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.