As I unzip the vestibule of our tent this morning, I let out a small gasp of delight and rouse Tyler to take a peek with me. Our free-camp is enveloped in a thick, billowing white mist! A nearby church looms in the fog, and the atmosphere is so dramatic that if a rakish man on horseback were to appear, galloping up through the haze, he wouldn't seem out of place at all.
Romania is going to be epic! This photo was taken after much of the mist had already lifted:
Over breakfast, Tyler does a little more exploring. He finds the church door locked, sealed shut with an ancient looking padlock emblazoned with the letter V. We decide it stands for Vampire. The ramifications of this discovery are obvious: blood-thirsty Draculas are locked up in there, imprisoned for the safety of nearby villagers. My imagination runs wild with visions of them escaping from their confinement as we pack up camp.
My overly theatrical musings are brought to a swift halt as we leave. The hill we casually wheeled down last night seems a lot steeper this morning! It takes all of my energy to push my heavy bikes upwards through the dewy grass. On the way, my pant-legs soak water up to my calves. Passing a few old, weathered gravestones, we make our way to the road.
Just a few meters ahead is our first Romanian village: a sleepy town with an old, sad-looking bogey (our nickname for dogs), a young kid on a cell phone, and several water pumps within a few feet of each other. As I stop to fill our bottles, pleased to know we won't have trouble finding water here, Tyler hops off his bike to snap a few photos.
The boy on the cellphone looks on in awe, waving hello when we smile at him. I notice lace curtains being drawn aside at the house opposite us, so a mother can show her baby the spectacle that is two foreign cycle tourists rolling through town. They smile and wave, agreeing immediately to a photo.
With a "ciao!" we leave the village, heading out into the unknown towards the Danube highway. By this time, most of the fog has lifted, but a few white swirls remain, blowing across the verdant landscape like the ghosts of tumbleweeds.
Over the thin ribbon of road we pedal, admiring rugged green hills and rustic farms, being passed only very occasionally by a speeding Romanian driver. Mostly, we have the road to ourselves. As we ride, Tyler spots something scurrying along the grass beside the shoulder and hops off to investigate. The fields around us are filled with tiny prairie dogs, dashing to and fro! Several of them dive into their holes before Tyler is triumphant in his quest to successfully photograph one:
We also pass a loud swarm of birds which swoop across the sky, darting into holes bored into the cliff face.
Our first day is filled with typical rural Romanian life. There are families traveling to and from their fields via horse and buggy…
…and a couple in a field full of "weeds", picking plants for their animals' feed. When I stop to talk to them, we can hardly understand one another but miming goes a long way. We see many people walking and cycling with bags full of wild greens. I wish I hadn't traded my copy of Food for Free so I could join in what seems to me to be such a logical, resourceful practice. I'll have to learn about foraging in earnest when we return home.
One thing that strikes me is that there are elderly folk everywhere, digging in their gardens, carrying large loads and generally appearing very strong and active. We meet one such old man as we take a break to admire a real, working well with a bucket and a crank and water at the bottom. He seems very pleased when I bring out our camera and ask to take his picture.
On the outskirts of one of the many villages we pass an old woman sitting outside her home embroidering lace onto a pillow case:
I am a little nervous to approach her, but I gather the nerve anyhow. She turns out to be very kind and warm, unlike her husband appears, and is pleased to show me her fine handiwork.
With so many new things to keep our attention, we hardly notice our legs pumping up and down, bringing us closer to the Danube highway at a steady clip. It isn't far, and when we arrive, it is quickly clear that we are in for a dramatically beautiful day. As we cycle along the sparkling river with steep mountains on either side, we decide that this has to be a "Top 10" ride. We're not sure what gets bumped off the list to make room, but the scenery is breathtaking.
Though I am thrilled to be in a new place, I am also hard-wired to take care of us and make sure we're prepared for anything. Water, shelter, food, money. It's not a long list of needs, really, but it takes up much of my thoughts. Water should be no problem judging by the numerous fountains and a gigantic river should we need to use our water pump. I no longer fret about finding a place to sleep at night, because we always do, and because Romania seems to be one giant free-camp thusfar. By my calculations, we have enough food to last us a day and a half. I sure hope we find an ATM by then!
My concerns are allayed by a group of friendly Romanian cyclists who inform us that there's a large-ish town with an ATM only 15 kilometers away. After chatting about our trip and theirs for a little while, they teach us some basic Romanian.
My mind at ease, we cycle onwards, practicing our "Bun?!"s and "Mult'umesc" with the people we meet. When we arrive in town, successfully withdraw cash, and stock up at a large grocery store, I feel much more at ease.
We continue again until we reach seventy kilometers, calling it a night when we spot a nice free-camp among the reeds down by the river. Tyler sets up camp and washes my mud-stained pants for me in the water (thank you honey!), while I clean and organize the food panniers and whip up some dinner.
A bit bored with our food choices lately, I spice it up with Sloppy Joes. With some ground pork and half and onion chopped, I season the mix with the help of Tyler because I don't recall actually eating Sloppy Joes since preschool. We add tomato paste, ketchup, spicy paprika, cumin, garlic powder, salt and pepper. The result: a delicious meal, and a great change of pace! Not bad with Romania's king of beers, either.
Tomorrow brings more Danube riding for us! Hopefully we'll find a nice place with hot showers and internet so we can settle in for a few days to rest and catch up with everything.