Hitching to Trahila is easy – an amble in the sun, stop to admire the scenery, a car stops and takes us a little further, repeat…
A few kilometres outside Trahila, a car is parked. A hippy is outside speaking with the driver. He has shoulder length blonde hair with a dreadlock or two, a big beard, green braces holding up his green trousers and a Jim Morrison t-shirt, which the other man is taking the piss out of – “Flower power was in the ‘60s! Get a job!” He sees me and begins singing loudly. The hippy in the green trousers is just smiling at him. He smiles at me too. “We’re on our way to see Dieter”, I tell him. “Do you know him?” He does, he’s going there too. We walk away from the other man, who’s singing increases in volume.
Soon we see a dark red camper-van with a white roof in the distance. “Coockadooo! Cooock-a-dooooo!” calls the hippy, whose name is Erik. “Coooockadoo!” comes the reply. We walk up to meet them. Dieter greets me first, then his partner Angela, and finally a small elderly woman. “This is my mother, Irene.” She looks at me with foggy eyes and a clear smile “Hallo.” “Hallo,” I tell her, “ich bin Jo.” Ten minutes later she greets me again, “Hallo. Ich bin Irene.” “Oh, nice to meet you…”
The sun is setting. We watch as it turns magical colours and sinks into the sea. Irene says something in German – “She says you look sad,” Dieter translates. I swallow the tears that had been rising. “Oh no, I’m fine,” I say, and smile. Irene is still looking at me. I turn away.
We all get in the van and drive back to Trahila, where Erik shows me the olive orchard and the half-built house they’re living in. I have a choice between a bedroom with Sma and my tent in the orchard down the road, next to the little village church.
Once upon a time Erik was on a walking caravan from Austria. He met a German couple at some hot springs in Kaiafas who said they wanted to start a community… they “pirated” him, his girlfriend and some others away to Trahila where they lived in a ruined house on top of a hill, until the owner found them living there… “oh great, somebody’s using it… would you like to live in my other house?” So now they have this other house, just pay the bills and the owner lives away in the city most of the time. One problem: hot and cold running salt water come from the taps and there’s no fresh water in summer. So now everyone has left but Erik and the German couple. And now we’re here.
It’s late and Sma and I are in bed in the house. We hear the front door open and Dieter’s voice – “we have a visitor!” Dreadlocks and a backpack appear in the bedroom door. This is Assaf, from Israel. He’s come from Beneficio, the Rainbow village in Spain. It seems he had enough there, was told about this place by a girl he met and, well, came. I give up the small bed to him and join Sma in the double bed, despite protests that he’s happy on the floor. I’ll put my tent up tomorrow.
We have breakfast around the fire in the olive orchard, outside Erik’s caravan. Erik makes a big pot of porridge on the fire, there’s herb tea and Angela has a little basket of her raw food items. We hang out a while before Dieter takes the others to see the vegetable garden. I mean to follow them, but when I see the village and the amazing clear blue sea, my feet just start walking. It’s love at first sight with Trahila.
A day later I’m sitting on coral rocks by the clearest, bluest sea. Erik, Assaf and Sma sit nearby; Dieter and Angela swim naked in the sea. For now, everyone is silent, with their own thoughts and the sound of spray lapping at rocks.
Later, Dieter tells us they’re going to harvest olives tomorrow and asks if we’d like to help. Yes, I would.
We pile into the back of the camper-van and set off. I’ve no idea where we’re going or how long for. I have my backpack and everything with me, just in case.
Dieter knows every avocado tree on the way. We stop and collect some, and oranges too. I ask how long it will take to get there. Erik shrugs, “I’m on the Dieter train,” he says, laughing. I’m puzzled, but notice Angela scowling.
We stop with friends for the night in Tholo, in the beautiful guest house they made themselves.
When we go to our camping place the next day, two vans are already there. One has a German licence plate that makes Dieter and Angela cry out in recognition – it’s from the city next to theirs! Our new friends are Roland, Lena and their dog Pollie. The other truck is a converted horsebox with a French numberplate, occupied by Charles (French), Patricia (Spanish), and their canine friend Boutin. They gape as we all pile out of the camper-van.
I put my tent up while Assaf does the same. Erik pulls out some rope and tarp, gets his knife out and knocks up a shelter in no time. Sma, who doesn’t camp much and likes to travel light, only has a hammock. There are two trees nearby, but they, like every other tree in the area, are dead and bunt. There was a massive forest fire a few years ago and everything got torched. The place has a strange atmosphere now – like a desert in a way. Even the ground is sand-earth, with a lot of long dry grasses, the burnt trees and occasional tiny flowers. Sma carefully cuts the thorn bushes under the trees and strings up her hammock, with a tarp over the top.
We breakfast with our new friends before heading off to work, leaving them directions so they can come later, which they do.
Dieter gives a brief induction in the art of olive slapping. We spread giant tarps out beneath the trees, then slap the branches with our plastic four-pronged devil sticks, which Assaf affectionately terms “slappers,” despite me informing him what that word means in English. One person climbs the tree and saws branches off, throwing them down to us to get slapped. It’s repetetive, physical work, but it’s fun, and gives ample opportunity for chatting and debating…
A hippy and an anarchist – Erik and I are coming from very different places. I often find hippies can have a blindingly-positive perception of the world, and the subsequent refusal to look at the negative infuriates me. These things still exist – you’re just not looking at them! Assaf has been travelling in Britain and met a lot of anarchists at protest sites like Bilston Glen. He’s had anarchism explained to him and it seems to have changed his perspective, unlike Erik. We begin our debate…
After work we climb over the gate of the thermal spring next to our camp at Kaiafas – the same place Erik first met Dieter and Angela one year ago. It stinks like rotten egg, but it’s nice and warm and good to swim in. At least if we all smell of egg we won’t notice one another.
On our second night a storm hits. Smaranda and her hammock are soaked and Erik’s tarp isn’t completely waterproof either, though Assaf and I are dry. We spend the following night at “The Museum” – a curious place filled with oddities, acting as a free tourist attraction and hook for customers for the homemade condiments Dieter’s friends make. Here we have wireless internet and a giant TV: everyone lost in their own world of screens. We have a choice to stay here from now on, but it’s no choice really – back to camp for us.
Each evening we go back to camp, then Dieter drives Angela and Omi to stay with their friends. Then we have our time, cooking and chatting round the fire, as Erik and Assaf take turns with the guitar. Our debate has been progressing. One day Erik looks me in the eyes and says, “I’m very happy I met you, Jo. I’m starting to change my story about anarchists.” Well, maybe I’m also starting to change my story about hippies. I give Erik a big hug before I go to bed.
Every morning I practice yoga outside my tent, then wake Assaf for meditation. We have breakfast by Erik’s shelter as Dieter arrives, before being whisked away to the olives.
After four days – well, half days – we have ten sacks of olives to take to the mill…
Somehow when I asked Dieter how many trees there were and he told me sixty, he neglected to mention the forty trees in the other field. I can’t quite believe someone would make such a glaring ommission by accident, but anyway we move to “The Kinderland” – the other field, and begin on the next lot of trees. These trees are smaller and only take two days, despite our reduced workforce. Charles, Patricia and now Lena have all gone traveling. It’s near the end of these trees that Dieter mentions another field… no way, that’s it. I’m taking the day off and going to town.
I hitch the small road into Zacharo, a small town, where I find a wifi cafe and drink a coffee, buy some luxury food (soy cheese, chocolate) and hitch back to camp where the others are packing up. It’s our last night in the area and we’re going back to the Museum.
I get a text message from Diane. She’s doing the olive harvest on Wednesday and would we like to join them? More olives? God, no! But I mention it to the others and the idea grows – wouldn’t it be nice to turn up and finish the olives quickly for Di and Paul? I text back and say we’ll come.
In the end it’s Erik, Assaf, me, Patricia and Charles – back from their jaunt – who are dropped at Di’s yurt to help her and three other helpers with the olives. Paul is in hospital so she can really use our help.
We waved goodbye to Sma, who’s hitching to Patras to wait for me there. She’ a city girl and she needs a good solid internet connection, like a drip in her arm. Me, I’m going back to Trahila. I’m not ready to leave these people yet and two days wasn’t nearly enough time in that beautiful village.
Back in Trahila, I’m becoming aware that Erik, Assaf and myself have developed a little clique. Our debate is now into it’s third week and has widened to include a range of political, spiritual and philosophical topics. Now we trust each other, thee equals in discussion, no longer needing to defend a position. We also spend time watching films and Krishnamurti videos, reading to one another, dancing around the kitchen, cooking and laughing at Assaf, the perpetual clown.
Charles and Patricia are still with us. They cook space cakes one night and in the morning we notice a whole one is missing. Omi is behaving very oddly indeed – staring at herself in the mirror for long periods of time, wobbling around and sitting giggling in her chair, unable to hold a cup properly.
Now Erik joins Assaf and I for morning meditation. Angela also comes sometimes. We clean the big room upstairs and make a mediation space with some carpets a neighbour throws away.
Violent storms hit Trahila. I go back to my tent one night and the sides are flapping badly. I’m not sure it’ll last the night. Erik prepares the second bed in the caravan and we both get little sleep as even that feels like it’s about to say goodbye to Kansas any moment, juddering violently with loud screeching noises as branches scrape the roof. I try to stop myself looking out the window as giant trees outside sway towards us. Perhaps we will die tonight?
We’re all still alive in the morning, but Erik thinks the storm will last three days. I pack my tent up completely and move into the caravan.
There’s a knock at the door of the house. “Ellla!” yells Dieter. Nothing happens. “Come in!” shouts Dieter. A French man with a large backpack appears around the door – oh yes, our hitchhiking visitor – we had all forgotten! How will this new arrival affect our clique? Well, he seems to fit right in. Anthony is quiet and attentive, but knows how to have a good time and is as happy dancing around the kitchen table as the rest of us. He’s not so into meditation and seems content to just listen to our philosophical discussions, but he’s always smiling when I look at him.
Dieter, Angela and Omi drive to Athens for the weekend to collect Dieter’s daughter who will stay until they go back to Germany for the summer. This leaves the four of us “home alone”. The days are stormy, so we mostly stay inside and occupy our time with films, discussions and lots of dancing and merriment.
My last day in Trahila I take a walk to the House at the Top of the Hill and sing over the village. I walk to The End of The World and say goodbye to the thirteen cats, the donkey, the olive trees and the wild waves.
Anthony and I synchronise plans to hitch north together. Returning to “Babylon” is a scary prospect, but Trahila has been good for me. I haven’t felt this open, grounded and focused in over a year. Erik and Assaf are helping friends in their mill, so Anthony and I get a lift to the nearest road. I hug Erik goodbye – a long hug with a big squeeze at the end. “See you in five minutes,” he says, but I know he’s lying.
We arrive in Braşov on a Sunday, which is never a good idea. Everything’s closed and it’s a while before we find an internet cafe and look for couchsurfers and anything else of interest. There’s not much going on and once again we find ourselves playing the part of tourists, getting over-charged and walking around with glazed eyes trying to take everything in. There’s a black church, a narrow street (they think it’s the narrowest in Europe, but it’s not), a Hollywood-style “Braşov” sign high up on the mountain – which, by the way, is right in the middle of the city.
It’s two days before we even manage to get in touch with A, a friend of a friend of Pete’s and our only prior contact in Romania. He’s known to Pete through activist channels and turns out to be a security-paranoid anarcho-syndicalist who comes to meet us in full anarcho-black attire, despite the blazing sun. Unfortunately, he’s also one of those people who thinks he’s right about everything and won’t let you do anything for yourself. Im sure he’s only trying to be helpful, but he’s really very pushy about it and I end up feeling I’m unable to make decisions for myself.
We’ve also been in touch with a man at Kászonszék Ecovillage Initiative and although it’s a fair way back up north again – almost as far as the Rainbow site – we decide our time will be better spent there meeting the people setting up Transylvania’s (first?) ecovillage than playing tourist and being shepherded about by A here in Braşov.
It’s a long drive up and we’re beginning to question our sanity at coming so far for a short meeting, but we meet the man, Áron, that I’ve been emailing. He’s a very nice and thoroughly interesting character with lots of ideas and plans, many of which are pinned up on the walls of the modest room from which he runs his business as an architect. Áron shows us his portfolio: designs and drawings of traditional Hungarian houses, some of which he has drawn from villages where they are due to be demolished. “This one is destroyed now”, he says of a few. He’s drawn them in architecture design form, but with the crumbling walls showing in the line drawings. It gives an interesting impression that I really like. Then we get down to business. Áron talks about his travels around various different communities and projects in Europe, much like Pete and I are doing now. He has a slide show of some of them. Then he talks about his ideas, plans for the future and dreams of establishing a sustainable ecovillage here in this traditional Hungarian village of Kászon. Actually, it’s more like a Transition Initiative than what I would consider to be a typical Ecovillage, as he wants to transition an established community and not start a new one. It becomes clear as he’s speaking that this really is the beginning. He’s cagey when asked how many are involved and I imagine it’s just Áron and his wife at the moment. Still, although not much has been set up, Pete and I are both impressed by the energy and enthusiasm of this man Áron and we both come away feeling inspired.
For some reason we agreed to give A a lift to Bucharest. Normally I would be overjoyed at the rare opportunity to pay off some off my hitching karma and reduce the amount of traffic in the world, but somehow A seems to have a habit of trying to control everything. First he tries to dictate what time we leave in the morning, then when I mention that I’d like to stop for coffee he calls up his friend who lives in a city on the way and orders him to bring a flask of coffee to a point where we will meet him. This he does in Romanian so that we have no idea what he’s done until it’s too late and we take a detour into the centre of the city to meet this poor boy who’s got – not a flask of coffee, but a bottle of water for us. Um.. great, thanks! Ok, so I realise A is just trying to be nice, but it’s the way he does it – infuriating.
We arrive in Bucharest. The first thing we notice: it’s hot. It’s as much as we can manage to drop A off in the centre and navigate through the busy, smoggy streets in Princess, our metal oven on wheels, to the jungle of large Soviet-style tower blocks where our CS host lives on the East side of the city. Alexandra lives on the 6th floor, where we all sit, melting into sofas and discussing politics (she’s a vegan socialist, for reference) until it’s cool enough to venture out into the evening air.
Bucharest is not a beautiful city, but it is very green. There seem to be as many trees as towerblocks, at least so far.
I’ve never enjoyed a punk gig before. Alexandra is a bit of a party animal and after our obligatory political debate (the finer points of difference between socialism and anarchism) we head out to watch Dead Ceausescus. It’s a great show. The band really know how to work the crowd – leave them waiting then pump them full of energy, plenty of posturing and comical multimedia use of communist era footage of Ceauşescu, old national anthems, costumes, etc. A mosh pit develops instantly as soon as the band begin and I quickly step back and back and back as it widens out and more people dive in.
I’ve been intending to go to some museums, but it’s just so bloody hot. By the time I feel capable of doing anything much it’s usually getting into evening, the museums are shut and the dogs are out. I laughed the first time I read a warning about the dogs, but it’s all true. There are somewhere between 40,000 and 100,000 stray dogs in the capital (or 1 million if you believe Wikitravel). They roam around in packs, and are hungry and hostile, which to be fair is unsurprising given the lives they lead. I didn’t take this at all seriously until Pete and I were chased and barked at all over the city while out riding our bikes in the evening. They are bloody terrifying. Almost everyone I spoke to had been attacked by dogs at least once.
The other thing the wikis (Couchsurfing Wiki, Wikitravel, Wikipedia) warn you about are the tricksters, pickpockets, gypsies and homeless children – all of which you are to avoid. Wikitravel is particularly good for a laugh on these issues (see dog link above), especially the parts about not attempting to bribe a policeman and to avoid the gypsy area because “there is nothing of interest there”.
There are also many good things in Bucharest and the Biblioteca Alternativa is one of them. It has two sets of bookshelves -rather modest for a library, yet manages to contain an enormous number of books I want to read so that I keep jumping between them and don’t get a lot of reading done. They have events in the library too. This week is Spanish Civil war week and we manage to make it to a showing of Land and Freedom, an excellent film which they even put into English subtitles just for us.
A Friend Arrives
Rhiannon is here! Strange the way one can seemingly go anywhere in the world and still run into a friend. Neither of us has a phone and we’re both quite chaotic creatures, but somehow we manage to meet up. Rhiannon is a loveable Geordie pixie, one of those that’s always popping up in unlikely places. Still, I can’t believe she’s here. “What are you doing here?!” I ask. “Oh, I don’t really know. I just thought I might go to Bucharest” “But how did you get here?” “I got the bus.” “From Newcastle?” “Yeah.” Wow!
It’s so nice to have a friend. Well, ok, I’m traveling with Pete who is one of my best friends and we’re staying with Alexandra, who has become a friend, but it’s nice to have a friend from back home. I show Rhiannon the library and the punk bar. We get very wet, escape from dogs and discuss our disgust at people’s attitudes toward “gypsies”. She’s been having her own adventures after being rescued from her slightly misjudged plan of sleeping rough in a park in Bucharest by some well meaning strangers, who were thoroughly lovely apart from the Roma issue. What’s wrong with everyone?
Before leaving Bucharest I hand down to Rhiannon the wisdom I have gathered during my Romanian adventures and tips for vegan survival: Mandy brand pate vegetal, salami biscuit – which I never did find, Zakuska and the immortal words “Mancare de Post“.
Romania. Mountain villages, cracked and bumpy roads, churches like wedding cakes and vibrant colourful houses, old ladies in headscarves, haystacks like silhouettes of giant lumpy people, horses, carts and packs of stray dogs, mountains, mountains and mountains…
Everyone is staring at us. I have to remember Serbia – how everyone stared at Sam and I when we cycled into it, how warm, friendly and hospitable they turned out to be. I love entering a new country, love watching my own mixed emotions of curiosity, excitement and fear. Fear of being misunderstood, of not understanding, making mistakes and social faux pas. Not knowing the right words to explain myself.
We find internet quickly and I write down a few key phrases, my lips unsure of how they sound. We get currency and work out the exchange rate (just over 4 Lei to a Euro). All this we do in Oradea, the first city over the border. Here we also drink coffee in a smokey locals bar, not so much for the coffee as to get a feel for the place and the people in it. The girl behind the bar is young and skinny with a yellow t-shirt and badly painted eyebrows. She carefully counts out my change in English, pausing after each number to check she got it right. I ask the Romanian word for “thankyou”. She tells me “mulţumesc”, as well as “Köszönöm”, the Hungarian word I already knew. I’m reminded of how often borders shift around. Not so long ago this whole region was part of Hungary and there’s still a large Hungarian minority within it - entire Hungarian villages throughout Transilvania.
We pick up a hitch-hiker on our way out of town – our second in almost ten months traveling, although Pete picked up a couple while traveling solo. Our hitcher is a young guy from Aleşd, on his way home from job hunting in the city. We decide to take him home before parking up for the night. While driving I get a Romanian language lesson, going through each of the letters to try to discover how it sounds. Maybe he thinks I’m trying to give him a lesson, as he keeps telling me the English names for the letters, but anyway I get an idea of how to pronounce some words. We drop our hitcher in Aleşd. He offers us money, the custom in Romania, but of course we refuse it and thank him for the lesson.
A search for a parking place takes us through village after village along winding roads. Eventually we stop. It’s not a perfect sleeping spot, but the view is amazing and a thick quilt of mist hangs over the mountains in the morning.
Huedin has one small internet cafe – not the big posh one with “cyber cafe” in big letters, where you need your own laptop, but a smaller backstreet one beside a bar, where the woman ignores the hours she has posted on the door and comes and goes as she likes. If you sit in the bar long enough, she’ll probably turn up sooner or later.
I have an email from Ebay Man. My laptop has miraculously appeared in Budapest and must be colleced by Monday. This should be fantastic news, but my first reaction is to groan. It took three days to drive here. Although we drive notoriously slowly and I already plan to hitch back alone and get it to save time and money, it will still take me a day in each direction and means again delaying plans.
The already much delayed plan is to visit a Mexican named Roger living in a village 40km South of Huedin. He has some land and he’s growing food permaculturally. I decide to visit Roger for at least a couple of days before trecking back to Budapest. He’s already been waiting two weeks while I waited for the laptop.
We follow the directions I copied from his email. In the village Răchiţele (“Rruh-kits-elle”) we are to ask in the bar for “Casa Mexi-ca-nolue”. Actually there are three bars. The first has never heard of him. The second has, but the woman doesn’t speak English. She points up the mountain and makes a gesture indicating a right turn. Hmm, ok. We get back in and drive to the end of the village very slowly, feeling every pothole and crack in the road. My directions say “Good road til centre then hard road to top of hill. Hike up 45km or drive around” 45km? – that can’t be right. I must have copied it down wrong. Perhaps I missed out a decimal point? We drive up, up, up, but Princess is getting tired. We park her in a layby and continue walking up, up, up… It’s getting dark. There’s no phone reception and of the few cars that pass and the fewer that will stop for us, none have heard of a Mexican man on a farm up here. We reach the top and the road starts to head back down on the other side. No good, we’ve passed it somehow. We admit defeat and go back down to Princess, sleep in her where she’s parked.
My writing is interrupted by a young bemuscled border guard wanting to see my passport. He’s confused as the front says ‘United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland’, but some of the gold lettering is starting to fade. He asks me if Ireland is in the EU. Then he asks how I got here. I reply that I got the train from Hungary, which he seems to accept. I wonder why he couldn’t figure that out himself when I’m sitting here on a train right in front of him at the Hungarian border. No matter, I’m back in Romania now.
I still haven’t made it to Rogers. I decided to just get things over and done with and hitch back to Budapest. I waited 5 minutes opposite the petrol station where Pete dropped me, got a lift all the way to Budapest with a cheery Hungarian trucker. I even made it to the post office 10 minutes before it closed and brandishing my Great Big Box made it to Tuzrakter just in time for a disscussion about Irish worker’s struggles. It was late that night by the time I nervously opened The Box and booted up the laptop. One of the batteries isn’t working, but the other seems fine and the laptop works – which is the main thing. It is a bit bigger and heavier than I expected, but other than that, it’s great. I just hope it’s not too heavy to travel with. We’ll see.
Today hasn’t gone so well. It’s been bad luck, good luck, bad luck, good luck… I got told off by police for walking on the road (impossible for cars to see me on the pavement) and shouted at by drivers, but then given money by a cyclist who was very sweet and told me which bus and metro to catch to get to a better spot. I made it to the airport as directed, but still didn’t get picked up. It was 34° and not a tree in sight. The only car that stopped replied “sex” when I asked where he was going. It’s little things like this that can destroy a hitchers morale. I went to the train station behind me, just to ask, then somehow jumped on a train without any money. Fortunately I managed to jump off and back on at a station and made it to a cash point. I’m exhausted, but I’m on a train! I love trains.
At Huedin station I ask a man how to get to the centre and he offers me a lift round the corner in his car. Oh, the irony. I meet Pete in the bar by the internet cafe where he’s chatting away to the woman who works there. “Aha, here she is!” he says as I fall through the door. I relay my adventures over a beer, then it’s back to Princess for the night. Tomorrow I might finally meet The Mexican. Pete already met him. A knock on the van door last night turned out to be him. Princess does stick out a bit with her scuffs, scrapes, GB numberplate and wrong-side steering – not to mention the chimney. He asked, “are you by any chance an activist?” Must have been quite odd.