“Adventure is a path. Real adventure – self-determined, self-motivated, often risky – forces you to have firsthand encounters with the world. The world the way it is, not the way you imagine it. Your body will collide with the earth and you will bear witness. In this way you will be compelled to grapple with the limitless kindness and bottomless cruelty of humankind – and perhaps realize that you yourself are capable of both. This will change you. Nothing will ever again be black-and-white.” –Mark Jenkins

Monday, 2 May 2016

Travel to Transylvania and first session in the hide (Satu Mare)

comfort break en route to
the mountains 
The Angelo is typical of airport hotels - void of people, overpriced and underneath all the fancy signage and trendy wooden platters... really quite simple. The room doubled as a sauna and to get the aircon even remotely breezy it had to be on full throttle and sounding like a motorbike racing round the ceiling - the same noise level was reached if I opened the windows of course, with planes thundering overhead. As a result I started the day on just 3 hours sleep. I can hear all you insomniacs out there saying... "you lucky cow", but believe me, as an 8-hour-a-night girl, I didn't feel tip-top.

Zoltan arrived just as I was checking out, so we loaded the minibus and waited for Keith, chatting about his life as a guide. He started some years ago and has a share in the Sakertour business which he explains ensures interest in the company's success. Speaks very good English and has a good sense of humour. Sadly though, he uses a Canon, but no-one's perfect.
Today was also expected to be another day of travel, which was very tiring but picturesque - 275kms, driving up and over the mountains into Hargita county. It's a long journey but the roads are better than I had been led to believe... the potholes are indeed enormous, but they are so big as to be obvious and occasionally even marked.
When we were about an hour from our hotel, we stopped for a simple chicken and potato lunch at a restaurant called Nagy Homorod  (meaning "Big Homorod" which is the name of the local river).
Birch saplings gifted for "Arminden"
As we pulled up, I noticed a number of houses in the village had varying numbers of cut birch saplings leaning on the gates outside... Zoltan explained that these were the houses where young single girls live; on 1st May every year Romanians celebrate the start of summer in a tradition known as Arminden (or Mugwort day with lots of alcohol consumed for cleansing purposes apparently!). The trees are placed outside under cover of darkness on May Day's eve by anonymous admirers, which explains why some houses had only 1 or 2 and others had 6 or 7. Traditionally the saplings are kept until the wheat harvest when they are used in the fire which will bake the first bread from the new wheat.

Baclava and fruit for the bears
The journey had taken longer than expected what with lunch, a vehicle switch at Zoltan's house to a smaller 4x4, followed by a retracing of our steps for something important Zoltan had forgotten and topped off with a speeding ticket and 2 points on the outskirts of town! So instead of getting to the hotel, getting our bags sorted and camera gear ready to go... we went straight into our first hide session!! I was ill-prepared and my camera bag was bursting at the seams with everything packed inaccessibly and more importantly, noisy to get out of the bag and get ready. Even so, we did see our first wild Carpathian bear, squaring up to an equally-sized wild boar. I seriously had no idea those things were so big. We got a few shots, but the battle was so far away that they were not what I would call usable images. I was happy watching the whole thing unfold through my binoculars.
There were a few surprises on our first session .... firstly, no hide rules were discussed, no safety chat was given and no disclaimer, or in fact paperwork of any kind, was signed- that has to be a first for me, secondly Brown bears are all different colours and thirdly they are scared of EVERYTHING! (especially ducks).  Which is why our first session was well and truly thwarted around 7pm when a truckload of locals turned up in their 4x4, knocking on the hide door and asking to see the bears - completely trashing our chances of seeing any more. So we decided to call it a day and head off to the hotel - today simply was not going our way. Quite frustrating, but if I'm honest, a bit of a relief - I was shattered and just wanted to sleep.
Dinner was first though - which was kicked off by our hotel manager, Zoltan (another one), with a home-made blackberry Schnapps; at 48% abv it certainly woke my taste buds up! ready for more chicken and potatoes washed down with Romanian red wine. Crawled into bed at 10pm.

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