They looked like twins and were dressed identically, each sporting a frame backpack with a bedroll attached to the top. We didn't think much of it, until the bedroll brothers wandered into the Press's receptionist area and told us what they've been up to for the past two years.
Turns out they're neither crazy nor German. They're Hungarian brothers named Ferenc and István Ivanics, ages 32 and 27. They come from a city called Szeged, and they're attempting to walk around the world.
They've made it about a third of the way, nearly 7,000 miles in two years. (Make sure to check out their flickr photostream.) Ferenc and Istvan trekked through Europe into Africa and across the Sahara before flying to Miami, but now their mission is in jeopardy.
First, a little background. The brothers spent part of their lives in an ethnically and culturally diverse Serbian city. Even during the 1990s when shit was getting pretty sour in the region, their town stayed tight.
"These are your neighbors, you grow with them up," Ferenc says. "You meet sugar, or drink beer, or have barbecue party with them. There was peace." ("Meet sugar" is a Serbian term, apparently, which we chose not to explore further.)
They're now trying to recapture and promote that sense of community on the road.
"We heavily believe in world peace, but in one street, in your house, in your working place," Ferenc says. "We call it micropeace. Or easier, just friendship."
Making friends is difficult, of course, when you spend the summer trudging 15-25 miles a day through the swampy, stormy Gulf Coast, sleeping in tents in church parking lots or fields. Both brothers said the giant armpit we call home is, next to the Sahara, the most geographically challenging area they've encountered.
"What you have here...you have storms in Hungary, too," István says. "But in the South, it is worse. Lightning."
(We almost told them one of Houstonians' favorite summer pastimes is bitching about walking from air-conditioned car to air-conditioned home, and vice versa, but we didn't feel like learning the Hungarian word for pussy.)
Now, they're ready to leave the U.S. for Mexico, and then Central America, and one and a half years later, Chile, but their equipment situation is dire.
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"Our backpacks, our tents, they are practically on the dead," Ferenc says, adding that fire ants have recently been chewing holes in their temporary homes. (USA! USA!)
What's worse is they can legally stay in the states only until August 15. So for the time being, the brothers are stranded in Houston, waiting on some of the generosity that's helped them get this far.
"Who will be now the one who says, 'OK, boys, now I will help you out'?" Ferenc says. "It's not a question about food or new clothes, it's about backpack and tent. We are very brave, but where is the line? Are we stupid? Going without tents in the tropical zone?"
Online donations and help from Hungarian groups have helped before them in tough spots, but it may be up to a Houstonian to keep the peace walk alive. Nine days isn't a long time, but the brothers are optimistic: "We believe until the last minute."