Greetings everyone, I'm reaching out to you from the capital of Romania's Bihor county, Oradea. While I have been enjoying myself immensely, I am currently going through the throes of an intestinal nightmare. Perhaps it was the mountain water springs that I've been drinking from for the past several weeks, or maybe my pains are due to the kilos upon kilos of farmer's cheese and slanina (a salted chunk of pork fat) I was gifted. Either way, I'm feeling physically weak, but I'm happy to have crossed through yet another country.
This last month in Romania took me much longer than I had originally anticipated. After receiving a digital map from the Romanian hiking organization SKV, I discovered that I was going to be walking across part of the Carpathian mountain chain as well as most of the Apuseni Mountains. As it turns out, the E3 in Romania is just as invigorating as the Kom-Emine trail. The Romanian mountains on the E3 may not be as tall as Balkans, but lord, they make up for the height by having sheer numbers.
The route in total is 666 kilometers (devilish, isn't it?) in length, of which only the first 160 kilometers are clearly marked with signs and trail markers. I originally planned to cross Romania and arrive before August, but after several distractions and some bad weather, I'm little over a week behind schedule. This means that I'll have to play some catch up for the next month, but I have faith that I'll be able to arrive in Germany by October.
I had a (mostly) great time walking in Romania. Many sections of the trail were absolutely gorgeous and I was lucky to meet more kind and generous souls. I also had the unfortunate luck of almost being struck by lightning and having my belongings pilfered on two separate occasions. It is not my intention to paint Romania as a dangerous place; it was only a matter of time before someone would try to relieve me of a few of my possessions. These instances just so happened to take place in Romania.
The E3 in Romania leads you through a variety of Romanian landscapes. Like other sections of the E3, you'll spend a lot of time passing through smaller villages, but you'll also manage to pass by several smaller cities where you can find a surplus of supplies. While there is generally a small village every 30 kilometers or so, you do get the chance to spend several days at a time walking through the thick, natural forests that have still managed to retain their wildness. Every time I was about to enter the forest people would warn me: "Look out for bears, and be careful with the vipers." Romania is by far the wildest country of Europe, and that makes it exciting.
The E3 section in Romania is, in my opinion, a very well designed trail for a hiking party. Parts of the E3 take you to cabanas where you can find a bed and some food for cheap, other times and many time you'll be led through national parks with plenty of space to camp. If I were to walk the E3 in Romania again, I'd be sure to invite some other people to join me to help raise a ruckus.
Now that I know what the E3 is like, I'd love to get a chance to come back and dedicate more time to the trail. Alongside the electronic map, SKV gave me a 28 day schedule that listed all of the villages that I would be walking through. The average day was 20 kilometers ( around 12 miles) of hiking, and I now understand why that was the recommended pace.
Each of the stopping points along the trail contains something special nearby. If you walk like I did, you'll miss them completely. There are oodles of waterfalls, caves, sacred trees and other such things along the E3. The only way you can find them is if you take the time to stop walking in the middle of the day, set up camp, then set out to find these natural treasures.
I chose to power through sections of the E3 (averaging around 35 kilometers a during a day of hiking), meaning that I missed out on seeing some incredible sights, such as "the most beautiful waterfall in the world", Bigar, or the glacier Bortig in Padis. Hell, you could spend 10 days in Padis and still not see everything, so I missed out on a smorgasbord of wonderment.
Ah well, that's why there will have to be another Romanian adventure in the future. Although next time, I'll be bringing a car with me. I'm determined to see everything that I can.
July 15 - July 19
I crossed the Serbian border early in the afternoon, right in the middle of a heat wave. The roads were uncovered and full of traffic thereby filling my lungs with a mixture of exhaust and sweat. There was only a meter's distance between the cars and my legs thereby making me cringe every time a truck or a car sped past me. To help distract my mind from the unpleasantness of the roadway I put in my earplugs and listened to several podcasts. Might as well give the mind something calming while I take on the mechanical monstrosities that could pulverize me in a millisecond.
Several hours later I finally arrived in my first Romanian city Orsova. Orsova is a beautiful tourist town that spreads along the Danube river. Boating and tour guides seem to be incredibly popular here, but from what I could tell, there wasn't much else to do. The head of the SKV introduced me to my first contact, a young woman who worked at the local tourist office.
She drove me to an ATM where I soon found out that my debit card number had been closed. My bank had sent me a new card to my parent's address in Michigan, but that wasn't going to do me much good when I'm living out of a tent and motels on the other side of the world.
After periods of talking to multiple representatives, the bank was finally able to provide me with some kind of solution. It turns out that a representative can unlock my card for a short period of time, but only for ATM withdrawals. This means that I now have to call their offices every time I'd like to withdraw some cash, all the while accruing minutes upon minutes of international calling fees. Lovely. But at least I can get some access to my much needed funds.
The young woman took me to the only motel with a room. I spent the night trying to attract wild cats with pieces of bread and water. Alas, I was not successful. They were cute little buggers, but scared to death of human beings. I can't blame them.
The next morning was a reasonably short day of walking. I strolled through more tourist villages along the Danube, taking note of the sheer number of motels, hotels and BnBs. The Romanian side of the Danube is a beautiful and tranquil sight to see. Its visage of blue water is calming enough to help you ignore the tourists speeding past you in their Mercedes and BMWs. All in all, it was a pleasant day.
I arrived in the commune Dubova, where the SKV had found a small chalet for me to stay the night. I had a chance to meet a lovely newly-wed couple who helped me navigate my way through the gravel roads and past the signless streets all the while teaching me basic Romanian phrases and a little bit of history. The weather was turning from muggy clouds to rain, so I though it would be best to rest for an extra day and wait the rain out. Unfortunately, this did not work out as planned.
I departed on the 17th to gray skies and a light drizzle. While I was walking, two local town dogs began following me. At first I believed that these dogs would soon turn around after five kilometers or so. I was mistaken. After an hour and a half of walking, the pups were still bounding in front of me at a playful pace. I finally had to put an end to this. I started throwing rocks in their direction (not to hit them of course, but simply to scare them). They both ran back towards the village, leaving me by myself.
As it turns out, one of the mutts managed to take the hint and left me on the trail. The other one...well, he obviously didn't get the memo. After seeing them head back around a corner, I proceeded along the trail. A half hour later I heard some puppy steps and turned around. There was one of the pups, sulking behind me and keeping his distance. At this point I was too far to justify going back to the village, so I kept walking. This pup would end up walking over 50 kilometers alongside me.
That night I set up camp on the trail. The rain was pouring down by the gallon, and I was too cold to continue. I pulled out some canned food for my new trail partner and I. I got the meatballs and beans, he ate the canned pork.
At this point I noticed that there was an awful odor surrounding the pup. Turns out he had rolled in several types of scat and was mighty proud of his cologne. I let him sleep outside the tent in the rain.
My partner and I walked on to the next village. Because I had not anticipated having to take care of another stomach, I had not brought with me nearly enough food. So, we made a pit stop at the next village and went in search of a market. As it turns out, the markets in smaller villages are only open for several hours during the day. I was stuck. I didn't have enough food to get to the next village, and so I remained, waiting for the market to open later that evening.
While I was there, I had the chance to meet a lovely Czech couple who were vacationing in the area. As it turns out, the villages in the south western part of Romania are full of Czechs. I don't know when the Czechs began inhabiting the area, but there are several villages in Romania where the locals, for the most part, communicate in Czech instead of Romanian. Seeing how the villagers in the area are Czech, the area is incredibly popular with Czech tourists. The couple have since invited me to stay with them when I trek through the Czech Republic, and I cannot wait to see them again.
At this point the mutt began to get on my nerves. He had the tendency of barking at everything that walked on four legs, and gad, it was the most annoying bark I have ever heard. Calling it a bark is rather misleading. It was more a loud yelp that grated against your eardrums like a knife scratching a chalkboard. I had to get rid of him, but the bugger just wouldn't leave me alone.
Later that evening, after I had hung out with a group of yogi-Czechs, the mutt ran off after another group of dogs. Now was my chance. I sneaked back to my tent, got in, and went to sleep. The next morning the mutt was gone. I was finally alone and I ran off as fast as I could.
The next day of walking was beautiful. The mountains in the area resemble grassy mounds that appear as though they were painted by the artists from Monty Python. The landscape looks unreal from a distance. Vibrant yellows, greens and hints of gold...it's eye candy for the soul.
On each mountain you'll see a small home or a tiny village. The homes are typically rundown and full of animals. Cows sit still as they munch on fresh grass, chickens and geese run away from you in a fright, and the dogs...always with the dogs...they charge at you and show off their chops and bravado. I've since learned that if you lean down to pick up a rock the mangy mutts run away with their tails between their legs, but they'll still continue to bark at you.
After a full day of walking, I finally arrived in a larger village. I decided to stop by the local market to buy myself a much needed beer and some peanuts. I soon began to chat with the sober citizens and the local drunks. We couldn't really communicate effectively, but we got the basics down.
Several hours later, I was invited by one fine man to stay the night on his couch. He fed me a full meal of oily eggs and pork fat, and we spent the night chatting about life and politics. I spoke in some very tipsy Spanish, he spoke in tipsy English/Romanian/Italian. It was a great conversation, but I still have no idea if either of us understood what the other man was talking about.
July 20th - July 25th
We woke up early the next morning. My host had to get to work at the military base, and I needed to make up some serious distance. We wished one another well, shook hands, and then separated. I grabbed a quick handful of oats and walked the roads to get back to the trail.
July 20th is one of my favorite days on the trail. Not because anything amazing happened, but because the path was just so damn entertaining. After getting past the trails you soon begin to climb down incredibly steep and slippery hills. The mud is the exact opposite of clay, so one wrong foot step will send you tumbling down the hill. Did I mention that you're also walking right next to a fairly large river that can carry you away? One wrong step and all of your belongings are going to be soaked.
You'll spend close to four hours just trying to walk four miles. You'll scramble up rocks, walk through natural tunnels, hold onto shaky metal cords as you try not to slip off the trail into the water, and spend hours outside of your head. You don't have time to think about anything besides getting past the next obstacle, and lord, it's a fun time.
After getting past the craziness of the river walk, I spent the next several hours walking to a camp site. It was still the middle of the day, so I figured that I had time to get a coffee and chat with some fellow campers. I learned about the bears and the vipers, the dangers of the mountains when there's lightning, as well as all of the hidden beauties of Romania that are just waiting to be seen.
After drinking my coffee I took off. Everyone warned me that I wouldn't be able to get through the next section of the mountain by nightfall, but I was determined. Several hours later, with the sun setting and my body sweating, I finally emerged from the madness of the mountain and found a road. Now I just needed to find a village where I could set up camp.
Unfortunately for me, there wasn't a village nearby, and it was starting to get dark. That's when I realized that I only had enough food for the night, and nothing more. Would I end up walking near a village the next day? I had no idea. My electronic map didn't have the names of the smallest villages, and I wasn't sure if I would be walking past a market for the next several days. So, after walking for 12 hours, I decided to try and hitch a ride to a town with a market.
The first hour of hitching was unsuccessful, but eventually a van stopped in front of me just as the sun had gone down. After chatting a bit, the couple in the van agreed to take me to a town. Rather than drive me to the nearest city that was 10 kilometers away, they ended up driving me to a city that was 40 kilometers away. It wasn't what I had in mind, but hell, I'll take what I can get.
I found shelter for the night, grabbed a cheap meal, and slept heavily. The next morning I stocked up on supplies, and began the process of hitching back to where I came from. Several hours later, I was finally back on trail, and began to walk.
Several hours into the walk, I crossed paths with a beautiful lake that looked like the ideal place to camp. Rather than continue to walk, I decided to spend the night there. Campers were everywhere, kids were swimming in the lake, and I was at peace. I set up my hammock and started to read. That's when I met my neighbor in the teeny tiny speedo and his six year-old daughter.
As a sign of good faith, I offered him some of the rakia that a Serbian had gifted me. My neighbor gladly accepted, then he invited me over to his little caravan for some homemade wine. We ended up spending the next seven hours drinking and chatting. He didn't speak a lot of English, but my Spanish seemed to suffice for conversational purposes. We chatted about life, sang karaoke (to all of the other camper's chagrin), laughed hysterically and our infantile jokes, and had a grand old time. After all of the alcohol was gone, we called it a night.
The next morning we said our goodbyes and set out on the trail. That's when the hiking-blues began to kick in. I've noticed that the more quality time I spend with people, my loneliness increases. It seems to me that socialization is a kind of drug in itself. I'm sure our brains are shooting out plenty of oxytocin and other happy molecules when we're in good company and the sudden separation from company to isolation brings with it a terrible sense of withdrawal. The nature was beautiful, but I was feeling lonely and could use a regular conversation in English.
Halfway through the day I walked past a cabana. The building looked a little rundown and I was surprised to learn that it was open. After walking inside for a quick bite to eat, I met a charming young man who happened to speak fluent English.
He was a seventeen year-old who was already covered in tattoos. smoking packs of cigarettes and had an intelligent mind. We chatted about life, and because of him, I decided to stay the night in good company. We chatted while he worked, he showed me around the area and introduced me to a man's pet stag, and I was getting the cure to my isolation.
The next day I set out for more nature walking and made my way to the top of a ski resort. The trail was dense and full of creek crossings, but all in all, it was a fine time. My mind wandered while my feet pushed forward, leaving me ample time to work on some self-discovery and meditation. I wish I could tell you all of the details of my meditations, but, like droplets of water falling into a river, they have since flowed away from me and joined my cerebral stream, never to be recognized again.
When I finally reached the ski resort, I had to stop and admire the view. I looked back to where I had came from, and I looked forward to where I needed to go. I asked the couple who ran a cabana at the top if I could possibly camp outside for free, and they didn't see a problem with it. I spent the rest of the evening writing my blog post on walking in Serbia, stared at the mountains and fell in love with the stars.
As I began to pack up and set up camp, one of the owners of the cabana walked over to me with a proposition. He didn't have any clean rooms available, but he did have a clean bed. If I would like, I could stay in the messy room for the night for free. A free bed? Who could say no?
I spent the next day hiking as hard as I could. The trail wasn't necessarily difficult, but the heat was starting to get to me. I consumed about eight liters of water that day, and I was still feeling dehydrated. My clothes were soaked with sweat, and I was exhausted. I was determined to walk to the Carensebes, a larger city in Romania, and I wasn't going to let anything get in my way. 45 kilometers later, I had arrived, and I needed to wash my clothes in the worst way possible.
After finding a place to stay for the night, I set out for dinner. I enjoyed a cheap pizza and met some Italians who happened to be staying at the same motel as me. We chatted about life and adventure, and we headed back to get some much needed sleep. On the way back from the pizzeria, I stepped in dog excrement while wearing my sandals. The Italians laughed, and one of them said: "In Italy, stepping in dog shit means that you're going to have good luck."
"Great," I thought.
After thoroughly cleaning my sandals of the dog mess, I headed out on the trail to the next town. I had to do some backtracking to get back to the trail, but it didn't take too long to get back en route. Around two hours into the walk, I was already dripping with sweat. I had just given my clothes a quick rinse, and they were already reeking of man-stench. Around six hours into the walk, I decided to take a break and let my feet dry out for a spell.
As I sat on the mountain and took off my socks, I noticed a mighty large cloud looming in the distance. It was as dark as Norwegian black metal, large as a colosseum, and it was moving towards me at a rapid rate. At the time I remember thinking that it was just going to be a quick 20-minute storm with a possible chance of lightning. I was wrong.
Five minutes after having taken off my socks, the storm hit. It was a torrential downpour of some of the fiercest rain that I've experienced on the trail so far. The rain was angry, and lightning was everywhere. When you're in the mountains, thunder sounds like a blitzkrieg sent from the heavens, and it is absolutely terrifying. Another serious problem, the higher you are in the mountains, the better the chances of you getting struck by lightning.
I did my best to find some shelter. At the time there wasn't much to work with, so I snuggled myself in some brush, shivering from the cold and the wet. My clothes were already soaked from sweat, so staying dry was impossible. My boots began to fill with water (curse you holes), and the flashes of lightning in the distance were getting closer and closer.
I'd see a flash then immediately start to count: "1...2...3...4...5...6..." and there would be the sound of a bomb echoing throughout the mountains. Another flash. "1...2...3...4..." BOOM. Yet another flash, "1...2...3" and an even louder explosion. Then, in a split second, I didn't even see the strike. I only saw white light all around me and heard the loudest explosion of my life go off at the same time. I screamed in surprise and cursed the heavens. I looked towards where I had previously sat down to change my socks, and a tree that I had sat near was decimated. Chunks of splinters and charred wood were everywhere. I needed to get the hell out of the mountains.
The weather didn't improve for the next forty minutes, but the thunder passed me and was traveling right to where I needed to walk to. Camping in the mountains was not going to be possible. As soon as the first torrential storm had passed me by I saw that there was another one coming straight towards me.
It was time to move. I was not going to risk another round of lightning. I took my phone out of my rain jacket's single pocket and placed it in the top of my pack. I did not want to risk getting it wet, and having a rain cover over my pack was just enough security to protect my belongings from the elements.
I hiked/ran as fast as I could. The rains created mounds of mud and the dirt roads became shallow rivers. I slipped, I fell, and I was miserable; but I had to keep moving. The rains were coming and I needed the body heat. Several hours later, I finally emerged from the mountains and entered a village. As soon as I transitioned from mud roads to pavement, the rains had caught up.
Everyone on the street was surprised to see me. I was covered in mud, soaked to the bone, and looked miserable. A Roma man with crossed eyes walked up to me. He said something in Roma that I couldn't understand, but there was one question that I could appreciate: "coffee?"
I gladly accepted. I was still shivering from the cold and from my shaken nerves, and something warm was just what I needed to help calm down. He brought me over to the abandoned railway station where he and his family (or maybe they were just friends) were squatting. He went inside, and I introduced myself to the group.
There were around fifteen people at the station. Some were teenagers, a few were kids. Many of them were inside lounging on blankets, but others were smoking cigarettes and watching the rain. We tried to chat a bit, but it was difficult to get anything across. The cross-eyed man came back holding a cup of cold coffee, but I was happy to have anything.
The rain was only getting worse, and there was even more lighting than before. I shuddered with each boom and crack. One of the Roma men asked where I was going. I said I needed to find a place where I could dry off and escape from the storm, and he pointed to his car and motioned with his hands that he could drive me to a pensiune. I looked at the rain and thought about walking on the highway, but I relented and accepted his offer.
We walked over to his little Dacia that looked old enough to have been made before the Romanian revolution of '89. I used my hands to ask if it was just going to be us in the car, and he nodded his head. I put my pack in the car behind the driver's seat, and then I had a choice: do I sit in the front seat next to him, or do I sit next to my pack?
If I sit next to my pack, it would prove that I don't trust the man, and because he is Roma it would show that I don't trust him simply because of the amount of melanin in his skin. If I sit in the front seat, well, I'm separated from my pack and that's also a risky situation when you're entering a vehicle with a complete stranger. I decided to sit in the front seat and go against my obviously racist concern. I chose to return the man's hospitality with my trust in the hopes that I wouldn't offend him. He got in the car after me, and started the car.
No sooner had he started the car when a larger woman ran over to the rear side of the car and got in. This wasn't part of what we had agreed to and I was worried that now there was a person who was between me and my personal belongings. I immediately set my gaze to the bag and watched to see if anything would happen.
As we started driving, the woman and the man began to speak in their native language. I watched my bag, only changing my glance ever few seconds to see where we were on the road. Lightning was cracking all around us, and the woman in the back yelled in surprise whenever the lightning happened to strike within 30 meters of the road.
The man asked me a question and diverted my attention from my bag to his face for what was close to thirty seconds. I responded that I didn't understand him, but he kept talking, looking me in the eye. When he looked back to the road I looked to the backseat and straight to my bag. In that split second I saw the woman's left hand turned in a peculiar way and emerge from under my pack's rain cover. As her left hand was returning to her side, she used her right hand to shift my pack as though my pack had began to lean on her. Had she just rummaged through my pack? Or was I just being paranoid?
They eventually dropped me off in the center of town and let me out of the car. The rain was coming down in buckets at this point, and I was soaked through in through. I thanked them, grabbed my things, and they pulled out and drove away. I ran to ask for directions, found a hotel, and ran as fast as I could to get out of the rain.
I entered the hotel lobby and brought with me puddles upon puddles of rain water. The woman at the reception wasn't too pleased to see me, but went through the motions of giving me a room. I pulled off my rain cover to get my wallet and pay for the room. Then I saw it. My top pocket was open, and my phone was missing. The headphones I had wrapped around the phone were left behind, but the phone was gone. I had been robbed.
I did the natural thing and yelled in rage. The woman at the reception was confused. I apologized for the outburst, paid for the room, then went upstairs to get out of my sopping clothes to dry off. After cleaning myself up, I went back downstairs to the reception. "I'd like to call the police," I said. "I've been robbed." The woman obliged my request, and soon the police were at the hotel.
While waiting for the police to arrive, I began scouring Google Maps looking for the building where I had met the thieves. I found the retired train station from satellite photos, and began writing down everything that I could remember about the robbery. I know that the human memory is awful at recalling specific details, especially as time passes on, so I needed to get out as much factual information as possible before my memories became corrupted from time.
The police arrived, I explained the situation, and soon we were off to look for the thieves. During the car ride I was told that I had a 5% chance of getting the phone back. "They're gypsies," the police said. "They're very good at these sorts of things." They were kind enough to help me avoid developing any expectations, but I felt as though I had to try to do something.
The thieves had my phone, my map, my contact information and so much more. Anyone who knows how to take out the SIM card can use that as a way of selling my identity and information. This wouldn't just be a simple problem, it would be a humongous headache.
We drove to the abandoned train station, but the man's car was missing. After talking to the squatters there, the police found out that the couple lived in another village about 20 kilometers away. So, we got back in the car sped off to find the suspects.
We arrived at their simple abode fifteen minutes later. There were around 12 people, adults and children, outside the house doing household chores. The police asked to see the man who drove me, and one of the kids ran inside. Minutes later, the man who had driven me to the town emerged, looking confused and surprised to see me.
The interaction went as well as you'd suspect. I couldn't understand what was being said, but the one police officer who spoke fluent English acted as a translator. The man who drove the car denied everything, the other family members were yelling about disrespect and how they were always blamed for whenever something went missing.
The man's wife came out of the house with a small child in her arms. She looked upset that the police were interrogating her and her husband, and claimed that the only time she ever touched my pack was to move it away from her.
The police took me back into their car and told me that this wasn't good. I had no witnesses, and the only evidence was my word against theirs. The police would do their best to help me, but I was most likely never going to get my phone back. "They're gypsies. Why did you get in the car with them?" I didn't have a good answer. All I could say was: "I didn't want to assume that they would do me wrong."
The police took down the couple's information and had the couple follow their cruiser back to the station. Then began the long and incredibly dull process of solving the crime. Every time a new officer would learn about what had happened, they would look over to me in surprise and say the same thing: "They're gypsies! Why would you let them get close to your bag?"
The police eventually brought in a photographer to take reenactment photos and an English professor to help translate. We went to all of the important scenes, reenacted the process of me getting in the car, recorded my formal complaint, recorded the couple's statements, and went through the rest of the motions.
The process, from beginning to end, took around seven hours. Seven hours of questions, seven hours of investigation, seven hours of me feeling like a complete fool for having not sat in the back seat with my damn backpack.
By the end of filing the complaint, I was exhausted. I can only imagine the hell people must go through when there's an even more detrimental crime. I'm sure those investigations must be mind-numbing for all parties included. That's when one of the officers walked into the station with a smile on his face.
"Is this your phone?"
He opened his hand, and there it was. Someone obviously had tried to peel of the protection screen of the phone, but there it was, resting in his hands. I screamed in joy. All of the officers in the room started laughing, and all I could say was, "how?"
Apparently the couple had "found" the phone in their car. It must have slipped under the seat. And the fact that my bag had been opened? Who knows how that happened? Now that the phone was in my hands, they wondered if I would be so kind as to please drop the formal complaint. I agreed. No sense in letting this process go on any longer than it needed to.
There was a 95% chance that I wouldn't get my phone back. With those kinds of odds, I was an absolute rarity in Romania. The police were just as surprised as I was, but all of us were ecstatic that a case had been solved. I suppose the Italian was right, stepping in dog poop may actually be good luck.
The Romanian police officers are some of the finest men that I've met so far. They were kind, professional, and incredibly helpful. In honor of them, I tip my hat and offer my gratitude. They don't have an easy job, and I'm so thankful that they were willing to help a foolish wanderer like myself retrieve his belongings.
July 28 - 31
After waiting out the storm and finding a jar of peanut butter (the greatest find on the trail so far), I was back on the trail. I had gotten a chance to dry off, and my boots weren't nearly as soaked as they were when I had met the group of Roma. There was more walking, more sweating, and more exhaustion.
One night I was invited by an elderly couple to stay in their worker's cabin on a sixty year-old mattress that smelled as though they hadn't changed the sheets since they had conceived their first child. They fed me until I couldn't eat physically fit one more bite of food down my gullet and it was glorious. Smelly bed aside, it was great to be among some kind souls.
The next morning they loaded me with two kilos of fresh cheese, and over a kilo of slanina. They wouldn't let me explain that I couldn't carry the extra weight and they wouldn't take no for an answer. Grateful as I was, I ended up throwing the food to the side in hopes that a few lucky dogs would find it.
During that day of walking, I eventually met a dead end. The map led me straight to a rock wall, and there was no way I could climb it while carrying a pack. I called the SKV and was told that the trail was overgrown in a few sections. This was an understatement. Hours of bushwhacking went by, and I eventually found a work road that was walkable. I was grumpy about having spent several hours walking through a forest of brush, but ah well. So it goes.
That night I camped near a shepherd's farm and heard the dogs bark at me all night, but at least they were chained up. I ate a simple meal of canned beans and peanuts, then crawled inside my tent for some much needed sleep.
The next day of hiking was hell. I got lost on work roads, fought through miles of thorns and blackberry brush, lost my phone and my satellite tracker in the woods (I found them eventually), tore holes my clothes and ripped apart my legs. One of the representatives from the SKV called me during an especially painful part of the trail, and I had some very unkind words to say about the E3.
Hours later, I escaped from the mountain. The SKV called me and assured me that there would be no more surprises on the trails and that the worst was over. "It better be," I thought. I continued onwards for another exhausting day of mountains and trail.
That evening I stumbled into a village around 21:00. My legs were stinging from both the multiple lacerations on my legs and the stupid number of swelling welts. The sweat on my clothes began to crystallize, and with every step my pants would rub up against my legs thereby opening up the welts and cuts. It was awful, to say the least.
I asked around the village to see if there was any room to camp. I was told "no" over and over again. The citizens were not happy to see a wanderer, and they would repeatedly mention that the police would not tolerate my presence if I chose to camp in the village.
After having no luck with the citizens on the road, I walked towards my route thinking maybe I could camp on the mountain. That's when I saw one house with its lights on and had a very fat man standing in his yard. I asked if he knew of a place I could stay, he said no, so I left.
As I was walking away he told me to come back. He would let me stay at his house, but for a price. I asked him how much. He said that 50 lei would be enough. I thought about it, then the welts and lacerations brought me back to how badly I needed to wash my legs. I agreed to the 50 lei, and then winced.
I forgot to mention, I carry with me two separate wallets. One of them is my mugging wallet, the other is my cash and cards wallet. I keep the latter hidden away in my pack and only take it out when I need serious cash or a card. The other wallet is used for carrying some bills that would keep a mugger satisfied if they happened to relieve me of my wallet. It's an old habit I picked up from living in Colombia and I highly recommend anyone interested in traveling abroad to consider adopting it.
My muggers wallet at the time only had a single 100 lei note, and I really didn't want to give this man 100 leis. My other wallet had several 50 lei notes, but that would mean that I would have to show this man the compartment where I keep my personal wallet. My legs reminded me that they needed to be washed now, so I relented. I pulled out the wallet and handed the man a 50 lei note.
When he saw the other wallet his eyes bulged out like a bug-eyed goldfish. He might as well have started salivating right then and there. He soon changed the price from 50 lei to 100. I protested, he told me that I could leave. My legs were driving me crazy at this point, so I handed him a 100 lei note and took back the 50.
The 100 lei note was covered in sweat, so there was a second 100 lei note attached to it. When the fat man saw the second note, he tried to take that as well. This time I was adamant. He already changed the price once, he doesn't get to do that again. He gave back the second note, and led me inside.
His wife prepared me a bed, and I met the man's two sons. Both were pleasant chaps. Young, vibrant, and very curious. One of them spoke fluent English, the other was so determined to communicate with me that he was constantly typing away on Google Translate. They showed me the room, and then showed me the shower. I took out my clean clothes and then zipped up everything in my bag. I ran to the shower to finally relieve my legs of their pain.
When I left the shower I returned to my room. The compartment with my wallet had been opened, and the second 100 lei note was missing. "God dammit!" Twice in one week? Seriously? How could this happen again?
At this point I knew that I couldn't say anything. I was staying in their house, and if I confronted the family about who stole my money they could very easily kick me out, and I wouldn't have a chance to get anything back. So, I kept quiet, but my anger and disappointment was brewing inside me.
The family fed me a full meal, we chatted, and they let me access their internet. While their company was pleasant I couldn't stop thinking about who could have stolen my money. The two boys seemed honorable enough, and besides, they didn't know that I had the money or the compartment. Their fat father however...he already cheated me once, and he knew where I kept the wallet.
Every so often I would drop hints about how I need every lei to live, and how I had already been robbed once before. I could see that the father would cringe a bit every time I brought up money or robbery (his son was translating the entire time). His honor was already low in my book, but I waited until morning until I would confront him.
That morning we had a full breakfast and the family packed me up a very large lunch to take with me. Everyone was very kind to me, and I was disappointed that I was going to confront them. Just as I had finally packed up my things, I talked to the father. "I know what you did." He just looked at me and acted confused. I used my translator app on my phone to explain the situation in the simplest of terms. He smiled a bit and just shrugged his shoulders.
I called over his son and had his son translate. I gave a small speech about being robbed, how there was no honor in this house, and that I wanted my money back. The two boys defended their father and said that no one would ever steal in their house.
I get it, it's easier to believe that a stranger is lying to you rather than believe that your father is a crook or a thief. One thing I still can't get over is that the father didn't ever protest, or scold his sons, or even deny that he did it. He just smiled and shrugged. Ach. Devil take him.
After this experience, I can safely say that I learned my lesson. Many people have a weak sense of will when it comes to temptation. It was my fault for having brought temptation to the fat man, and for that I deserved to lose $25. I need to be even more scrupulous with who I trust while abroad. Which is a shame, I don't want to distrust people, but I can't afford to have this happen to me again.
That day my brain was buzzing from frustration, so I walked harder and faster. I wanted to make my body so sore that I wouldn't be able to think, and for a while, it worked. By the end of the day all I could think of was eating and sleep. Money and thieves were no longer on my mind.
I set up my hammock along the trail and was ready to eat. No sooner had I set everything up when a large tractor bearing a humongous tree and a man leading the way approached me. The leader asked me in English what I was doing, and I explained. He exclaimed: "Don't be stupid! There are bears here!" and soon invited me to where he and his fellow shepherds/woodsmen lived. I packed up my things and followed. I had been warned about the bears, and figured it would be wiser to sleep closer to civilization.
The two gents walked me over to their abode and quickly got around to serving me food and drink. All of the gentlemen working there were kind folks who made it their mission to take care of me. We chatted, ate a lot of food, and drank plenty of warm beer and rakia. I also had my first taste of "fresh-squeezed" milk. Still warm, creamy, and oh so delicious. I've never had such tasty milk before in my life, and it's a shame that I'll have serious difficulty finding it again.
That night I slept with my belongings close at hand, but the shepherds were virtuous men who respected my privacy. They helped restore my faith in human beings, but, just in case, I also made sure to never show anything that resembled wealth.
They packed me a humongous bag full of food. Kilos of cheese, more slanina, vegetables, bread and other such things. Lord, Romanians really don't like to let you leave empty-handed. I kindly accepted their gift and went on my way.
That day of hiking was a rough one. I climbed well over eleven mountains, including a massive monster with stupidly steep sides. I was exhausted to say the least, but life was going well. I soon found out that there was a town nearby, so I figured that I might as well continue onwards and see what I could find. By the end of the day I had walked around 45 kilometers, and my legs couldn't go any farther.
As I walked through the town, I realized that it was yet another ski resort area. There were no stores, there weren't camping areas. It was only hotels, cabanas and pensiunes. I had found a cheap cabana online (thank goodness for international data plans), and headed that way. When I arrived I saw several guests out on the terrace drinking beer and rakia.
I walked up the steps, asked for a chair, and collapsed. One of the guests poured me some rakia, and another grabbed me a beer. There were four of them in total, two fellas and two dames. Tudor was in a relationship with Donna, and Sandra was in a relationship Sin (See-n). They had known one another back when Sin managed the cabana, and all of them were taking a break from Oradea.
We chatted about my travels and what they were doing at the cabana, and had a delightful time. I was soon able to take a shower, eat a quick meal, and then proceeded to sleep like a rock.
August 1 - August 10
While I was chatting, I was warned that the cabana was "where the devil grew his tail". Apparently it had quite the reputation as the party cabana back in the day, and the cabana had a habit of being incredibly difficult to leave. The parties have since died down, but the force that entraps you is still going strong.
Sin, the old manager, had spent over a year trying to quit his job, but he couldn't leave. The area was too beautiful, and some strange force had kept him there. Sandra originally came to the cabana several years ago for a weekend with some friends. She didn't go back to Oradea for longer than a few hours a week for three months. I ended up staying for three nights, ensnared by the area's tranquility and beauty.
After finally getting the motivation to escape, I went back into the mountains. I was behind schedule, but I knew that if I just pushed it, I could catch up. Then I met the Czechs in Padis.
I stumbled through some of the most beautiful terrain in all of Romania. I had been told about this region before, but to see it firsthand was incredible. Everything about it was ideal, green valleys, trickling brooks, lush trees and just the peace and quiet of nature. As I walked through I eventually found a market and a group of twenty-somethings outside. They were Andre, Petr, Petra, Jimmy and Adel. All good friends, and all tipsy from a day of living and loving life.
I dropped my pack and we started talking. They didn't speak much English, but we all managed to laugh hysterically over and over again. Soon they were pouring beer, then rakia, then beer, and soon enough I knew that I wasn't going to be walking. They invited me back to their camp and I happily joined them. Much like the spirit of the last cabana, there was a force at work that wouldn't let me leave.
It was too difficult to leave the camaraderie, so I ended up spending another day in the camp. We chatted, drank beer, watched Petr and Andre shoot pepper spray into their eyes (it was hilariously stupid to say the least), made fires, released gas from our bodies and loved the peace and beauty that surrounded us. I sliced my foot on a rock, but figured that it wouldn't be much of a problem.
The next morning I packed up my things, traded contact info with the group, and left for the trail. Now I was really behind schedule. I hiked as hard as I could, eventually having to stop because of the heat and the sliced foot. I took off my shoes and realized that my foot was very much infected, so I slathered it in hand sanitizer and antibiotic cream. I tried bandaging it, but that was of little use. I continued walking until I reached my destination 40 kilometers away.
I spent the night in a hammock and enjoyed yet another free meal. Some other woodsmen were impressed by my story and decided to give me a bag of food. I'm sure at this point you can guess what was in it. Cheese, bread, slanina and vegetables. I appreciate the free food, but I pray that I never have to eat slanina again. After eating several kilos of the stuff it becomes hard to stomach. Still, I was grateful for the food, and felt incredibly silly for bringing with me so much canned food. I never had a chance to eat it.
That night was awful for sleeping. I tossed and turned, and several mosquitos continuously buzzed in my ear all night. I woke up exhausted but determined to get as far as possible. The infection in my foot wasn't getting worse, but it wasn't getting better. Ah well, another round of sanitizer and antibiotics and I was back to walking.
The day was long and tiring. The heat was intense, I was exhausted, and my foot was in serious pain. But I had to keep going. Thirty kilometers later, I finally took a break from the walk. I pulled off my socks, got frustrated with the bandages falling apart and used a different tactic. I pulled out my super glue, cleaned my foot as best as I could with the supplies at hand, and closed up my cut. I felt awkward walking at first, but I soon grew accustomed to my MacGyver surgery.
Sooner than later, a van pulled over to the side of the road. They saw me limping and asked if I needed a ride. I looked at my map and saw that I had two options: go through the exhausting mountains for another seven hours, or make an alternative route. In the interest of finding a place to properly wash I feet, I chose the latter. I agreed and asked to be dropped off at a small town that was on the way. The couple agreed, and soon we were off.
At this point I was nearly out of cash. Seeing how none of the villages accepted cards, I needed to find an ATM as soon as possible. The town the couple stopped in had an ATM, but alas, it was no longer functioning. The couple invited me to join them to some event where I could possibly find help, so I said yes. We off on the road speeding away.
We soon pulled off to a mountain road, and it looked as though I was entering a festival. "What is this?" I asked in Spanish. The gal mentioned that it was some kind of Evangelical prayer festival. I guess this must have been lost in translation, but apparently the couple's way of helping me find aid was to take me to a place where people would pray for me.
I appreciated the gesture, but prayer wasn't exactly what I had in mind for aid. After getting dropped off, the couple abandoned me. I walked around a bit out of curiosity, but I knew that I couldn't stay there. I soon started asking cars that were leaving the festival whether or not they could take me back to the town I had come from.
One car was kind enough to drive me back to the town and I decided that I would walk from there. I was dropped off in the town, and went inside a store to get a much needed beverage. The gentleman who drove me there was inside the same store and, as usual, I got to chatting. The driver liked my story and was also concerned about the infection on my foot. He offered to drive me the 10 minutes to where I needed to go, and I agreed.
When I arrived at Suncius I managed to find an ATM as well as a wonderfully cheap hostel. After getting a chance to clean my feet properly, I went out on the prowl to find some food. There was a market right across the street, so I figured that it was time to purchase some snacks and some beer.
While at the market I met a group of four Hungarian/Romanians who were enjoying the day with some beer and good company. After learning that I was going to be walking to Oradea, one of the couples offered me a bed to sleep on when I arrived. The gentleman, named Laci (La-tzi), bought me several beers and his girlfriend Dorina gave me a bag of chips. After that the group was off.
What my luck! I had been scouring CouchSurfing trying to find a couch to sleep on, and here was a couple who were happy to host me! As a family joke goes, I am one lucky dog.
I set out the next morning determined to go as far as I could. I took a flatter (but not shorter) alternative route from the E3 and went as far as I could. After arriving at my planned camping spot around 18:00, I felt strong enough to walk to yet another camping area. While on the way to the next spot, a man gave me an energy drink and some coca-cola. I don't know why I thought it was a good idea but I decided to drink both of them and continue walking.
I was walking faster and more delusional than I have ever walked before. I was averaging over 6 kilometers per hour (close to 4 mph) with a full pack, and night had already fallen. I arrived at the next destination at 21:00, and I still kept walking.
Around 23:30 at night, I was little over ten kilometers away from Oradea. I felt confident that I could keep walking until I arrived in Oradea when it hit me: I'm walking on the outskirts of a major city in the middle of the night with all of my belongings on me. This is a really dumb idea.
I looked ahead of me and saw a group of people on a dark, abandoned street. Yeah, definitely not worth walking past them just in case they don't like my kind. I turned around and saw an abandoned building near a gated industrial zone. I scouted out a spot that wasn't either an old hobo nest or covered in horse/human manure, and made my camp.
Because I was worried about being caught by the authorities, I decided to sleep with my hiking clothes on rather than change into something that wasn't covered in sweat, blood and mud. This, as I've learned, is horribly unpleasant. Your moist clothes don't ever get the chance to dry out and your body will start developing sores and other curious splotches because of the low standard of hygiene. It was an uncomfortable decision, but I chose to do it nonetheless.
I didn't sleep well at all. Mosquitos were in love with my flesh, and the industrial park dogs were hungry for blood. After five hours of laying on the ground, I got up and continued my walk. Several hours later, I had made it to Oradea. I was exhausted, delusional, but I had made it.
From my calculations, I had walked close to seventy kilometers (40+ miles) in under 24 hours. I'm both proud and shocked that I allowed myself to attempt such a silly accomplishment. I've learned my lesson, no more energy drinks. Ever.
I spent my first day in Oradea crumpled in a park, sleeping most of the day away. I had found one restaurant that advertised itself as the "American Grill", and I couldn't resist. One cheeseburger later, I was a happy and exhausted man. Late in the day I got in contact with Laci and Dorina, the couple I met in Suncius, and I've been with them ever since.
Today is my last day in Oradea and it's about time that I head onwards to Hungary. All in all, Romania has been an incredible experience. I've had more challenges hiking in Romania than any other country so far, but I've also met some of the friendliest people and have collected a multitude of amazing memories. I am eternally grateful for the lessons that I've learned.
Ah the World, what a curious place and how strange it is to be alive to see it!