Back To The Mountains Of Romania

It’s taken far long to put pen to paper (if you can still say that) but this is finally a tale of another trip to the mountains of Romania. With the temperatures in Bucharest straining the thermometer last August, we decided that heading out to the mountains might bring some respite from the heat. To get maximum effect, the Fagaras mountains looked like the best option as they are the highest in Romania. Our chosen form of transport was ATV’s and we were lucky to be able to join a small group of like-minded Romanians.

The departure point was Rimnicu Valcea, as most of the group is based there. We left bright and early one Friday morning with Nucsoara as our destination and base for the weekend. Even being out of Bucharest meant lower temperatures; good news when taking into account the necessary protective equipment required. The group of ATV’s made quite a sound as it motored on the trails through dusty villages and onto the forest trails. You do not need to travel far before really feeling like you are drifting back in time to an era when the world was less organized or sanitized, and the nature quickly attains a wilder experience. As there had not been a lot of rain recently, the trails were dusty and it became necessary to keep some healthy distance between the vehicles or swiftly choke in a dust cloud. For periods the only time you saw your co-riders was at junctions so that you knew which way to go – not always an easy thing to do once into the countryside.

As the day continued the views became more majestic and the nature even wilder. There is sadly still a lot of tree cutting happening, so we regularly passed logging camps and scenes of localized devastation but usually passed through quickly. Every year the spaces seem to get bigger. Romania has some incredible natural beauty but this appears to be coming under some pressure as time passes and money is made.

We stopped by a stream for a picnic lunch. This was not exactly a gourmet meal but few would turn down the pastrami, ham and schnitzel, and the freshly sliced tomatoes and onion were delicious. There was naturally bread in abundance, and the boiled eggs with a liberal application of salt only added to the delight. Fed and watered, we headed on to Nucsoara. As the afternoon wore on we were treated to views across the mountains from various vantage points, but very aware of a large and very dark cloud that seemed to be stalking us along the trails.

As it turned out we reached our destination just in time. We had just parked the ATV’s into shelter behind our pensiune and settled onto the (sheltered) roof top terrace with well-deserved cold beers when the heavens opened. This would not have been fun on the trails (see last year…) but from our rooftop vantage point the storm was something to behold. We had thunder, lightning and all around was the deluge of rain pouring out of the sky. We thankfully had some soothing beers to keep us going through this experience, although we would probably have survived anyway. As with any storm, this finally blew out, although we were treated to a very nice rainbow before it fully departed, and as usual the cameras were in action.

To round the day off before dinner we embarked upon a tour of the village and the surrounding area to see the sights and build up an even bigger appetite. Nucsoara is a sweet village with a pretty church and graveyard as one of the highlights and a lake in the centre. The view of the church across the lake is very picturesque and the cameras were once again in action. The lake itself is really a sinkhole and a relative youngster having been formed in the late 19th century when the limestone beneath was eroded to the point that the surface layer collapsed. Being informed of this did not make it look any less pretty, and the views from the pensiune were a nice perspective. Dinner was good, healthy local food with the meat prepared on the gratar, washed down with a heady mix of beer, some wine and an occasional glass of tuica. Needless to say, we all slept remarkably well.

The next day dawned. Several hours later we were up, fed, and raring to go. The skies indicated the possibility of a mixed day with the possibility of some sunshine to go with the clouds. After the dust clouds of the previous day this was not really an issue, and off we set. As ever, that nature continued to impress, although as we got higher it became harder to see. The first real stop of the day was to admire lake Vidrarul, always worth a pause. The lake is looking a lot lower than the last time we saw it, but it still looks great with some of Romania’s highest mountains in the background. The chaotic car parking and throngs of tourists showed clearly that the lake has an appeal broader than a few disheveled looking ATV drivers, but it is easy to see why.

Leaving Vidrarul we quickly started to ascend and soon managed to find low cloud cover. As fortune would have it, the ATV being piloted by yours truly developed a problem. After much prodding and muttering it was turned onto one side for a closer look at the problem that turned out to be a fractured suspension arm. The team decision was to drive to our lunch destination for a proper look at the problem. The proper look led to an immediate call to our support crew (brother and wife of one of our team) to bring out a replacement ATV as mine was not going to survive the day.

Waiting for the substitute ATV to arrive meant we had some time to kill. As we were now at a trout farm with a restaurant and its own wine production, this was not looking like it would be an arduous chore. The host was enthusiastic about the local produce, an enthusiasm soon matched by our group. After a brief bout of wine tasting we adjourned to the restaurant for a late lunch. As we settled down to a feast of trout, the heavens once again opened. Suddenly having to wait seemed more of a blessing than a challenge, and as the rain filled the air like smoke we were very happy to be on a terrace with a roof, trout and a glass of white wine and the chance to sample some tuica as a dangerous bonus. One of the locals produced an accordion and started to play some traditional music, which was perfect for the moment and some of the guys were soon singing along (wine makes such a wonderful throat lubricant). After a few songs it was time to pass the instrument around for a try – some of us managed to play a few notes, the non Romanians in the party made an enthusiastic but the sound coming out sounded more like a cat with its tail trapped in the door so the accordion was quickly passed on.

As the day was starting to look like a very long lunch, the rescue team arrived with the spare ATV (the joy of friends in close places). The weather had cleared so we quickly roused ourselves and we were on the tracks again – any longer sitting round the table and we may not have been safe to drive. With the time delay the original route was now abandoned and the challenge now became to get back to base in Nucsoara before nightfall. After the storm many of the clouds had cleared and the air was super clean.  We were treated to the sight of low clouds in the valleys and a spectacular sunset as we arrived back at the pensiune. Tired after a long day we tucked into a delicious dinner and retired early to be ready for another full day.
Sunday arrived thankfully without any sing of impending rain, and the route was planned. Most of the group were going to head back to Valcea relatively early, but the hard core remained for another day in the mountains. We decided that if possible we would try to climb Moldoveanu, the highest peak at 2544m. As ever, the scenery was spectacular on the approach, but as we started to gain height we started to reach low hanging cloud cover that did not bode well for a climb. After passing a large SUV looking lonely and insignificant parked on the mountainside we reached a suitable parking spot (a flat area) and started to walk up the rest of the mountain.

Once again the day did not go exactly to plan. The clouds got lower and our guide decided that discretion was better than valor, not wanting to take the responsibility of taking us up through the mist on narrow mountain tracks. Plan B was to sit and enjoy lunch in the swirling mist, with the tantalizing view of the peak looming out of the clouds every few minutes. Lunch over, we took a leisurely stroll back to the vehicles and we were on our way again.

As we drove down of the mountain the weather generously held back the clouds so we were able to make a safe descent, stopping on the way down for a chat with a couple of shepherds. The first couple of minutes were slightly alarming as the sheep dogs were most excited by the arrival of some strangers and looked very prepared to protect their master and flock. A few quiet words calmed them down enough for us to feel safe enough to dismount. Our guide knew the lead shepherd and shared the remains of our lunch with him – a warm gesture out on the mountainside.

We were soon on our way again, with a route planned to see some sights on the way back to Nucsoara. The rest of the descent was uneventful and we were soon cruising through a very pretty valley on a track that followed the side of the stream running through it. All was well until one there was a major distraction. The driver of the ATV wanted to communicate to the ATV in front to alert him to a possible oil leak. At this point a very important lesson was learned – do not turn around at speed: slow down first. The hard part of the lesson arrived a split second later when attention turned back to see the track curve to the left with zero space to make any adjustment. It this point it was emphatically proved that neither man nor machine are designed to fly. The ATV ploughed straight into the stream, hit the rocks and came to an abrupt halt. The pilot was lucky enough to fly further and performed a neat if accidental forward roll onto the grass bank opposite. The ATV now looked very sorry for itself, with the front wheels jutting out at odd angles. The pilot came away almost unscathed – a scrape to the shin and a surprised neck.

Once he had established that there were no major injuries, our host for the weekend very sadly informed us that “I’m sorry – I only had one spare.” This brought the weekend fun to an abrupt halt. The immediate shortage of vehicles now meant riding one ATV with a passenger. This was not ideal but much preferable to walking. It was a dejected looking party that finally made it back to Nucsoara, and a sorrier looking group that were finally squeezed into the back of a truck to accompany another damaged ATV back to Valcea.

The good news was that it had been an excellent weekend away from the heat with stunning views, fun had by all and the chance to see more of the remoter parts of Romania. The better news is that even in the light of the vehicular carnage wreaked by the Bucharest Expat team member, we have been invited back to do it again this year. Watch this space after the summer for what we earnestly hope will be tales of more adventures without anything else going wrong.

Scarisoara – 2 hour walk
Moldoveanu – 2544m
Negoiu – 2535m