When I woke up in a field on my first morning in Romania, I said, "Oh, horse crap!" Or something like that.
Travel in Romania presented a whole bunch of problems: 1. It's normal to give drivers money when hitchhiking, 2. I don't speak Romanian, 3. I didn't have a good map, 4. Bears and wolves might want to eat campers, 5. I hoped to spend thirty Euro's in my week there but had already spent twelve the first day when, tired, I rode a train, 6. While avoiding hotels, I needed to find bathrooms I could use, 7. Poor Romania might perhaps be unsafe? 8. Roads lead through the dusty cities, necessitating long walks for hitchhikers, 9. Lines of hitchhikers often offer fierce competition, and 10. I wasn't quite sure what I was doing in Romania, do you?
I felt like Charlie Brown on the mound up against a mean baseball team. I took some time to write in my journal, watch the curious sheep hop by, and go into town and sit amongst people between the hedges of a sunny park.
Finally, "Old Man Logic" told me I had to try to hitchhike. Even if I couldn't speak the language and had to pay, it would be a good way to see the country, better than taking buses.
A big truck quickly stopped for me in a place I didn't think a truck would stop. The white driver, Tunshin, spoke to me in Romanian. I understood a bit. Romanian is the only Romance-family language in Eastern Europe. It sound is similar to Italian and Portuguese sounds, but it's not too similar to them.
Tunshin refused my money.
All right, I could do it, I could hitchhike in Romania! All my other problems became smaller now. I would go on to hitchhike fifteen rides from Romanians. I offered money to virtually all of them. When these drivers took other hitchhikers, there was an exchange of money. For whatever reason (possibly because they're familiar with American hitchhiking from films), no Romanian accepted money from me.
My average wait for a ride was barely five minutes.
It seemed that whites usually picked up whites and gypsies gypsies. There were some new and shiny and expensive cars on the road too, and occasionally these stopped for me and were driven by small-business owners.
I also rode in a second old, flattened-cube Dacia. Rosaries and crosses hung abundantly in the white-and-black interior. The driver wore a sky-blue dress shirt under a darker small vest, oversized honey-colored sunglasses, and his short blond hair seemed too to belong to a very Christian sect. He wore a look that said, "I may not be big enough to hurt someone, but I'd sure like to."
I laughed the most with young-looking thirty-year-old Florin. His light hair was gelled spikily, and he appeared fashionable except for the dynamite smile he kept showing with unclean teeth. He was innocent, a delivery-man still living with his family. As we rolled over a whole bunch of pot-holes, mono-lingual Florin pointed to one and said, "Grand Canyon."
In the nights, I usually slept in my tent.
On the fifth evening, I was tired, in a city, and I didn't feel like walking out and having to deal with bears.
Now, "Canada Matt" McHugh, a guy who'd inspired my traveling, had instilled in me a rumor that churches will sometimes let you in for a night.
I was beside the chuch when the pastor and his wife drove up. The pastor didn't seem thrilled that I wanted to talk to him, but he feigned interest. He said he spoke French, so I told him I was a traveler and writer without much money for a place to sleep. The church was big and empty.
Either he didn't understand French well, or he just wasn't very concerned, because he kept pointing me to the nicest hotel in town. Now, when I'd been young and a Christian believer, I had this romantic idea that pastors became pastors because they wanted to serve people, but now I know Christianity isn't about helping us earthly people. The pastor seemed only concerned with taking the groceries out of his nice car and going into his nice house beside his big empty church and having dinner with his wife.
He handed me ten lei (three Euro's), which wasn't what I wanted, nor was it sufficient money for the worst hotel in town. It was just the easiest way he could wash his hands of me.
-- Interjection: Two nights later, I'd be in a city in Ukraine. A fence surrounded an enormous green area which surrounded a big church. I jumped the stupid fence and planned to camp. But, two groundskeepers who were there told me I couldn't stay on the church's land. I had to leave. I have an idea of Jesus Christ the person was, and somehow I doubt that church's fence captures the meaning of Christ's ideals. --
"People, what have you done? Locked him in his golden cage. Made him bend to your religion ..." - Ian Anderson (Jethro Tull), "My God"
I don't particularly like it when people hand me money, but I usually end up taking it. I suppose it's somewhat justifiable when it's from the rich, because it's due to them that poor people steal from me. (Details on this next time.)
It's also due to rich people that poor people beg me for money. An international businessman and construction machinery parts salesman, named Ciprian, drove me and said he doesn't like the country's unfortunate. These are often gypsies. "I like people who work," he said. If the country's powerful put half as much effort into understanding the poor as making money, things might improve for everyone.
A university student named Mihai invited me to stay with him on the evening the pastor turned me away. White Mihai and I agreed the gypsies are very interesting, and we'd both like to speak their language and see them become successful members of the society. Maybe gypsies don't want to be businessmen, to consume, even to live in houses? Maybe they never learned how to raise crops? Maybe they can't find jobs? "They're Romanians," said Mihai. "If they're not doing well, it's bad for Romania."
On a different note, Mihai enlightened me that, when the communist period had ended, it ended with gun-fighting. He showed me explosive bullet-wounds deep in the side of several buildings. Romania's long-time communist dictator had been a guy named Chow Sharmain or something.
Mihai and his friends also told me the story of Vlad the Impaler, known to Bram Stoker as "Dracula". Vlad the Impaler had been a ruler who killed Turks and thieves by impaling them on spikes and then leaving them hanging in a spiky graveyard. He was very successful at cutting down on thievery, in the 15th Century. He got in trouble and lost power when his cousin betrayed him, making up the story that Vlad drank blood.
I'd come to Romania, to Transylvania more specifically, in search of old villages with stone central squares surrounded by buildings faced like long wooden barns. Villages like those in the "Van Helsing" movie. I didn't find them, I didn't find any vampires, and I failed to find any really nice places in the Transylvanian mountains. But, it was still a nice trip. Here's a parting MODERN ODDYSEUS' TOP 5!!!
THE TOP 5 WORST THINGS ABOUT ROMANIA! come biting at your neck ...
1. BRAN CASTLE -
Vlad the Impaler lived here, but only for a week. From the outside, the castle has a tall rectangular central tower which looks like a man who wants to rise above others by ways of terror. Many people visit this touristy castle, but the inside doesn't even mention Vlad.
2. PROSTITUTION -
Chow Sharmain had banned it, but now it's legal, and many females see it as a good way to make money.
3. GYPSIES BEG
4. ROMANIAN MUSIC
5. TUMBA -
Mihai took me on this hike on a small Transylvanian Alp above the city of Brasov. It's not a special hike, but: thanks, Mihai!
Maybe the other tourists and I didn't see vampires at Bran Castle because it was sunny. So, it was safe then for THE TOP 5 BEST THINGS ABOUT ROMANIA! to come out.
1. NICE PEOPLE
3. PARKS IN CITIES -
They're full of roller-blading and chatting people and beautiful landscaping.
4. GYPSY CULTURE
5. THE LAND IS USED
I still got all my blood, whew!
Much thanks to Mihai, Dragos, & Leanna for the place to sleep!