“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

Tuesday, 3 May 2016

Stomach cramps and sleep deprivation

photographing a bear cub
After a fairly decent nights sleep (6 hours in two stints) we left at 530am and headed out to the main hide, which is a lot more local than Satu Mare, however, what Zoltan failed to tell us, was that this one was half-way up a hideously steep incline that took 15 minutes and a mild heart-attack to climb. Slightly cursing the range of heavy lenses and tripods, we made it... albeit wheezing and sweating on still caffeine-free empty stomachs. The knowledge that large brown bears were wandering the area did not even feature in our thoughts... that is until 3 minutes after getting settled in the hide and our first heavyweight made an appearance.
Yearling bear cub
In fact, by 9am we had seen 6 different bears in the mountain clearing - ranging massively in size and colour. A couple of things they all had in common though was their appetite and their ears - the typical "teddy bear" has it so spot on. The ears twitch and turn with every sound and movement around them; always alert and very wary. Sadly we shoot from behind special glass, so your ears and nose are pretty starved, but I understand the reasons for it. One bear in particular, Goliath, still had the dried blood around his face from killing a local cow last week!
Zoltan from the hotel (I shall call him Zolly from now on) had provided us with a packed breakfast of fruit and sandwiches, but unfortunately they were entirely wrapped in extremely noisy tin foil... even the apples! Keith had not slept at all last night and so was fighting the eyelids for much of the morning - but in between the snoring and rustling of biscuit wrappers, we both managed to get some good shots and I was certainly getting back into the swing of ISO juggling and DoF monitoring as the bears continued to wander right up close and then back again.
The clearing at the main hide is on a steep slope with the hide at the bottom looking up - I found distances very hard to judge from this viewpoint and isolating a bear for a decent portrait becomes tricky with the ground so steep and the window so high; makes the shooting angle all wrong or should I say "challenging".

We went into Zetea village for lunch - chicken soup and trout - which was very nice indeed, served by a woman in what looked to be a traditionally embroidered Romanian dress;
heading out to set the GoPro up
I had been getting painful stomach cramps all morning, so I had a short sleep after lunch and felt a little better. We headed back to the main hide about 3pm, and Zoltan and I were keen to try out the GoPro. It had not been safe to set it up in the morning, but he was happy to let me out there in the afternoon to find somewhere to put it as the bears are typically further afield at that time. We chose the rock pile in front of the hide as it seemed to be the place where they mostly congregate. It also had be close enough to the hide to be within wifi reach for remote control. I had strapped it to a rock and wedged the rock underneath another so it was not visible from the hide and also almost ground level - we wanted close ups of them feeding. Once fixed, I checked the image on the phone app and switched from wide angle back to medium, (I didn't want comically deformed fish-eye bears in the footage), I crept back to the hide, only to discover the location did not reach far enough anyway and so we had to simply set it recording and hope the bears turned up before the battery or card ran out - there was no more time to move it especially with the irresistible smell of chocolate sauce wafting around. Now time to wait and hope.
45 minutes later we were certain we had got what we wanted when a family arrived with cubs and got stuck in. Sadly though, my stomach had gotten much worse and by 7pm I was struggling to breath through the spasms. So we decided to get back to the hotel, which meant I had to leave the GoPro in the rock pile as there were still bears around. We left the hide door open for a while to let our scent flow downhill along the track we would use to get back to the vehicle, and after a few minutes, we loaded up the gear and snuck silently out the back and down the mountain.
Dinner in the evening at the hotel was chicken soup and trout again - we were starting to wonder if all rural Romanians had set days to eat the same thing all day - kind of like fish and chips on a Friday at home I guess. I was in bed by 830pm - slightly concerned about the GoPro, but more concerned about what was causing my stomach to spasm so badly.


  1. Oh dear, Jo, your tummy does seem to suffer for your art. Brilliant blog - as always!

    1. Thanks Rod - it really is a fantastic place to see Bears up close.