Week 3: Wednesday 23 August
It’s Thursday 17th August, I’m leaving Hosman – the place of my first volunteering, and I have to say that with mostly positive feelings. With rather mixed feelings about the new place I’m going to volunteer at Piatra Craiului Mountains. But I’m staying positive, as already mentioned a few times, and experienced too, it may all turn out to be good in the end.
I’m brought back by the host to Sibiu where we finally say goodbye to each other, and the first thing I’m going to do before I head to Balea Lake, however, is to buy a new backpack, since this one is just about to fall apart fully. If I imagine myself in the middle of the mountains with all that my stuff from the 60 liter backpack spilled on the road, or worse in the middle of a forest……yeah, let’s better collect some money I have left and invest in a new one.
I’m checking one sport shop, then another one, then the first one again. I don’t really find a cheap, suitable backpack. Too expensive, too small, not good. Those who know my indecisive character can imagine 🙂 Anyway, in the end I buy one for a very reasonable price, swap my things between the backpacks, and I’m finally ready to move on. I just need to leave the old backpack somewhere furtively so it doesn’t look like I’m leaving a bomb in the shopping mall 😀 You know how it is nowadays with unattended bags…
Hitch-hiking to Balea Lake
Thanks to the fact that the shopping mall is located at the end of the city and right next to the road leading the direction I need, I can just get out, walk a bit behind the roundabout and start hitch-hiking. Yes, I want to get to the famous Balea lake in the Făgăraș mountains, but this time I don’t have another option, as we all travelers already got used to it, there is no bus connection. Well, in fact, there is one I know about, it’s a touristy bus for 100 Lei, which is like 20 EUR, leaving in the morning and coming back in the afternoon. But come on…I’m not a tourist, absolutely not going for this price. So hitch-hiking it is again.
The famous Transfăgărașan road going through, as the name says, the Făgăraș mountains, begins at an intersection with the main road connecting Sibiu and Brașov, around 25 km away from Sibiu. The road between Sibiu and Brașov is very busy basically at any time, so there shouldn’t be a problem to stop someone, and once I’m at the intersection, basically everyone going up the Transăgărașan road must pass by the lake, so it should hopefully work out.
It doesn’t take more than 5 minutes and despite the hitch-hiking competition in this spot someone going the right direction stops to take me to the mentioned intersection. I’m right at the beginning of the famous Transăgărașan road, only 25 wild kilometers more to Balea lake and the place I’m going stay this night. It’s one of the most touristy places in Romania, the traffic is therefore pretty big even on Thursday, early afternoon. After ten minutes a car stops. “Hey man, need a ride? Unfortunately, I’m not going to Balea lake, but only 4km to a village, but I can still take you if you want. Do you like music loud?” Ah, why not, 4km is still closer, whatever. So I’m brought to Cârțișoara, the last village before the road ascends to the mountains. It’s very hot again, I walk a bit further to stand up with my tag into a shade. Ten minutes. Twenty minutes. Thirty minutes. One hour. Hmm, what’s wrong…Then suddenly a car stops, the driver opening a window and talking in Romanian to me. I understand he wants to make a deal with me and give me a lift to Balea lake, then he writes down the amount he wants me to pay for that…100 LEI….loool, I knock on my forehead, are you crazy, man?? I’m not a stupid tourist. He shrugs his shoulders and drives away.
Okay, another 20 minutes, 40 minutes. Cars just keep passing. I’ve been waiting for two hours and I think this has just become my longest hitch-hiking, I wouldn’t really expect it here, though. What’s wrong? I keep checking my offline map, there is no other village, town or anything anymore, just 20 km of the crazy road, so they all must be going there, why is nobody stopping then…then I perhaps realize. Local people don’t really take this road, it’s very slow. It’s only tourists and lots of foreign tourists among them, they don’t stop for hitch-hikers. Hmm, what can I do… I can only wait and hope. In such situations, I follow a certain thought in my life – if things don’t go the way they should, just change something. Anything you can, even if it looks that it may have no direct influence on the situation or the result. Sometimes you just need to make the things move and very often they just start working. I have to change something. I can’t really go anywhere else, there is no point in changing the hitch-hiking spot.
So I decide to walk a few more meters farther, I go till the end of the village, just where the sign of is. But after a while I find out that the spot is even worse, as the cars begin to speed up here, moreover, there is no shade whatsoever. So I walk back a bit and see a bench located in the shade. It looks like it’s time to take a break for a while, no matter what, and have my sort of lunch. I don’t really enjoy it since I just keep thinking how to get up there. It’s almost 3 hours I’ve been stuck here. I can’t change the place, the place is ok, I have a tag, there is no other destination people would go, they can pull over anywhere, and there really are cars passing by. Then, it crosses my mind, let’s try to rise my hand with money, I can certainly pay some reasonable amount for getting a lift there. You know, people always hear money, but I guess the main reason is that they see I don’t have any other option than to pay someone to take me. Well, cars just keep passing. After another ten minutes, I sit down again, I feel very tired. Suddenly, I see a car reversing back to me. Oh my goodness, someone finally came back for me! “I only have 30 Lei on me, is that okay? Yes, I don’t want your money, just get in” It’s a dad with his son who like to take this road with breathtaking views.
I waited for 3 hours, and that’s for sure my longest waiting time ever, but now I’m just enjoying probably the best ride of my life so far. I finally arrive at Balea Lake. I’m at slightly over 2000 m a.s.l. and the place really is wonderful. Now I just have the last kilometer ahead through the tunnel, right behind it there is the cabin I’m staying in this night. And since I’m afraid to walk through this dark tunnel, I convince someone to bring me there 🙂
A half day hike to the Făgăraș
Friday 18th August
Well, sleeping in a room with other 15 people is not that nice, but other than that, this cabin is a great place to stay at for a few nights. It’s located at 2.000 m a.s.l., pretty close to Balea lake and usually occupied by hikers who want to get up early so you get enough sleep 😉 And the view guys, the view from here! The closest public light is like 1.500 m down, which means like 30 far away 😀 I’ve probably never seen so many stars in the sky.
Although I don’t have so much time because I want to be in Brașov by the evening, and there is “surprisingly” no other way than hitch-hiking again, I can’t miss on a hike in the highest mountains in Romania. I’m not going to climb to the highest peak since you need two days for that, but this cabin is a great starting point for various other hikes. I climb to Vânătarea lui Buteanu, a mountain which is with the height of 2507 just 43 m lower than Moldoveanu – the highest peak of the Făgăraș and at the same time Romania. From the top of the peak I’m given a nice view over basically the entire Făgăraș mountains, including Negoiu and Moldoveanu. More importantly, or should I say more interestingly, however, on the saddle in between the peaks of Vânătarea lui Buteanu and Vârful Iezerul Caprei, called Saua Caprei, I find a spot with most likely the most stunning view I’ve ever seen in my life so far. I’m some 300 m above the lake, from where I can see not only the lake itself surrounded by the mountain peaks, but also the craziest part of the Transfăgărașan road behind it. I’m really impressed. This picture is literally breathtaking. I could even spend a whole day sitting and meditating here. Unfortunately, I don’t have that much time today, so I finish the hike coming back down to the lake, pick up my big backpack and set out on the trip back.
Just can’t get enough of the views….
I’m back at Balea lake with my both backpacks. It’s almost 4pm, I should hurry up because I don’t know how long it’s gonna take me to stop someone here. Yeah, if I had car it would be much easier now, you can make it from here to Brașov in less than 3 hours, so I would still have time to see also the waterfall. Hmm…hmm, it would be nice to see the road from a different angle and take some more photos. Well, and also to see the waterfall. I’m checking the map, it says 6 km to Balea Cascada from Balea lake. Well, it’s all the way downhill, that would be like one hour for me normally, I could just quickly take some photos and if I’m lucky to stop someone quickly, I could still make it to Brașov with no stress. The only problem is my 15 kilos, after the whole day of hiking that would be quite tough. I know some of you may call me crazy, and in fact I am :-D, but since I’m here, I can’t miss on this one, and thus decide to walk these 6 km down along the road.
Heading to Brașov
I arrive down, back to the road, exhausted, a bit under time pressure, but happy, satisfied and proud of myself. And still psyched 🙂 I have to come some other time again, though, to see the waterfall from its bottom. Now I’m just soo looking forward to my bed in the hostel in Brașov. But that’s still a long way, I wish I could teleport now. But there are many people going down both from the lake and also from the waterfall here, I believe it will be better than the way here. After like 15 minutes a car stops with the driver showing me he wants me to pay. I tell him I just want to get down to the intersection with the road to Brașov and that I have only 10 Lei in my pocket (that’s one of my “secret” traveler’s tactics – show that you have only little money ;-)). He mumbles something in Romanian, but his gestures tell me it’s fine. I get back to the intersection and it doesn’t take too long and I’m picked up by a guy going to Brașov.
I finally arrive in Brașov, tired as hell and looking forward to my bed in the hostel. I think tonight I don’t need anything else. I will just crash out and sleep like a baby. As always, I’m carrying some food with me, but as soon as I arrive at the hostel, I find out that in this hostel I can’t really cook. Great, so I’m just going to the first well-looking restaurant and see if they can give me something within my requirements, and afterwards directly to my bed then. Luckily, a first such restaurant is just a few steps from the hostel, so let’s give it a try.
I’m glad that I was so lucky to get a quiet, dark room, and, for sleeping in a hostel, got therefore quite a good sleep. I have a whole day to spend here in Brașov, I’ve been here twice before, but in fact, it was basically for two nights/evenings so I didn’t explore the city that well and there are still places I would like to see. First I’ll buy some breakfast and fresh fruits, and enjoy it all in a park finally.
It seems that today it’s my lucky day, I went to get a bottle of water in a small shop, and after I left I realized that instead of a 5 Lei bank note I actually got back from the cashier a 10 Lei one 😀 Afterwards I walked back towards the hostel I was staying in and I ran into a small greengrocery. It was just a small store but you could literally find everything in there. And there were so many people that for some reason this place must be very popular. I had to wait in a line to get in, then use my elbows to get to the shelves I needed, and then queue again. But in the end it was totally worth it, the seller was so busy there and nervous from the people in the queue that when he saw me with just a few pieces of paprika, tomatoes, peaches and plums, he just told me: “Go, it’s for free today!”. Awesome! 😀
If you ever happen to be in Brașov, go there. I don’t think he’ll be in the same mood to let you grab something and go, but the selection of fresh vegetables and fruits is really broad and I think it’s cheap as well. Perhaps that’s why this place is so popular among locals.
One of the places in Brașov I’ve always wanted to visit but never managed is the Tâmpa hill, yep, it’s the hill with the famous “Holywood”- Brașov sign. You can get to the top of the Tampa by a cable car, the only problem is that the last one up leaves at 5:30.
And as I want to see the city at dusk and evening, of course, I miss the last cable car and decide to walk all the way up. The sign shows one hour, okay, that means like 40 minutes for me 🙂 I also notice another information board next to it, informing about various kinds of animals I may run into in this areas, including wolves and bears. Yeah, they have many bears in these parts of Romania, but they say bears are shy.
I always liked this city, but when I get to the top of the Tampa hill and see it from above, I think I’m falling in love. If you look apart from the concrete suburban parts in the east and south, Brasov is really a very nice city. The historical center with the medieval citadel, black church and ruins of walls, in the middle of greenery, surrounded by hills, and with the Piatra Craiului and the Bucegi mountains standing out in the background, seen at dusk are just another memorable experience. I still want to see it at night as well. Even though I don’t know how I’m going to walk down in the dark without a flashlight, with bears, wolves, foxes and all the other animals around, you know 😀 Whatever, I’ll manage somehow, I don’t want to miss on this experience since I’m already here anyway. I think I can make it down in 30 minutes.
It’s getting dark, the last people left here. The view is really amazing, and the city actually lighted up more than I thought. Feels like Las Vegas at some point 😀 I take last photos and set out on my adventurous night walk down. The first ten minutes I can still see some silhouettes of stones, trees and a basic shape of the path leading down, after that….I don’t see a damn thing and I’m totally reliant on my offline map, the best tool I’ve ever downloaded to my phone. Thanks to it, with a few stumbles, but in all pieces I eventually get down and I’m happy to be back among people.
Going for my second volunteering to the Piatra Craiului Mountains
Sunday 20th August
It’s Sunday 20th, the day I’m supposed to arrive in the place that is going to be my new home for some time. But before I head to Magura, I need to do some more shopping. I only have to figure out where to store my backpacks for a few hours. There is a luggage storage at the train station, but that’s on the side of the city than the bus station so it wouldn’t be effective. I try at the tourist info, sometimes they do it. Unfortunately not here though. I’m sent to a hostel in the center. I ask the girl there if I could leave it for three hours. “Are you staying here? No, it’s 10 Lei (approx 2.20 EUR) for a whole day”. “Hmm, I need just 2-3 hours, that’s why I don’t go all the way to the train station”. “Would you give me a discount?” “No, it’s 10 Lei”. “Come on, I give you a half – 5 Lei – and it won’t be more than 2 hours because I want to take a bus after 2 p.m.” “Well, okay, just put it over there, but if you don’t pick it up by 2 o’clock, you will pay it!” That’s how you do it! 😀 Another, traveler’s piece of advice. Don’t be afraid to negotiate, make deals. You can save a lot of money.
I arrive at the bus station – Autogara 2 from where I’m going to take a bus directly to Moieciu de Jos, and afterwards I crawl 4 km up to Magura. I do some last shopping, you know, sometimes the hosts provide you with food for a whole day, sometimes partly. Plus, with my diet…it’s not easy to fulfill my requirements anyway so I always carry with me some food that I know I won’t get in the middle of nowhere. The only problem is, though, that my load have expanded to three bags now, and in total I have to carry like 16 kg or so 😀 And that’s already annoying. Thus, I decide to reduce it and squeeze all that back again into two bags by re-arranging, shrinking, and eating some stuff.
I’m finally on the bus to Moieciu. And so are my TWO backpacks 🙂 It’s 31 °C, no A/C in this fantastic, supermodern Romanian bus (see the picture below). Ok, it’s only like 45 minutes ride, I”ll survive. I mean, it’s 45 minutes according to the schedule, which is very orientative in Romania. Yeah, here we come….we’ve barely left the city but we are already waiting again at traffic lights due to some works on the road. And these Romanian people are very smart and prepared We still have red, but the cars from the other direction are not going towards us anymore, so the driver just decids to pass the whole fleet and goes on red. What shall I say….It doesn’t surprise me here anymore….
I’ve got some directions to get to the host’s place from the village of Moieciu, but I’m not absolutely sure at which intersection to actually turn right. There is a little problem, they don’t really have an official bus stop here, it basically works the way that you come to the driver and say: “can you please stop me here?”, so I don’t actually know from where the directions are meant to begin 😀 Well, I have basically two options. The tricky thing about it, though, is that if I choose wrongly, I’m screwed up. Climbing up to 1.000 m with my 15 kilos to find out that down there I should have taken the next one right…..you know…
According to the directions I got, this looks like the one. Let’s hope I’m right, but I’ll see after some 3,5 kilometers. I walk a few hundred meters, after that the road begins to ascent. I’m sweating like a cattle, hoping that someone going up by car will take me with them. But there is NO car passing by, of course. I take a break every 500 meters. I would never guess that going up carrying two backpacks would be sooo tough. All the sherpas just won my admiration…
After almost two hours, I finally, finally arrive at the house of the family. Climbing all the way here was a real challenge and it was probably the longest 4 km of my life, but the place looks nice and the surroundings is just so beautiful.
I’m welcomed by an old lady who doesn’t speak English, probably the hosts’ mother, and later the two hosts themselves – Joseph and his sister Maria. And also by two dogs and a few cats 🙂
First days of my volunteering in the Piatra Craiului mountains
I enjoyed my first night in the new place. My room is really cosy, with a terrace and a view over trees and some mountains.
I spent my first volunteering days helping to paint the rooms in the house, which actually used to serve as a guesthouse and should be re-open again soon.
So far so good.
Speak to you next week!