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September 28th 2011
Published: September 28th 2011
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I’ve had some complaints that nobody knows what’s been going on with my adventures this side of the world. Sounds like it’s time for a short update on what I have been getting up to, where I’ve been and what kinds of animals I’ve killed.

I stopped blogging just before travelling, because hooking yourself to the duties of a computer-article just gets tedious. This is especially true when you’re on a farm and working from 7am – 9pm every day.

I signed myself to WWOOF for a month in Romania. WWOOF stands for Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms also known as "Willing Workers On Organic Farms”. The second question immediately asked is, “Why Romania?” Well, I figured it was a country I would never have visited otherwise, it was totally random and it gave me the chance to totally remove myself from my ‘norm’ and comfort zone. And that is just what happened.

I was supposed to work on a farm owned by a British and Norwegian couple (two women), but due to health complications, they were unable to host me. I heard this news two days before, and was given the option of WWOOFing for their neighbour, Zoli (short for Zoltan). He is a world-renowned husky-breeder (with their dog winning Dog of the Year in Amsterdam 2010) and sled-sprint-racer (Romanian champion). They have a farm with horses, ducks, chickens (48…now 47) pigs, huskies, stray dogs and a peacock. I didn’t mind the sudden change and emailed Zoli I’d be seeing him in a few days. I said I’d be arriving at his train station after a night in Bucharest looking like a typical tourist. He replied he’d be waiting for me, looking like a typical horse-farmer. This gave me confidence we’d be getting along just fine.

I landed in Bucharest after getting up before 5am in the morning to catch my flight from Amsterdam. I waited for my luggage and everything swooped past on the black conveyor belt except my tent. Seems like my efforts to repair it after Kozakov (the Czech downhill race I did) were all in vain; some Romanian is having a great time in a great tent. Bugger it. I couldn’t complain or wait at the airport too long as I was losing light and didn’t feel like wandering Bucharest looking for my hostel in the dark. I just said to myself that things could only get better.

I dodged the devious taxi chauffeurs and plopped myself onto a bus, headed hopefully in the right direction. My month of minimal vocal-chord usage had begun. It turned out to be the right bus and I got off at the stop Lonely Planet recommended. I eventually found my hostel after asking a restaurant where the street was. Relieved, tired and happy to be able to speak I unpacked and went in search of food. After a long and partially disappointing first day, I found a relaxed, cheap place to chow and treated myself to some lekker meat. Back at the hostel I got chatting with another Dutchman, and had a nice evening sharing travel-stories.

The next day I walked a half-hour to the train station with my huge bag and organized a ticket to Miercurea Ciuc. I was not looking forward to a +5 hour train ride on notoriously slow and rickety trains. I found my seat and had the luck of sharing a table with a Romanian model/ TV presenter. At least the views were good both in and out of the train.

The train stopped 4km out of Miercurea, and I waited for nearly an hour for them to fix whatever the problem was and finally made it a little later than expected. Upon getting off the train all I heard was a little voice say “Stuart!” I stuck my hand in the air and a moment later Melania, Zoltan’s woman (not wife…woman), came up to me and guided me to their little Peugot 106. Her English was nearly non-existent and the only expressive reaction other than the ‘hello’ I got was when she reached the ‘good-tar’ and opened the tiny car’s throttle with an excited “JA!”

I reached the farm and found Zoli teaching horse-riding. Within seconds I was holding a beer and got chatting with Zoli. When I say chatting, it was more broken-English trial-and-error communication that was to be for the rest of the month. I slept up in the barn with the horse-riders and stayed sleeping there for the week.

I have had so many experiences on the farm, that to go into detail will be a ridiculously long blog. Please just email me if there’s anything you’d like to know. Here were some of my high-and-down lights.

• 9am shots of Palinka, the local tequila, with breakfast. I later said it made me lazy to avoid the liver-onslaught until mid-morning.
• My days mostly went in this order:
o Wake up, dress and shovel horse-shit, feed horses, water horses and wait for breakfast
o Eat breakfast, which could be anything from last-night’s supper leftovers (i.e. fried fish) to warm milk (no fridge) and cereal or just bread and cheese/meat/onion/garlic/peppers.
o Work on whatever needed to be done. The main projects I helped with and what we completed were:
 A fence, made from pine-poles I had stripped the bark from.
 Stripping the bark from pines. Back-breaking I tell you.
 Cutting, turning (to dry), raking, stacking, carting and finally off-loading hay into the barn. Hay was one of the biggest duties we did, before the winter and whilst it was hot to properly dry it out. I have never sweated so much as when I had to organize the barn to be able to stuff as much hay in as possible.
 Chopping down trees, cutting wood.
 Making the new stable-floor. Splitting tree-logs and stripping, smoothing out the logs and placing them.
 Cleaning the stables and stacking copious amounts of horse-manure.
 Making a coffee-table
o Have a break, and a quick liter of beer before continuing with work.
o Lunch; which consisted of whatever was still lying on the table from breakfast, soup, bread (I ate so much bread, white bread) and mostly another course of meat or something. With another beer/ palinka.
o Keep working throughout the afternoon until supper.
o Feed horses and all the other animals, clean up, and sit down for the meal. Melania wasn’t a bad cook at all and I ate many different things. A highlight was the traditional tripe soup (cow’s-stomach). I also ate the chicken’s and duck’s feet and pig’s ears.
o Oh, and beer and Palinka with supper.
o I will not miss the cold showers; which could only be taken early in the morning or late at night- the coldest possible times for a flipping cold shower. When arriving at Nathan’s in Sighi, without evening thinking, I asked when shown the shower if it had hot water.

I worked many days with Zoli’s other local help. An old man of 60 by the name (phonetically) of FerriBachi. ‘Bachi’: to be respectful of his age. While I could still attempt a minor conversation about simple things with Zoli, FerriBachi spoke absolutely no English. This was when I learnt the words for pitchfork, spade, sit, relax, come, go, fetch, rake, axe, pick up and other words we needed to get done what was asked of us. However, we had a really good time together, despite the language barrier. On the other hand, when working and not speaking for around 10 hours a day, you have a lot of time to think!

Whilst I was there I was also fortunate enough to celebrate both Zoli and Melania’s birthdays. We killed a pig for Zoli’s and a duck for Melania’s. Although Melania didn’t eat any duck, as she was against it being killed. We also killed a chicken the one day, for supper and soup. Soup, soup, soup soup. Every day for lunch, I have never eaten so much soup in my life!

I also met Thomas, a friend of Zoli’s whose wife and child came for riding lessons. I also got to celebrate his birthday, at a restaurant in Miercurea the one evening. Having been with Zoli for around two weeks, I already realized the power Zoli had within the region. He had the ex-President’s daughter coming for riding lessons, he was close friends with the Head of Police and a few other political figures’ families also came to him to buy huskies and ride. Needless to say he was a very confident man around town, both Odorheiu and Miercurea. During my stay, I witnessed the hopeless relationship between him and a carpenter that never came to finish any jobs he started. Zoli eventually told me he wasn’t too worried about the carpenter, as him making a phonecall to his police-friend would sort out the removal of the carpenter’s drivers license, along with the rest of the carpenter’s family’s licenses. I believed him.

The evening with Thomas at the restaurant for his birthday-meal confirmed my belief in the influence the group of men had I was with. We had at the table the head of telecommunications of Romania, the Romanian kickboxing and UFC champion (who I was supposed to go train with, but thankfully had to stack hay instead) two up-and-coming very wealthy young men trading in wood, and the Minister of Culture at the table next to us. The manager of the restaurant joined us halfway through the meal and tucked into the bottle of Jack Daniels that had been placed, not ordered, on the table. Starters came without mention and the men didn’t even look at the menu to order. I held back on the Jack, and rather requested wine, of which I got by the bottle and not the glass. Cigars arrived at the end of the evening and I sheepishly said I wouldn’t be able to afford one. Thomas laughed and simply said, “No, no. You don’t pay anything tonight!” He then said in a whisper, “And I don’t pay anything for the cigars,” with a wink.

We moved on from the restaurant to a very classy bar, where I showed my quick feet on the dancefloor, much to the surprise of, well, everyone within a 10 meter radius. I don’t think guys do much dancing here, but the guys I was with loved it. The ride in the Peugot home wasn’t as harrowing as I thought it would be, perhaps because it was on average at 40kmph.

I also witnessed the highly-strung relationship between Zoli and Melania and was very thankful when the people I was supposed to WWOOF for asked if I could house-sit for them. During my last week-and-a-half I had a house to myself, with three dogs and an adorable cat. However, walking a kilometer through forest and a dark landscape after supper at night was not awesome; especially when you hear a bear growling in the mornings and see footprints and fresh poop around the farm.

After the farm I had planned to camp through the mountain huts back to Bucharest, but the absence of my tent made me decide otherwise. I planned a trip back down through Sighisoara and Brasov. In SIghi I made friends with a Canadian who then decided to travel with me to Brasov. It was awesome to travel with a friend and we had a great time exploring, drinking and playing some pool.

I now sit in Midlands in Bucharest, taking a very chilled morning, chatting with the Dutch guy who just happens to be here again. Yesterday I met the French couple in the streets of Bucharest, whilst walking from the train station. The Canadian and I had made friends with them back in Brasov. Then you know you’ve travelled a bit. Making friends at hostels is the only way, the best way, to get to know real opportunities. The last bit of travelling I did made me realize the importance of knowing a local and just how snobby Lonely Planet can be.



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9th October 2011

14th November 2011

You inspired a forum topic. :)
16th November 2011

...when you grab it by the throat...and go for it. Well done.

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