Well, now. How to best describe my weekend in the mountains...
It had been told to me that 'some' of the crew were taking a 'cabana' in the mountains for the weekend and would I like to go? As, on a daily basis, I have a mythical length of bungee that only prevents me from straying a certain distance from my desk before I rapidly am pulled inexorably back to it, I thought it would be a wonderful opportunity to see a little more of this strangely fascinating country I currently inhabit. None was able to tell me exactly what the 'cabana'
comprised, but I was assured that we would all have a great time. The theory was that we would travel with the wherewithal to have a barbecue on arrival and the sole purpose of the weekend was, seemingly, for everyone to consume as much alcohol and enjoy themselves as much as
possible before the inevitable return to the routine on Monday.
My only reservation was that I was, conservatively, a decade older than the oldest and at least two and half decades older than the youngest adult. My last binge-drinking days occurred in the '70s and, given the state of the roads here, I was not completely comfortable with the thought of travelling nearly 100 miles with a driver who exhibits all the driving patterns of one of the Schumacker brothers, but with none of the skill or artistry. Riding a slipstream at high speed is common here, as is pulling out to either over or undertake, but it is not common practice on a Formula 1 track to meet a 16 wheeled truck coming at a comparable speed in the opposite direction.
Our group was to comprise three families (nine persons), two married couples and six singles – myself and the Australian included. Descriptions of the 'cabana' varied, depending on whom you listened to, but in my more anxious moments, I had a vision of the 19 of us getting to grips with nature, in a dormitory-like log cabin in the mountains with, at best, fairly basic amenities. As my last attempt to grapple with nature in the raw, aged 7 and a member of the Imps in the Brownies, met with singular lack of success in the temperate climes of the Home Countries, I was not totally convinced of my ability to deal with it 42 years later and considerably wider, heavier and more accustomed to life's little luxuries.
However, I pushed my more mature and, to be honest, cowardly reservations to the back of my mind and thought 'Live today for...' I did not wish to finish the unspoken thought.
4.00 pm Saturday afternoon revealed a group of my Romanian colleagues who were, by now, leaping around in a frenzy of excitement like amphetamine-saturated chamois. I found myself, a mature female Brit, and the only other non-Romanian (a semi-mature Australian male) being herded towards a convoy of vehicles in which we were to make the journey to the hills.
By some stroke of good, or bad luck (depending on one's point of view), I was designated to travel in the only Dacia of the group. My rear seat companion was a 6'2" Romanian whose sole interest seemed to be going to sleep as quickly as possible in order to recover from the hangover caused by his over-indulgence on Friday night. They are serious party animals these Romanians. So there we are, my 5'9" inches,
crammed beside his 6'2" in the back of an over-sized perambulator. A Dacia, for those non-cognoscenti among you is a car, built along the lines of a Renault 12 but without the sophistication. In fact, they have all the charm and comfort of a 30 year old Skoda or Trabant, once popular throughout Eastern Europe.
Inevitably, the modern Defenders and Shoguns in the van of our convoy rapidly outpaced our little Dacia and we were soon inconspicuous in the haze of dust that they left in their wake. I was pleased, if that is the word, to see that our little Dacia with four adults on board, was only capable of a top speed of 120 kph and it was thus that we progressed northwards, across the Danube Plain which forms the greater part of Southern and Eastern Romania.
The Danube plain is a large, uninteresting and extremely flat piece of land, punctuated only at intervals by several very, very large and unattractive power stations, a motley collection of high-rise living towns situated in close proximity to aforementioned power stations, one or two generously proportioned Cash and Carrys which lend a whole new meaning to 'out of town shopping' (about 40 kms out of the nearest town) and, at intervals, the resurrection from the depths of a subterranean gas pipe of monolithic proportions which lent a pungent, and dangerous, aroma to the air through which it passes, before descending once more into the depths; all for no apparent reason that I could see, other than to just 'appear'. Needless to say, I refrained
from smoking when passing through these particularly 'pungent' areas.
For no apparent reason, the driver of our little conveyance would slam on the brakes and we would rapidly decelerate from 100 kph to about 10 kph in the space of an eye-blink (or in my case, a sphincter clench...). When this happened for the third time for seemingly no valid reason whatsoever, I ventured to ask why and was told very calmly 'Politia'. Looking around a vast open tract of bare earth bisected by only the road on which we travelled, I could see nothing that resembled a policeman, a police car, or a radar trap by the side of the road. In fact, that was all I could see – nothing. I am sure the Romanians knew best and if the talents of their Traffic Police extend to being such masters of disguise that they remain invisible to the naked eye, then they could teach our Traffic Police a thing or two and then perhaps we could do away with those dreadful eyesores known as Speed Cameras.
The journey progressed in a series of breakneck legs, punctuated by extreme braking and jolting as we bounced over the uneven surface of the road. Uneven, is perhaps too much of an understatement. When the surface of a road traversed at high speed agitates one's internal organs to the extent that they are alternately bouncing around in the vicinity of one's upper thorax, or making a valiant bid for freedom through one's posterior... would one use the word 'uneven' I ask myself? However, it will have to suffice.
Eventually through the dust haze left by all the other vehicles which had been consistently overtaking and, in some instances, undertaking us on this twin-track, main north – south road, I began to see the darker outline of what looked like large boils on the surface of the country. As we progressed further and the road started to ascend from the level, I saw that we were, indeed, approaching the foothills.
The 'mountains' were still hidden from us by the dust-haze and airborne pollution.
Fortunately, as we ascended, our speed had to drop commensurately as we were now tail gating the trucks that had overtaken us many miles back and which were now struggling up inclines under their load and were, therefore, slowing the traffic down accordingly. My heart-rate returned to something near normal.
Last week, in order to have my Visa for this country extended, I had to have a quick physical so that the Romanian Government could assure themselves that I was not in danger of being a drain on their already over-burdened health system. The Doctor who examined me was mightily impressed when she took my blood pressure...
'This is good for your age.'
she said. She then asked, for the record, what was my age? When I told her, her eyes opened wide and she replied,
'In that case, this is extremely good – I am sorry, I had thought you were only in your early thirties... But you smoke and you work in a high-stress job – how do you manage to keep so calm?'
'... it is because I stopped worrying a long time ago about things over which I have no control, and no influence, and realised that my health and happiness and that of those close to me was far more important than this superficial, ego-driven world that I work in – I do my job, but I no longer worry about it.'
I wondered now, in the back of my little Dacia, what she would have made of my blood pressure reading at that moment and what value my pontificating actually had!
Gradually, the sun began to sink toward the west and we entered a town that, I was proudly told, was the town where King Carol had once had his 'country house'. There it perched on a rise, looking rather forlorn, overlooking the main road, a concrete manufacturing plant and a sludge-brown river that coursed in a desultory fashion down from the mountains.I commented that, the last time I had been in mountains was
in Cortina D'Ampezzo in the Dolomites and that the mountain streams there were a pellucid ice blue as they tumbled down from the mountains and through the little villages. I suggested, rather diplomatically I thought, that there must be a large difference in the minerals in the different mountain regions to account for the difference in the colour
of the water. My suggestion was met with a rather fatalistic;
'No, we just have a lot of mud.
'There is a lot of mud in Romania.' Things could only get better..... couldn't they?
And there - for the time being - I shall leave you. The saga shall be continued!