Week 4: The Second Volunteering Experience
Wednesday 30 August
Ten days of my second volunteering experience are over. I’ve had such a great time! I spent 10 days helping a family in the Piatra Craiului National Park. This place is just so extremely beautiful. It was basically ten days without a proper internet connection and, believe ir or not, I didn’t really miss the online life. I rather tried to enjoy the work outside in the fresh air, the nature and the beautiful views as much as possible, so I didn’t even devote much time to writing my blogs and I’m therefore posting my memoirs with a delay (as always). But I believe that you can understand 😉
Volunteering in Paradise – The place I was looking for
Althought the first volunteering place in Hosman wasn’t exactly the one I wished for, I enjoyed it, learnt new things about making bricks and roof tiles, and in the end didn’t feel like leaving so much. Or, let me put it straight, I didn’t feel like changing the place again, I didn’t feel like climbing all the way here with my backpacks. You know, your brain can often tell you lots of irrelevant things. I talked about it in my first post, “Best can be deceiving” …do you remember the feeling when you don’t feel like going somewhere so bad, but you go and in the end it’s much better than you expected. This is a real example. Because this place has turned out to be a real paradise!
Have you seen these typical, idylic pictures from the Transylvanian mountains, which almost seems unreal? So I can now tell you that they are real! As Joseph says: “This place is a paradise. But there are people living here, though.” Unfortunately, it’s kind of true, once there are human beings, you know… Anyway, the landscape that you can see from his garden is really amazing. The Piatra Craiului mountains standing out on one side, the Bucegi mountains that impress you when you do a 180- degree turn. All is so green and the air so clean.
If you want to see it with your own eyes and enjoy the real moutain village life experience, maybe once the guesthouse is re-opened, or perhaps want to pull your weight and help at the farm, you’ll find the family here.
I spent my first two days here by painting rooms. Not the most exciting type of work for me, but it’s certainly good to refresh this type of skill, this will always come in handy in the future. The rooms I painted used to serve as a guesthouse some time ago, and Joseph intends to re-open it some time soon, so if the visitors are happy, I can at least say I contributed to that too 🙂
The third day I learnt how to fix a wall from fully natural materials. They still have and maintain one house, which was already built tens of years ago, in its original shape. Naturally, back then it wasn’t built from chemical ready-mix concrete, but from…well from whatever could be found in the nature. So I mixed some clay, sand and chalk and and put it on the wall to fix the holes, after it has dried for a few weeks, it will be painted and become like new again 😉
After three days of being busy with sort of indoor help, I finally get to know what running a farm and taking care of cows means 😀 I clean the cow stable and the outdoor drain, enjoying the real village smell of dung 😀 For two days I also enjoy the smell of sheep dung when cleaning their stable. Besides the sweet-scented tasks, I also help the family with walking the cows, cutting wood, collecting fallen apples, or various other small tasks that are needed. The weather here is still nice and I have to say I enjoy it.
Romania has a wi-fi even in the middle of the mountains
Yeah, if there is something that really works great here in Romania, then it’s the Internet connection. Romania is quite known for and proud of the fact that they have one of the fastest and most developed internet connection in the world, which at the same time very cheap. And also I have to say that you can really connect to a wi-fi in many many places. Sometimes even in the places you wouldn’t expect it. Like here 😀 I don’t have a connection up here in Magura at 1.100 m a.s.l, and, as a matter of fact, I’m happy with that, but since I’m gonna leave this place next week and still want to stay in Romania for one more month, I need to plan a bit my next steps, contact other hosts and stuff, and you can’t just do this without the Internet, you know.
And thus, one afternoon I decide to go for a walk back to Moieciu, where there is a higher chance I could possibly connect to something from a guesthouse, shop or something. I get to the point with the beautiful view, where I stopped and took a rest on the way up here, and I eventually decide not to continue walking, I sit down, relax, and enjoy the view instead. This spot really engulfs you.
It may already be sort of a bad habit of this era, you know, you have your cell phone on you so everywhere possible you just keep checking wi-fi connections. And so I did, even here. I see like two password-protected wi-fi networks and…now there’s even one without. And now it’s not anymore. Hmm, I look around but there’s no house or other building whatsover, I have no idea from where the signal is coming from to here. I stand up and walk around watching my phone, I see there are more networks flying around, and again the one that is open keeps showing and disappearing. I keep moving to find a spot with the strongest conenction and I in the end I finally connect. All the networks must be coming from the village down there, depending on the wind direction. Well, of course, the reception is not so good, you have to move a bit around to catch the right wind, but you can usually check and send emails, news or Facebook messages. And mainly, it’s like 2 km and 700 elevation meters closer. Perfect place to make it my office! It would surely win the “open-space office of 2017!
Adventurous afternoon walk to the Liliecilor Cave (Bats’ cave)
Friday 25th August
Today, I try to finish my work at some reasonable time since I’ve come up with an idea to go for a late afternoon walk. When I was looking for a Workaway host before I came to Romania, among others, I also ran into an offer by a Yoga Retreat Center. It was perhaps the very first host I contacted, however, I didn’t get any response from them (now I know it’s quite common not to get many answers back). Anyway, I realized that this center is located not so far from here, in a nearby village called Peştera. Well, in fact, I can even see it from here, it’s really pretty close as the crow flies, the thing is, though, that we are in the mountains so you can’t just go there directly and the way is kind of off-road, up and down. Unless you fly.
I finish today’s helping at around 5 pm and set out on the trip to Peştera, the time isn’t as resonable as I expected first, but I still have a couple of hours to get back before it gets dark. Let’s hope I will get there in like an hour and something. In fact, I don’t really know how to get there, but since I see where it is and have my offline maps, I should hopefully get there in the end. Joseph tells me” Yes, there is sort of a shorcut, you just follow the road untill the last house you see on the hill over there, afterwards you’ll get to a valley, and you’ll actually see the cave from there already”.
So as I was suggested, I follow the sort of zik-zak road that connects basically all the houses of the settlement, and after a while I realize that this is gonna take more than one hour to get there. I walk until the last house, but then, all of a sudden the road ends. There is an old lady feeding her cats, and a bit further in the meadow, a man cutting the grass. Both staring at a random stranger with a rucksack and camera, who’s staring back at them at the end…..at the end of the world probably. The direction is correct, I see the cave ahead, I even see the valley down there, there is just no road! But that’s just a minor detail, isn’t it? 😀
Hmm, what can I do? I continue to walk straight ahead down the hill, through their garden like nothing is happening. They keep staring at me, but nothing else. After a few meters of descending, I bump into a bushy wood which I’m not able to pass through. Hmm…okay…what now? I choose to go around to the right and it seems to be the right choice as after a few meters I get to a path going through the wood. Great, I get to the other side of the wood, now I even see a path down in the valley, but guess what? There is an electric fence in my way now! I’m thinking what to do…perhaps I can just crawl under it and run down to the valley, it’s just a couple of meters. But what if there is a shepherd’s dog somewhere? Or a drunk shepherd himself, I’m not sure what’s worse 😀 I try to go around the fence left, a few meters through the bushes again, and after a while the fence luckily ends and I can continue down again. Walking down the slope with a gradient of like 80°, through like half a meter high grass, I finally reach the valley and something that looks like a regular path again. I check my legs because I’ve just gone through like an ideal place for ticks (not that I know everything about this already, right?).
I check my map again. It shows me only 500 m straight ahead. Great, but apparetly the map doesn’t know that straight ahead there is again a very steep hill with a fence around. I don’t want this again, I’m going to follow the path now, I just have no idea which way as neither of the directions seem to be leading to the cave….I go to the right, walk a bit, but I run across a wooden gate with cows behind it. Should I just open it and go on, the path continues there anyway. You know, here in Romania you never know, especially in the nature the world is pretty wild. Cows are fine, but there may be a bull. But much worse than that a dog, very often more dogs. And they always do they job well. In such situations, usually only the shepherd can help you, but if he’s not around..
So I’m thinking again. I can’t really continue farther, the path going down most likely doesn’t lead where I want, either. The map says only 500 m straight up so I just probably need to climb this hill and that’s it. Yeah, just this. Well, what can I do again? It’s surely not the best way, but the shortest way for sure. And most likely the only way. I’m standing in the valley, checking once again the hill ahead me. There are two fields, whereas the right one doesn’t have a fence and the grass is cut so I’m just going to walk directly up through this one, and if somebody sees me crossing their garden, I will just come to them and try to explain so the dog which I hear barking doesn’t eat me.
I climb all the way up. That was a real shortcut. Tough, yet very quick. And the cool thing is that none of the people in the garden noticed me passing through their field. Not even the dog. I reach the horizon, but guess what? There is another house with a family staring at an allien. The map says still 300 m to go, I’m very close but I don’t see any cave, only people looking at me like I’m the first human being they’ve seen in last 10 years. Of course, these people don’t know a word in English, but I show the farmer guy my map repeating the word “peștera“, that’s the only word he needs to know to understand what I’m doing here I need 😀
Although I would chose to walk around their house from the left side, hoping to get on a proper path to the cave finally, he sends me to the right, the direction to…nowhere. I don’t see any regular exit of his garden, but okay, I walk down again through their meadow, doubting about the way, nobody turns after me, though. They just don’t care. Weird. I get down to the end of the garden and surprisingly, there is a fence! Fortunately, it’s just an amateur wooden fence, which I can climb over.
Now I see the cave in front of me, it’s like 100 m left, but I don’t know how the hell to get there! I’m in sort of a shubby valley, in between two slopes again, and there is, this time, a barbed-wire fence in my way. Now I feel really lost. Surrounded by fences, only a dark thicket probably full of bears on the left side, something like a tracked out path, which ends in another bear thicket anyway, on the ride side. I keep wakling around trying to find a slit in the fence, or ask someone to let me pass.
After a while I realize that if I don’t want to finish my innocent trip by being eaten by bears, there is no other way than to climb over the gate and walk through the garden. Fortunately, there is nobody around so it looks quite safe, and I finally arrive at the cave. “Short” one hour long afternoon walk turned out to be a two hours long adventure. I’m definitely not going to this back again, I’m going to take the regular road all around. Even though it’s longer, it’s also much much safer, I don’t want to get stuck in the bushes with bears when it gets dark.
I quickly explore the cave (too bad I didn’t bring a flashlight) and get on the (now regular) road passing through the village of Peştera. I drop by the mentioned Yoga Center and after a short chat and finding out that they are full for the upcoming months and can’t therefore take me as the next volunteer, I speed up because it’s getting very late. The 4 km of walking back up to Magura in the dark through this wilderness wouldn’t be nice either. But I think it’s going to happen tonight anyway. I arrive down to Moieicu, the sun si about to set, but it’s still a long way home. Now I’m getting a bit scared, because especially the first part through the forrest is a kinda adventurous. The sun is down already, and to an an icing on the cake, I’ve just been joined by two wandering dogs. I think the wild dogs here are a higher danger that bears. Bears usually hide. You know, I’m that adventurous type of a guy, but being walked by two dog vagabonds at this time doesn’t really make feel well. I talk to them to keep them calm and hope to get rid of them behind one of these curves. It doesn’t seem to work, unfortunately. They keep walking behing me. After like one kilometer of walking with the companion, the universe takes a pity on me! There is a car going up, which I stop explaining with the help of the few words I know in Romanian – something like “buna, I’m voluntaire at familia Diucu in Magura intersectia” 😀 – that I’m a volunteer of the family leaving by the first crossroads in Magura. Thanks God, this guy turns out to be their neighbor, hence I get home safe and sound, and happy to be back.
Sunday hike over peaks to Bran – the “Dracula’s Castle”
Sunday 27th August
When I arrived here in Magura, I thought… oh,wow, I’m going to stay here for some time, this place is beautiful, I’ll enjoy the quiet, walk around, go for some hikes. The reality is, however, that I work most of the day and afterwards I feel so (physically) tired that I much more prefer to sit down, lie down, realx and enjoy it this way. And I also worked on Saturday so I didn’t have a free day for that either. But people here don’t work on Sundays so I finally have a day off today. To be honest, after the whole week of hard manual work I actually feel like taking a rest, but you know, I’m not that type of a person and it’s the only day I can go for a hike here. Plus, it would be good to have a proper wi-fi for some time and solve everything I need to solve, and the closest place is just in Bran.
I plan to go up to the peaks first, then to go down the ridge to Bran. “Yeah, you can make it shorter, you don’t have to walk around through Magura, just go directly up behind the house you see over there. There is a gate, but you just open it and go, that’s how we do it“, I’m told again. 😀 So I go as suggested. The neighbors staring at me from their garden, but nobody seems to care much. I climb up a steep slope, you know, that’s what shortcuts in the mountains are like, but I don’t see any normal path or so, I just keep crossing the unmown meadow. I see on my map that I should cross a marked trail very soon. I just need to pass through a “bear thicket” again. After a while I finally get to the top, and run into the trail. The view from there isn’t as beautiful as I wished, but still worth it. Now I just take the red trail and in some 90 minutes I should be down in Bran.
I arrive in Bran. It was an adventurous hike. As always. But nice, anyhow. This place is like one of the landmarks of Romania and so popular thanks to the Dracula legend. It’s generally known as Dracula’s castle, although it’s manily because of the good promotion of the place as the real “Dracula’s castle” is situated somewhere else. I’m going to tell you more about Bran and the whole Dracula story here.
Since I already visited this place three years ago, I don’t go to the Dracula’s castle. It’s not that interesting anyway. I would say it’s the most overrated touristy palce in Romania, where you have to wait 1 hour in a fleet to get to the town to find out that there is no Dracula, in the end. 😛
I do a quick shopping and look for a wi-fi connection to contact some potential hosts, and mainly to find a place to sleep for the two nights before the Vipassana course. I sit down in a cafe, connect to the Internet, but as usual, I’m under the time pressure so no much time left to sort everything out. I check accommodation near Deva, however, I see there aren’t really cheap hostels in this area, only more expensive hotels (more expensive for me). They are not really any active Couchsurfers, either. I check Airbnb and see there are only two places for a reasonable price – one in Deva, and a cheaper one located somewhere…like 30 km far from there, in the middle of nowhere. I contact the guy of the latter asking about possibilities to get to his place, and the meditation center on Friday morning, and then quickly take my stuff and go to catch the last bus to Moieciu.
I’m waiting for the bus which, according to the timetable, should come, however, even after 15 minutes nothing is happening. Well, I got used to this here already. Very often it’s like maybe it comes, maybe not. I’m not going to wait for the fortune and start hitch-hiking. It’s just a few kilometeres, someone will stop. A couple of cars pass, and then a taxi stops. Well, it’s not really a hitch-hiking, but whatever…I need to get home before the dark and it’ll cost just a few Lei. The guy doesn’t speak English. “Will you take me to Moieciu?” “Cinci Lei (That’s five)”.”I have only three on me, I will give you trei (three)”. “Nu, cinci”. “Well, you can either take this 3 Lei, or you to Moieciu for free since you’re are going there anyway.” I don’t understand a word, but I get that he’s complaining, whereas in the end he shows me to get in the car anyway. Another traveler’s piece of advice from me – negotiate with taxi drivers, especially when you know they’re going your direction, there are more taxis around and such situations. And don’t show them you have money 😉
So I go a few kilometers by taxi for 3 Lei (that’s like 80 cents), which is even less than a starting fare in my country :-D. I’m quickly back in Moieciu, nevertheless, still the favorite 4 km steeply up to Magura awaits me. I’m in a very similar situation as two days ago, the only difference is that I don’t have the two dogs with me. But it’s almost fully dark, on the other hand. Now I wish to get a lift perhaps even more than last time. Believe it or not, almost in the same spot, suddenly, there’s a car coming! I turn on my phone so I don’t scare them and they stop. “Hello, do you speak English? I’m volunteering in Magura at….it’s fine, get in the car, it’s dangerous to walk here now“. A nice couple who has just saved my ass is impressed by my adventurous stories.
Leaving for a Vipassana meditation course
Wednesday 30th August
Ten amazing days of volunteering in the Piatra Craiului National Park just passed, and the time has come for me to move on. I’m going to miss so much the mornings with my cup of tea, enjoying the sunshine and listening to the soothing sound of cowbells ringing in valleys. If the first place wasn’t so easy to leave, this place, honestly, almost made me drop a tear. Both because it’s difficult to say goodbye to this paradise and because I don’t remember last time I saw someone appreciating my help so much. This makes me leave with a great feeeling. With a feeling that I’ve actually done something meaningful. I’m definitely gonna come back here soon again!
If you read my first post, you may remember that when I hitch-hiked from Sibiu to Alba Iulia, I ran into a “co-hitchhiker”, a guy who was heading to a Vipassana meditation center near Brad. We talked a bit, I told him my story, and he said “if you want to have the real peace and quiet, you can come to the place I’m heading to, but you will need to take the course first“. I noted down the name so I could possibly check it and think about it later, depending on my current situation. Well, now I’m leaving this place, I still believe that having real peace and quiet from any electronic devices is the best thing for me and my health, and at the moment I don’t have any other host to host me anyway, so I’m seriously decided to go for this challenge.
A short stop at the Râșnov fortress
Wednesday 30th August
Here in the Piatra Craiului, there is still one place I would love to visit, which is the bear sanctuary in Zărnești. I have a long journey ahead to get to Balșa, you know, here in Romania traveling takes a lot of time, you always need to reserve enough time for that. Well, I still have a few hours I could use now, though. I walk down with my stuff to Moieciu (I actually found a shortcut through a field) to the spot, which should, supposedly, be a stop of a bus going directly to Zărnești. While waiting for the bus, I manage to connect to a wi-fi network from a nearby guesthouse (this one actually does have a password protection, but you know, I’m a hacker :-D), and find out that the sanctuary closes at 11 am! Hmm…these are strange openning hours, perhaps it’s related to the bear feeding or something, but I’ll have to leave it for another time then.
I still feel like I should use the few hours I have now, even though I don’t know how much time the hitch-hiking is going to take me, so I come up with another spontaneous plan, take a bus to Brasov, but get off in Râșnov and visit the fortress – another place I’ve passed by a few times earlier but never managed to visit.
There is one more interesting little story I want to share with you. At the fortress, I go to a souvenir shop to get a postcard. When checking the poscards, I run into one which grabs my attention most. It’s a postcard representing an idyllic picture of Transylvania, but more importantly, as a matter of fact, it’s a photo of a church I recognize. It’s the church in Hosman – the village I volunteered in earlier. When paying the postcard, I tell the guy behind the desk why I’m taking this postcard. “It’s interesting. I travel a lot and wherever I go, I buy a postcard for my collection. I’m also taking this one, but not for the Transylvanian churches or so, but because this is a place I basically came from like two weeks ago. I volunteered in Hosman for 10 days but the village is so small that I didn’t even think about getting a postcard there, and now I found one here. Incredible 🙂 ” And the guy is like: “Heh, interesting…how come you volunteered there, how do you find your hosts?” “Well, there are possibbilites nowadays, but there is a website for that called Workaway, and there is another one Helpx.” “Hmm, this sounds so cool, I have to check it out. Thank you for telling me and good luck with all that adventure!”
Why I am telling you all this….Because this is, guys, why traveling is so awesome and why I love it so much. It’s so easy to start a conversation, you meet lots of nice and interesting people, make new contacts, and most importantly to say – you never know who you bump into and what they can teach you, or where they can take you…
Two nights in the middle of nowhere (on the map called Balșa)
For a few days, I thought I would end up as a homeless (again), but eventually things have worked out for me. The guy from AirBnb offering accommodation in Balșa – the place somewhere, close to nowhere, like 30 km far from Deva called me back saying: “Well, you’re welcome to come here, there is a bus that goes to Balșa, but if you miss the last one, I can pick you up in Orăștie. There are actually two more volunteers helping at my place who also wants to go to the meditation center on Friday so I can all bring you to the bus station”. Cool! Some things just work out themselves, you just have to be relaxed and patient. So I found a cheap place to stay and didn’t even have to make much effort this time.
I’m happy that I went to visit the Râșnov fortress, it was definitely worth it, but now I’m a little bit late. Actually, when I think about how far I need to get today, I’m very late. It’s almost 3 o’clock but I’m still like 300 km far, which means like 5 hours if I’m lucky to stop someone quickly. I see a bus coming so I take it to the beginning of Brașov. There is no time to waste anymore, thus I immediately start hitch-hiking. Luckily, it doesn’t take too long and a nice driver stops. This guy’s one of those drivers you wish to meet every time you hitch-hike (greetings to him if he’s reading it 🙂 And I’m sorry I can’t remember your name…). We talk all the way, share some stories as well as interesting places to visit. Among others, he recommends me a place in the Apuseni mountains called Groapa Ruginoasa. Too bad he doesn’t go all the way to Orăștie, but only to Sibiu, as sort of expected since this is the first big city on the way.
Arriving in Sibiu, I find out that I’ve just missed a bus, so he brings me behind the city to the hitch-hiking spot to Sebeș. And here comes the tricky part of hitch-hiking….the traffic is pretty high and there are surely people going to Sebeș, but most likely hardly anyone is going the direction of Deva, as far as to Orăștie. I connect to a McDonalds’s wi-fi and see there should be one more bus going to Orăștie. It leaves quite late, but at least I could still make it tonight. If it comes, indeed, which you never know here in Romania, especially that late in the evening. The only thing is that it doesn’t pass by Sebeș, and since it’s gonna be dark in like one and a half hours, either I have to stop someone who can bring me all the way, or I wait for the bus.
I stand there for an hour, afterwards two cars stop willing me to take only to Sebeș, but since it’s already 7 pm and I don’t want to get stuck in the dark in Sebeș, I decide not to go with them. I stay there for a few more minutes, but then just go for the bus. I think it’s the first time in Romani I have to give up on hitch-hiking. I get some dinner in Sibiu and go to the bus station. Of course, the bus leaves Sibiu 13 minutes before the schedule, you never know here, they just don’t care. Sometimes it comes, sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes it comes 30 minutes late, sometimes it just leaves 15 minutes earlier. I finally, tired as hell, arrive in Orăștie, 35 minutes before the schedule because the driver rides like a road pirate (that’s how it works in Romania), where I’m picked up by the hosts.
I slept like a baby. Even though I slept with my hornet and wasp friends under the roof (greetings to them and David 😀 ), I was so tired after this crazy traveling that I just crashed out and didn’t care more. Now I have one day to relax and tomorrow I’ll disconnect from the world. I meet the other volunteers – a German girl and a Mexican guy who lived in the Czech Republic for a while – who are going to join tomorrow as well.
If you happen to be near Deva and you need a place to sleep for a few nights, experience real simple life with close touch with the nature, or possible help Irina and David in their garden or household, you’ll find them in a village called Balșa 😉
I’m gonna be offline for the upcoming 10 days. Speak to you next…eh, I don’t know…some time after the course!