Pete and I have arranged to meet Roger The Mexican in Huedin. A car pulls up and a wonderfully eclectic assortment of people topple out. Here we have Roger himself; a quiet yet delightfully quirky French WWOOFer named Matilde; a Couchsurfing Californian named Nick and a girl who’s just leaving, on her way to the train station. They’ve come to town to help some neighbours who’ve gone away. This area has been badly flooded and the waters rose into their garden on the day they left. What a nice surprise to come home and find the pixies have cleaned it up for you. It sounds like it will be bad, but actually there’s very little damage. The lettuces have survived, and despite part of the garden still being submerged, the part that has drained seems fine. We spend a couple of hours raking up debris that the river left behind and leave it in a neat heap; bang a few fence-posts in and we’re done.
We have lunch in town at the Pizzeria. To Roger’s bemusement, I show the waiter my Vegan Passport. Actually, despite being helpful on this occasion, the passport isn’t half as useful in Romania as the magical sentence “mancare de post” (“food suitable for religious fasting”). According to Wikitravel, “Because Romanians are in their large majority Eastern Orthodox Christians, fasting involves removing of all the animal products from their meals (meat, dairy products or eggs). Even though Lent seasons only cover a small part of the year, you can find fasting food throughout the year”.
Suitably stuffed full of food, we set of back to the village, stopping for a beer on the way home. We drive back up the mountain in tandem, somehow aquiring a third, little green car in the process. It’s a Belgian couple who decide to stay for the night, though how that happened is beyond me. I think Roger knows the man’s brother. We arrive at the house and are given a guided tour by Roger. Since when I asked to come couchsurfing I mentioned I would also like to help out, Roger asks what my interests are. I haven’t really done any formal WWOOFing, and despite having helped grow food back in Brighton and helped with construction work while traveling, I haven’t properly figured out where my skills and interests are. All I know is, I can cook. I tell Roger I can help out with whatever he likes and he tells me I’m welcome to cook any time.
A fire is lit outside. I offer to cook dinner. Pete and I are each given a welcome Palinka by Roger, as well as more beer. “When in Rome..ania”, says Pete, who doesn’t usually drink. Groan.
I sleep beautifully in Kinga, my little tent, leaving Pete alone in the van for the night as he was palnning to leave already to have a few days to himself. I awake to find picnic blankets spread on the grass outside the house. A plank of wood with a small pile of bowls and cutlery with some bread, jams and cereal is set to one side. An extension lead runs from the house to the picnic spot, where a toaster is plugged in. I think I’m going to like it here.
After breakfast we lie around for a good long while digesting before tidying the house and beginning work. Since Roger has had Nick and Matilde here for a couple of weeks already, there’s not much that needs doing. He decides to outsource Matilde and I to help the neighbours. He sends us to help the old woman down the track flip her hay, giving us a brief workshop in effective raking and flipping techniques before we go. We find the woman, who seems delighted and surprised to see us, but refuses our help. We begin anyway, copying her motions as best we can, which is not that simple, despite Rogers workshop. A couple of times the woman sees we’re not doing so well and tells us to leave it, but we persevere and eventually develop a knack. Lift and flip, lift and flip, lift, little shake, flip… When we’ve done one side of the house we sit down and wait for the man, the woman’s husband, to cut more of the grass with his scythe. While waiting, the woman tells Matilde that she has lived here her whole life. She’s had five children, all moved away. We try to imagine doing this every year, your whole life, seeing this view every day. The man has scythed some more of the grass and indicates that we can get on with spreading it out. Lift, shake, flip… While flipping, the woman notices a black flag flying, further down the mountain. She yells down there in Romanian, “Oy! Who’s died? Who’s died?” Somebody’s son apparently.
Matilde and I return to Roger’s for lunch: a fresh green salad from the garden, which we all sit around the table to eat. The old man requested that after lunch we come back with Roger, so after a brief siesta Roger, Nick, Matilde and I all return as requested. This time we (the women) are raking the hay into a big pile in front of the barn. The men are lifting it and throwing it in. This is apparently very gendered work. When there is already a lot of hay in the barn it needs stamping down to compress it and make more room. Matilde and I jump in and throw ourselves around for a while. Dried grass is very itchy, but it’s still lots of fun. When the hay we’ve raked is all in the barn, we sit down on the grass for a homemade Palinka and bilberry syrup break. The Palinka is served in rather large glasses and one sip knocks your socks off. Matilde, who somehow speaks better Romanian than Roger, translates for me what is being said. Todor, the old man is particularly bewildered by my nose-ring and her trousers, which are the kind that join together from the knees up. What an odd bunch we must look to them.
Now it’s time to do the grass on the other side of the house. More Palinka follows. Nick, who said yes every time he was offered another, is now practically falling over. Our little bunch head back to the Casa for a siesta,
leaving Anna and Todor to finish the last little bits as they say we’re now just in the way. This has been the most fun I’ve had in months. Roger says he’s never seen Anna, the old woman, laugh so much.
It’s a perfect evening for a film and popcorn. We watch Persepolis. It’s the first time I’ve seen this film, which is surprising as I have a slight fixation with Iran at the moment. It’s very good and I like the animation style a lot, but it’s definitely not a feel-good film!
Saturday is usually a work-day, but since Nick’s leaving, Roger’s given Matilde and I the day off to walk with him down to the village and visit the waterfall. It’s a long, beautiful walk to the village, but an unexpected torrential rain hits us. All we can do is drink a beer in the bar and wait for it to ease. Matilde and I accompany Nick to the end of the village where he will hitch into town and get a train. He’s now en route to Istanbul.
Now Nick’s gone I’m offered the little house to sleep in. Apparently Matilde is quite happy in the main house. I am delighted. I wish I didn’t always make such tight plans for myself as I would love to stay here longer, even for a few weeks. I’m having such a good time and my new little room is lovely.
Sunday is a day off anyway and I can’t help thinking I’ve got off lightly here. I’m leaving tomorrow and the only work I’ve done turned out to be fantastically good fun. I set about doing some laundry by hand, which is always more therapeutic and satisfying than I give it credit for. Rolling around on my yellow mat in the morning (yoga), I notice a familiar plant. It’s shepherds purse! This in itself is not as amazing as what it signifies: I have finally begun to recognise plants! Already I have noticed yarrow growing, now shepherds purse. I am inspired and email a friend quickly asking how to make tinctures. Then I find some plantain and some St John’s wort. I’m on a roll…
Pete returns for my last night at the Casa, giving the perfect excuse for another film and popcorn night. The following day we say goodbye to Casa Mexicano and leave Roger and Mathilde plastering the wall of the bedroom-come-lounge where Roger sleeps, the next part of his planned home improvements. I feel a bit guilty for not being around to help after all his hospitality and I’m very sad to leave. Next time I will come for longer, if there can be a next time.