In my mind the best kind of therapy is spending time in nature….a LOT of time. Nothing refreshes me and clears my head like the physical strain of climbing to the top of a mountain, breathing in the air up there and climbing back down with a brain full of endorphins and a body soaked in sweat.
For quite some time I’ve been hearing about, reading about and thinking about the Romanian mountains, wanting to get a piece of that Carpathian action. I met my Romanian friend Christian when I was traveling in Bosnia and he casually offered, “If you ever want to come hiking in Romania give me a call.” Now, just a few months later, I made it. Before I met up with Christian I took a day hike near Brașov, on a trail called Petra Mare. There is a shorter trail on its way to Petra Mare called Canionul Sapte Scari, or in English, The Seven Ladders. I’ll be honest, this part of the trail was not my jam since it is VERY touristy and impossible to have a peaceful walk in the mountains with zipliners buzzing above your head and both children and adults screaming in the trees around you. However, as soon as I reached the end of that first trail and continued upward the tourists trickled out and I soon had the path completely to myself…and the bears.
Actually, I didn’t see any bears but they were certainly a theme of my hiking trip. When I arrived in Brașov to ask about nearby hiking trails, everyone warned me to watch out for bears. Even while walking along there were many signs warning about bears, to the point where I half expected a little crew of them to be waiting for me at the top of the mountain, just ready to strike. At the top, I recorded myself in a somewhat emotional state and described the emotions going through my head during my walk.
Once I joined with Christian he had planned for us to take a 4 day trip in the Făgăraș Mountains (Here, ă is pronounced as ʌ in the Phonetic alphabet, or ‘uh,’ if you’re not familiar with that.) Refer to this post, where I explain how to pronounce the ș!). There we summitted the three highest peaks in the country: 1) Moldoveanu at 2,544 meters, 2) Negoiu at 2,535 meters and 3) Viștea Mare at 2,527 meters.
Neither of us having a car made it somewhat difficult to get to the base where we wanted to start so we began in Sibiu. From there we caught a ride through a facebook group, which is in Romanian, but means “You are not alone in the mountains,” to Avrig. From there we hitch-hiked and caught a ride in a pickup truck who also had another hitch hiker and all four of us crowded into the front and stopped to make a few deliveries on the way. He dropped us off in Sambata de Jos (south) and we caught another ride to Sambata de Sos (north) where we found our trail. We’d walked for only 30 minutes when Christian pointed out a trout farm just a short way from the trail where it was known that you could choose your own trout from the pond and eat it for lunch that day. I thought that sounded awesome and like something that would happen on Portlandia, so I said we should do it. The fisherman introduced himself to us and little puppies swarmed my feet and then the fisherman caught a net full of trout and told me to pick one. I looked down at about seven big fish, flopping and floundering and I suddenly felt very cruel. I picked one fish out and he put it in a bag. I looked down at the little guy and said, “I’m so sorry.” They laughed at me and asked if I was sure I wanted to eat it but I had to follow through so I ate the trout for lunch that day. I have to say it was delicious but not without a little sadness.
We brought our camping gear to stay the night in the mountains but there is an interesting tradition in Romania when it comes to hiking. Interspersed in various spots in the mountains are cabins designated for travelers. Families live there and carry supplies in through mules during the summer time (some of them are hard core and even stay during the winter) and they offer beds and meals for travelers coming through. We stayed in cabins the first two nights and the quality of the place would certainly not make the cut on a Trip Advisor or Yelp review, but the families were really hospitable and they made some mean comfort foods and offered tea and beer as well as socialization with other hikers. This mountain trail is quite popular and we met a lot of people from Germany, Poland, the Netherlands and even Israel.
One unique feature of the trail was what they call the “Dragon’s Back,” which is exhilarating because after Day 1 when we reached the first peak, the rest of our journey was actually walking along the ridges of the tops of the mountains. Don’t get me wrong, there was still a LOT of steep inclines and declines but it kept the view spectacular and added an extra challenge. Many parts of the hike actually had chains and ropes that we had to grab onto to make sure nobody fell off into the deep fog below. I love challenges like this. Of course, you have to be careful and it’s dangerous but it’s worth the risk and as long you are smart and deliberate you’re good to go.
On the third day we were joined by some of Christian’s friends who were energetic and fit and made me pick up my pace. Since I am usually hiking alone, I loved having this challenge of “keeping up” with a group of people. We walked quickly, we laughed a lot and I even performed a few lines of an old Romanian children’s song that I learned called, “O Portocalo.” I love the Romanian language. It surprised me how easy it was to pick up words and phrases because of its similarity to Italian and Spanish. Yet, it also has bits of Turkish and Slavic languages, so the sound is unique and super cool. I had the opportunity to talk with the girls (two sisters) who grew up in Arad, where I actually stopped on my train ride to Bucharest and really enjoyed the small town. They shared stories about their father who is always looking for a good deal on things, no matter the quality. So they laughed, remembering the time he bought a clothing iron that didn’t work because he had gotten a good deal and they had gone some time without being able to properly iron their clothes because of it. Then I laughed because of the imagery of the story and we giggled late into the night until the guys suggested that we go to bed because we were being “annoying.”
I really loved spending these days with my new friends. They brought tents, food and coffee and shared it freely with me, a random stranger who they had never met. They asked for nothing in return and included me happily in their weekend camping trip. In the end, they also gave Christian and me a ride back to Bucharest.
God, I miss these Făgăraș Mountains…
Maybe I should call them.