Monday, 14 May 2012

Final week

Final week…
Anna and Lossi her husband came round to see me today, they are a couple that I’ve become friends with out here, just lovely people. They drove me the 10km to the supermarket to buy tomorrow’s dinner, the local shops only sell frozen meat in small quantities and I needed a lump big enough for 5 hungry lads tomorrow night. I got a whacking great 3kg lump of pork, 2 bottles of wine and some veg, total £19.50. I kid you not! I reckon that would have set me back £50 at home.
The others have gone on a climb to a higher pasture to camp overnight in a heavily populated bear area. Paul White suggested that because of my age it would be a struggle for me to keep up, and that I should stay in the village for the weekend, and given that a shepherd was mauled by a bear 2 days ago, I was only too happy to agree. As it was I had a great half-day out with Paul touring some of the Romanian villages, only accessible by 4x4 or horse (yes, I chose the 4x4 J) and then we went around to his mother in laws for lunch. It’s such an honour when you go abroad to be invited into a family home and this was no exception. At the house was Paul’s wife Laura, her sister and their mother, a lovely hospitable woman, and as I was about to find out, great cook. Also there was a little girl of 3, Regina, who I am certain will be the first woman president of Romania one day. So much fire in her, she reminded me of my daughter Sasha at the same age, they both used the same word over and over again with the same stroppy face…”No!” (Nam!) The lunch arrived, a bean soup with fresh onions on the side to sprinkle in, and some bread. When I’d finished I was full and thanked Laura’s mother for a fantastic lunch. Then, in came the main course! 3 pork fillet slices (Hungarian style) and a pile of mash the size of a football! Romanian potatoes are so tasty; I struggled but finished the lot. As the pudding was wheeled in I felt like an egg bound budgie, but hey you have to go for it sometimes don’t you?
 Paul White is a great guy, so committed to what he does as leader of the Transylvanian Wildlife Project. He runs his team with military precision and very strict rules, which you need in any expedition. Having completed many expeditions in the army I know how important that this discipline is, and I think that most of the lads in our team, though a bit apprehensive at first have now seen the light as far as this goes. Without discipline you have a ‘holiday’ not an expedition, and we didn’t come here for a vacation. National Geographic were so impressed with Paul’s project when they filmed here last year that he has had a large grant approved by them so he can buy equipment such as camera traps, filming equipment and other modern surveillance tools. I’m going to do all I can to help them when I return to the UK and if I’m lucky, perhaps I’ll get to come out here again to work with them.
It’s Saturday night now and next Saturday we will be leaving. I’m so looking forward to seeing Beverley and the kids again but I will feel genuinely sad to leave this village that has been so welcoming to me. Mmmm this Romanian wine is great and it was £2, what the hell am I doing living in England, but hey, when I need a liver transplant, maybe England will be the better place J
The farm fields are massive here and they are mainly all worked by hand. You often see 2 or 3 people planting crops, and when you drive past 2 days later they have only moved on a few rows. Apparently it’s cheaper to hire a gang of gypsies to sow your potato crop than hiring a potato-sowing machine. The workers start as soon as the sun rises and work until it’s too hot, then they rest for a few hours before carrying on until nightfall. Children go to school but they work also, why shouldn’t they, it builds their character and avoids them becoming a chav, which by the way, there seems to be no Romanian equivalent. If you were a person in Romania who decided to sleep 12 hours a day, watch TV for 8 hours, shoplift for an hour and spend the other 3 hours being generally rude to everyone you met, you would be stabbed to death and fed to the dogs. When I told some locals that in England, when someone drunk abuses the police, the officers are not allowed to touch them and still have to call the them ‘sir’, they thought I was telling a joke! They said in a similar situation here, you would be clubbed senseless and left in a prison until someone remembered why you were there. Then your relatives would hate you because they would have to sell their land to get you out, if they decided to. March on BARKING MAD Britain, the world enjoys the comedy you provide.
In England we have the ‘school run’, where huge 4x4’s struggle on the rough rocky roads of Penrith through areas known to have dangerous geranium pot plants waiting on every window sill, the sole aim being to get your child there safely. The equivalent in this country is ‘milking time’ and it’s nothing to do with the mothers! At about 5pm in every village the cows come home and the herds are massive; I counted over 300 in one. They don’t just come home in one big group, they slowly work their way over about an hour, visiting local gardens, school playing fields, churchyards, and just grazing and lazing all the way. If you’re lucky they’ll fertilize your garden or accidentally tread on that unwanted cat, they are very big animals indeed. So who are the rich folk who own these herds? Well this is the best part, each cow is owned by individual families, some owning just one, or others owning 3 or 4, and they all have the owner’s marker on. You pay to have your cow herded, grazed and milked and you get a share of the profits!
The older people in Romania preferred communist rule, everyone had a job, everyone had a house and everyone had fuel and food. Heating was provided to the village by a central boiler, fed through pipes into everyone’s homes. Now all houses have their own boilers and the poor can’t afford one and the wealthier can have a really good one. Now unemployment is high, not everyone has a home and certainly not everyone has food. I can see no better way than communist rule for the people here, but they are slowly drifting towards a capitalist system where the rich control the masses by owning the media, just like us. The perfect country with the perfect system doesn’t exist, because if it did it would be adopted everywhere. I’ve lost track of what point I was trying to make, but anyone fancy a revolution?
 Charles, the eldest son of the aptly named, ‘Dracula Family’ has bought a castle in Romania, not something that’s made the press in England, unless you know different? I am not a fan of that family but I do like his attitude to preserving historical sites and not allowing developers to pillage every property that comes on the market. The Romanians think it’s great and like that he loves their country so much, they say he walks around the village with a large group of friends and a horse. I didn’t have the right words to explain that the group of friends were heavily armed off duty SAS soldiers and the horse was called Camilla! I guess he’s found what I’ve found here, but struggle still to put into words. It’s something that was in England in the 60’s and definitely isn’t now, but it is for certain here in Romania today. Help me please, what is it?
News Flash…
Bunda, our guard dog has been sick, he just couldn’t take the amount of food that was given and I’m not sorry, greed can never be rewarded. I saw him lurching in the garden and every time he brought a bit up, he took a step backwards. The trail was long and the steps back were many, he can only learn from this experience. Bunda normally roams free and has many girlfriends in the village, but he’s chained to a tree while we are here so that he can serve another purpose. If anyone opens the garden gate he barks and he acts as the bin for anything that we don’t eat. Unlike an English dog, Bunda will eat absolutely anything, more like a ‘pig’ diet. Because he is chained to the tree, and wants to poo as far away from the tree as possible, but not in the same place as last time, a magic circle has evolved, about 2 yards out. The plants and flowers thrive on this circle, about a foot wide, and it’s a marker for the cats also who stay just far enough on the outside and sit and stare, as if laughing at Bunda’s inability to reach them. I think I’ll try another experiment later and add a large elasticised end to his chain, but then even though it might surprise the cats, I don’t want Bunda to return to the tree to fast as the elastic reaches it’s limit!
In England, we talk about ‘weeds’ with disgust, as if they are something that must be killed regularly at any cost, and we fill garden centres with stuff to do just that. Not in Romania! They cultivate the part of the garden where they want to grow vegetables, which everyone does, and the rest is left to go wild, full of beautiful flowers and different grasses where a mass of insects and other wildlife thrive. On these insects the birds feed so there are a huge amount of them in the gardens, just like there used to be in England. We are so busy growing rose bushes, marigolds and lobelia that we have lost touch with the real beauty and variety available to us in wild flowers. Our gardens are becoming sterile places, giant cat litter trays, where only slugs thrive and bird populations continue to decline; a shame don’t you think
There’s a train crossing between here and the next town, and until yesterday I had never seen a train and just assumed it was a disused track, as I couldn’t see a barrier. I thought that people slowed down because the track is slightly raised from the road, it never occurred to me that they might be looking for the train. Well yesterday I saw the train, not carrying passengers but some sort of goods. The crossing is also on a bend and behind a building, so in one direction you really can’t see the train coming, a sort of ‘chance’ thing with an acceptable risk as there aren’t many trains and they only travel at about 30mph so would probably just push you down the line a bit before they stopped.
 When communist rule was over, the Carpathian Forest was given back to the people, and every family owns a small piece that they use as they see fit. They have to get permission to chop down the trees for wood, but they can sell their ownership on. The buyers who give the best price are either conservation groups, such as Rain Forest Concern, or more than often the large companies who organise hunting for the wealthy. Apparently the main customers (60%) are rich USA folk, having exhausted their own large carnivore populations, just want to wipe out Wolves and Brown Bears here. These animals are deliberately set up and bated to certain areas so that the kill is always successful, making the hunters feel skilful in some way. European aristocracy account for most of the rest, including the English Dracula Family, but at least there are hunting seasons now, so there is hope that it will not become a complete wipe out.
I think I’ve worked out the name thing, and this is what I make of it. A younger person has to call me ‘Sencier’, but because I am also considered an older person (how sad!) I get called ‘Sencier Baji’; that’s what it sounds like; and when you reach ‘Baji’ status, you get to jump queues, are served first at the bar and get immediate attention everywhere you go. A person of similar age to me can call me ‘Daniel’, so Ryan has started calling me ‘Daniel Baji’ as a sort of compromise J Old people in England are regarded as a bloody inconvenience and a burden on society. Well move out here folks because your money is worth 3 times as much, the weather is nicer and you become a god. OK there’s poor health care, but when the time comes most of us want to die quickly, not kept ticking over, immobilised, incontinent, connected to a machine, staring out of the same window for 20 years!
 Just finished dinner tonight and the gas started to die off, the large cylinder in the cupboard beside the oven was empty. Not a problem, the owner Yossi was in the garden checking the damage from today’s wind, the temperature has dropped considerably. He popped a new cylinder in and then came the surprise. To check that the mounting was secure he lit a match, and as I ran out of the kitchen he put his face over the gas tap. There was a flash and a whooshing sound, and the absence of most of his eyebrows told him that the connection was not good. I can’t understand why he stood so close, but at least he doesn’t have to shave for a few days, and his nose hair was too long anyway. There are no smoke detectors in any house and I doubt that there is a fire engine within a hundred miles of here. Everything is made of wood, everyone smokes and I just don’t know why there are so few fire incidents, like the driving I think that luck is the only explanation.
Only 5 days left then a days travel to the Serbian border and on to Belgrade airport, a +10 hour drive. The Serbian border could be our biggest challenge as it moves us outside the EU for the first time and ‘bribes’ kick in big time. Apparently if they don’t like the look of you then can strip your entire vehicle down then you have to put it back together again! So by this time next week we will all be either in a Serbian prison or back home in England!

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