We awaken to the sound of horse's hooves clip-clopping outside our tent. Smashed together in a furrow of a field, our sleeping mats in a comical V shape, we're genuinely surprised by the restful night of sleep it provided. I groggily poke my head out of the vestibule and wave at the gypsy wagon trundling along the nearby dirt road.
Yesterday the path outside our tent was wet with thick, gloopy mud. Thankfully, the sun is shining this morning and things have dried considerably. We have before us yet another beautiful day in Romania.
Once the wagon is out of sight, we begin breaking camp. I busy myself making breakfast while Tyler cleans our mud-caked tires and fenders, this time just enough so the wheels turn freely again.
Apart from our gypsy-wagon-wakeup-call, our day progresses in much the usual fashion. We move slowly, frequently distracted by the usual culprits:
Flowers, for me. Here's a teeny weeny baby pansy.
…and my version of a bug photo. Look at those antennae!
As we roll our bikes towards the road, Tyler spots a mound of dirt and straw in the distance, writhing with life and activity.
It is a mass of busy ants, their collective pattern creating a shimmering effect in the sunlight.
Unsatisfied with a bird's eye view, Tyler mounts our 50mm lens backwards to take some macro shots:
…and then he mounts our wide-angle backwards to get closer still. The razor thin depth of field is incredibly difficult to work with:
After I tear Tyler away from his giant mound of ants, we hit the road for our first stop of the day: Targoviste, and its medieval princely court. It belonged to Vlad Tepes, also known as Vlad the Impaler, also known as… Dracula.
Vlad ruled the region of Wallachia with an iron fist (and a love of impaling his opponents on spikes and leaving them to die slow, painful deaths) from this tower. We climb the stairs:
…and admire the view from the top:
With our sightseeing completed, we run a few errands in town, picking up food for the next few days and some snacks for the remainder of our ride. After a brief lunch of kebaps, we cycle onwards. Not far from town, we pass what we think may have been a nuclear power plant?
And an hour or two later we stop for snacks as our road begins to rise into the looming Carpathian mountains.
Each kilometer deeper into the foothills seems to transport us a few years further back in time.
After more than a year on the road, we've repeatedly come to the conclusion that we prefer to stumble upon interesting things, rather than schedule our days seeking out the sites we're "supposed" to visit. A good free-camp is often far more pleasing to us than a famous museum these days. We'd rather spend our time enjoying the scenery, staring at our own blazing fire, than at artifacts behind a glass case.
Never has that been more true than this evening. While riding through the mountains, we pass village after village, enjoying the golden light of the coming dusk. We're holding out for a stretch when the towns will dwindle, leaving us with a secluded place to call home for the night.
As we enter the last in a long string of towns: Glod, Romania, we find ourselves smack in the middle of a real Gypsy village! It feels as though we've been transported centuries back in time, or perhaps to a Renaissance Festival or a movie set. Anywhere but real life in the year 2010. We refrain from taking photos because it doesn't seem appropriate to do so, but I'm sure what we see will be emblazoned in our memories forever.
Wood smoke wafts through the breeze, combining with a faint scent of apple cider, and the earthy odor of horse manure. Hordes of children play in dirt yards, along with chickens pecking the ground for food. Olive-skinned women in colorful skirts, gold hoops decorating their pierced ears, smile and shout to us as we cycle past. Wrinkled old men sit with hunched old women who stir iron cauldrons with wooden spoons in front of their dilapidated cottages.
We are passed by young men driving wooden wagons carried by horses. They race along the narrow mountain road, creating an exciting racket of bells jingling to the beat of galloping hooves. The air rings with the clanging of hammers chipping away at stone and the thwack of the axe cleaving a piece of firewood.
It is a colorful riot of friendly people, all busily performing some task… or getting drunk at the small tavern. Everyone we pass wishes us a good journey, and we receive more smiles, shouts, and waves than we have since our time in Italy. Cycling through such a mythical place, it is hard not to let our mouths fall open and stay that way as we watch and wave.
We learn much later that Glod was filmed as Sascha Baron Cohen's hometown in Kazakstan for his satirical comedy, 'Borat'.
Apparently villagers in Glod are quite angry about it, saying they were paid pennies compared to what the movie earned, and that they were mislead about the intentions of the movie. Upset at being portrayed as whores, thieves, savages, and abortionists, a mess of lawsuits ensued. The people of Glod have yet to see any sort of compensation.
Another documentary, "Carmen meets Borat", was filmed, talking about this controversy.
Our curiosity piqued more than ever, we long to learn more about Romani society. It would be nice to stay and chat with the people of Glod, but it is high time we find a home for the night. Considering we've been warned repeatedly by numerous people about their penchant for pilfering, we decide the safety of our belongings takes precedent over our interest. Wishing we could separate negative stories and stereotypes from the friendly reality we experienced, we move on in search of a good, hidden free-camp.
"Hidden" being the operative word.
We pass plenty of decent spots, but we are looking for a great one. Soon, Tyler finds what he thinks is the perfect place: a lovely flat forest overlooking the river. It does look nice from afar, but to get there, we have to make a long trek down a narrow path off the road, over a marshy rocky area. Pushing past that, over large rocks, over a small stream, over a larger stream, onto the other side of the river bank. Up a berm, then up a very steep hill, and then, finally, into a lovely forest. EASY!
Wheeling my bike through the back and beyond is one of my least favorite tasks on this trip. Tyler usually offers to push for me on these occasions, especially if going off-road is his idea. When that isn't feasible, we go as a team, one person pushing, one person steering. Tyler thinks it's pretty cool that I can heave his 135 pound bike up a steep hill, and takes a break from steering to snap this silly photo:
Our hard work pays off, and nearly an hour after beginning our push, we are rewarded with the perfect location: a beautiful, isolated, Romanian forest. It is well worth the effort for a sense of security and a fantastic place to call home for the night.
For the next hour or two, we take turns setting up camp and exploring our beautiful surroundings:
Tyler decided rather suddenly a few days ago that he is now a vegetable lover. While this new development came completely out of left field, I am not one to look a gift horse in the mouth. Instead, I give thanks that my constant prodding has sunk in, and cook up a delicious meal of Asian style lo-mein with eggplant and broccoli.
After dinner, I bathe away the sweat of the day with a small amount of water heated on our stove. (Tyler chooses the slightly less soothing method of climbing down the steep embankment next to our camp to dive into the river.) Standing naked in front of a crackling fire, listening to dogs howling, feeling the wind rustle the leaves of a Romanian forest, I feel a little like, well, a gypsy.