are comfortable as we travel mostly motorway to our destination. We pass a sign for the turn-off to Subotica in northern Serbia. I passed through there many years ago, and I know that it is not so far north of Novi Sad, the place we were in mid-June. In two months of travelling this part of the world, we have come almost full circle.
Wherever we can see the surrounding farmland we often see round bales of hay dotted across a cleared field. Another plant we have seen in abundance over the last week or two is sunflowers. Today we see fields and fields with drooping heads. I felt sorry for the poor plants, thinking they must be gasping for water. However, according to the font of all knowledge – Wikipedia – there is a actually a commercial production of a variety with a drooping head. It makes the crop less attractive to bird strike. Live and learn. Live and learn.
Our first stop before the horsemen is to an important regional town called Kecskemet. The name stems from the Hungarian word Keske – goat. This is a reference to the importance that livestock held for the trade of the area. These days wine production is more important. The town has many fine buildings, and is unique for the variety of Christian churches that are clustered together: Catholic, Orthodox, Calvinist (similar to Presbyterian), and a grand synagogue. These churches were established even when the Ottoman Empire was the ruling force in the town. A period of some two hundred years, I think we were told. The synagogue houses a museum today. Sadly, the majority of the Jewish population, who had held an importance place in the town’s development and economy, did not survive WWII.
Kecskemet is also famous to Bill and I as the place we finally bought souvenirs. We purchased two table decorations hand embroidered in a pattern from northern Hungary. I have high hopes that they were not made in China.
Finally then we headed for Lajosmizse, not to the town itself, but to a horse farm nearby. The land around this area is sandy, perhaps naturally, but also as a remnant of over-grazing in times gone by. The locals have discovered that the acacia bush can assist with land stabilisation because of its root system and water usage. I must say that the low grasses and bare paddocks did remind me somewhat of Australian country areas. Who would have thought a drive in the Hungarian countryside could remind one of home?
Hungarian horsemen are called chicos. Apparently Hungarians have a long history with horse-riding, dating back to the early migrations in previous centuries. However, the idea of a Hungarian “cowboy” may have its origins more in the imagination of a writer of historical fiction, and then this has been picked up and brought into reality in this area.
Of course this outing is earmarked for tourists, but it is a good show nonetheless. In fact, we were sorry that there were not more there on the day (there was another small group for the show only) to make it more rewarding for the horsemen. The show starts with a welcome drink of the local distilled spirit, accompanied by a salty scone, and then a cart- ride around the farm. Then the tourists settle down to watch the horse- skills: riding, racing, bare- back riding while handling a team. The horses are trained to do various tricks that horses would not normally do, and there is lots of whip cracking to demonstrate their calmness and trust in their handler. Various other animals get in on the act, the donkeys demonstrate that anything a horse can do, so can a donkey. Bullock drivers show off their team driving skills. The show includes a component where the tourist can have a go at handling a whip. If you can knock a bottle of wine off the post, you get to keep the wine. Three strikes per try. I was within co-ee of the bottle, but two lashes were too high, and one too low. All the same I surprised myself that I could handle the whip at all 🙂
It was a lot of fun, despite the heat and dust. Afterwards we walked around the farm, saw some of the animals and lingered in the stables. Then an outdoor lunch under a vine covered pergola. Goulash soup, grilled meat and vegetables, and pancake in a sweet sauce. All very tasty.
Wednesday 7th August 2013 , Garrulous Gwendoline, Puszta Region, Hungary