First three months: come rain, come shine

I intended to write a reflective post after my first month in Romania, but then all of a sudden two months had passed – and then three. This doesn’t mean time flew – it didn’t exactly. Last year’s start was tough – this one was tougher. When I look at my walks list I am not impressed – I only managed one three-day hike in June, for instance. In terms of kilometres it looks a little better – I did about 240km which is almost half of what I did in total last year and the year before – so it looks like I’m getting somewhere. Although that said, I have no idea how many kilometres I have ahead of me. I can only hope that I’m about half way, since in another three months winter will force me out of the country.

I arrived in Braşov on the 30th of April, a month earlier than last year – I wanted to come as early as I could because I had two weddings ahead of me which would eat up a considerable chunk of hiking time. It felt a little surreal to be back in my favourite city, under a bright full moon. I wasn’t feeling exactly great though – I’d been trying different antidepressants which made me feel very sick shortly before my departure. It felt like they had undone much of the hard work I had put into myself, both physically and mentally, during the previous months.

I stayed in a hotel during the first night. The next day I moved to what I will call Bleak House now. Two years ago I befriended a German family with Romanian (Saxon) roots. They own a country house near Braşov and let me stay there for very little money. Grateful as I was back then and still am for their generous offer, I soon discovered the place wasn’t doing me any good. It didn’t two years ago, and it didn’t now. For one thing, the place was incredibly big and that alone made me feel a little lost. Other than that, it wasn’t in a great state – the kitchen wasn’t very clean and generally the house was a bit run-down. Plus, I panicked: I was supposed to use this place as a basecamp for at least two months! I frantically started exploring other options, and lo and behold! I stumbled upon what I will call Smart House on AirBnB: Sorin’s wonderful and fully refurbished house on the outskirts of Braşov, Coronensis. He offered it at €9 per night (because trial period – I was one of the first guests) and was happy to let me stay for two and a half months. He had recently refurbished it and it was fitted with a smart climate control system and AC, and came with a garden. It was the perfect base to explore the mountains around Braşov. I started off with day hikes into the Piatra Mare, followed by the Ciucaş and the Baiului ridge.

On the 31st of May, just two days after conquering the challenging southern ridge of the Piatra Craiului, I flew back to the Netherlands for my sister’s wedding on June 1st. After that, then spent another day in my beloved hometown of Leiden and returned to Braşov in the middle of the night on the 4th. Apart from these festivities, June was a sad month: it brought rain and tears. For three weeks, much of Romania including the Braşov region was plagued by torrential rains and thunderstorms, causing floods and preventing me from hiking anywhere. I had also started taking my old antidepressants again which I needed to adjust to – never easy – and on top of that had a strep throat which made me feel even more under the weather (although I don’t think I could have gone much lower than the weather).

I often hate how depression affects my ability to hike (or do anything), but on the other hand I think it actually propels me towards making the right decisions in life: because I know how precious health and happiness are, I jump at an opportunity as soon as it arises – and I will no longer waste my time and energy on causes that drain me. I am currently reading The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas, and found these wise words in it early on:

“What would you not have accomplished if you had been free?” “Possibly nothing at all; the overflow of my brain would probably, in a state of freedom, have evaporated in a thousand follies; misfortune is needed to bring to light the treasures of the human intellect. Compression is needed to explode gunpowder. Captivity has brought my mental faculties to a focus; and you are well aware that from the collision of clouds electricity is produced – from electricity, lightning, from lightning, illumination.

Towards the end of June, a small window of opportunity opened up, and I headed into the Baiului and Grohotiş, crossing them eastwards towards the Ciucaş. It was much more beautiful than I expected of these mountains, which look rather unassuming on the map, and involved fending off lots of sheepdogs – the area is little visited by tourists and the dogs don’t seem very used to them. But I survived – and could finally sign off on one hike in June.

July proved to be little better in terms of weather – I wrote this on the 9th:

I saw the sun in a puddle.
I hadn’t seen it in days.
I didn’t look up for fear
it would be gone by the time
my eyes had reached it.

But I felt better and there were more dryish days. I discovered the beautiful Iezer-Papuşa, southeast of the Făgăraş. I planned to continue into the Făgăraş but the rain cut my plans short again. I renewed the web page with the weather forecast (I like to use Meteoblue) oh so many times, but every time it looked as forbidding as ever. Then I started talking to the 500th liker of my facebook page (yay!) and he recommended going into the Cozia and Buila-Vanturariţa, which were also still on my list. As he said, these mountains, mostly west of the Olt river, have their own microclimate and tend to be a little drier than their big eastern neighbour. So after moving myself and my stuff from Braşov to a wonderful campsite in Cârţa, I set off on Friday the 13th (oh dear) and spent the night at Mănăstirea Turnu. From there I headed into the Cozia. Shortly after Mănăstirea Stănişoara, I met three guys who asked me whether I was the Dutch girl. I had talked to an older couple at the monastery and apparently they had passed on some information they had acquired about me. I got on really well with these guys – Dan, Mihai and Eugen – and they let me tag along for two whole days! They even let me sleep in their room at Cabana Cozia after my tent collapsed in the wind.

On top of all that, it turned out that Dan was a mountain guide in the Buila-Vanturariţa. He helped me revise my route and said he could join me. Initially I wasn’t too keen on this since I felt I would want to hike alone after two days of company, but somehow I changed my mind. It definitely helped that Mihai had a little cabin in the village of Cheia, at the foot of the Buila, where Dan and I stayed overnight. Hiking in the Buila was absolutely fabulous; it now sits fairly comfortably at the top of my favourite mountain ranges along with the Retezat and the Piatra Craiului. Cabana Cheia turned out to be the best cabana in the entire country and Dan made a worthy host: he made an omelette every morning and was a more than decent cook.

I left reluctanty – but I had a good reason to go because I had another trip home scheduled: a friend of mine got married in Germany on the 28th. I landed in the terrible heatwave that was (and to some extent still is) plaguing northwestern Europe. Our train to Germany got terribly delayed which caused us to miss the peak of the lunar eclipse (‘the bloody moon’), but it was wonderful to see old friends again.

It’s hard to believe I only came back to Sibiu yesterday. Right now I’m back at the campsite in Cârţa, finally preparing for that hike into the Făgăraş. I’m not braving it alone this time – Dan was also rather keen on tackling the ridge (we’ll try to do all of it, or see how far we get) and since we make such a good team I thought I’d risk the company again. I have a lot to process – yesterday’s journey was more than a little strange. I took a train to Brussels Charleroi Airport, but less than fifteen minutes after departure it abruptly stopped: a person had jumped in front of it. We spent a good while waiting for the emergency services to clear the situation and then we were evacuated from the train. I was supposed to head back to Gent on one of the buses provided by the Belgian Rail – this way I would almost certainly have missed my flight. Then I overheard someone inquiring after other airport-bound passengers. This someone was Silviu; he was also headed for Sibiu and was going to be picked up by a friend and offered me a ride. I was so grateful, and also more than pleased; once again here were Romanians who proved they knew the value of friendship, and how to extend it to perfect strangers. After landing in Sibiu I got another ride to the centre from another one of Silviu’s friends. I regret that someone lost their life, but I love how things turned out because of this accident, and I cherish my own life all the more for it.

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