Monday 21 May 2012, 8.10am, Miklosvar, Transylvania
The average monthly wage around here, we are told, is about 700 lei. That’s about £140, which gives you a sense of the poverty here which many people are struggling to live with. Everyone we have met seems warm, friendly and welcoming, but one suspects that many are struggling to make a living.
Given these challenges, it is perhaps unsurprising that some of the infrastructure here is comparatively undeveloped, and the clearest daily example of that is the roads! Immediately when you head off the larger main roads, the tarmac is dotted with potholes and ruts; and that always assumes there is any tarmac to start with.
Yesterday we went truly off-road and visited a local gorge, located some 10km down an unmade dirt track. Recent heavy rain had at points turned this into a slushy quagmire and the car slid along as if on skis. We passed through lowland meadows, past “weekend houses” owned presumably by wealthy city dwellers, and also sheep farms where people live all year round in real isolation.
We parked up near the river and headed off along the gorge by foot. At times we stood in small clearings among the trees which were open to the blue sky and warm sunshine above. At other points, we passed through cool tunnels formed by the branches overhead, or beneath grey rocky outcrops which towered above us.
Three times we crossed the river which ran through the gorge some 10-15 feet below us – twice by narrow footbridges with railings on just one side and the occasional missing floor plank, and once by a strong but decidedly bouncy cable bridge which rocked and swayed as we crossed it.
Eventually we came to a stretch of crude metal stairs which clung to the side of the gorge, and which we gingerly ascended to reach a large cave mouth in the rock. There a huge crucifix commemorated a very young boy who we were told had died nearby in “tragic circumstances” which were not further elaborated upon.
Taking a torch we walked deeper into the cave, following the torch lights as they played off the walls around us. Coming to a large chamber, we scoured the roof above us with our torchlights, and were pleased to find a few sleeping specimens of the tiny horseshoe bats which live here, each one dangling by its feet from the ceiling, so motionless that they looked for all the world like some strange sort of light fitting.
We retraced our steps and unpacked a picnic in a shady spot by the river – bread, eggs, cucumber, tomato and the most delightful pork schnitzel which we had earlier observed the cooks preparing as we ate breakfast.
After lunch we had planned to take another walk, and got as far as a few hundred yards before the sun faded, the heavens opened, and the rain came down in stair rods. As one of our party was without wet weather gear, we cut our losses and made for the car.
We were rewarded on our way home – a local town was having a three-day town festival, so we stopped for a beer and to soak up the atmosphere. The whole town seemed to be enjoying the day, their numbers swelled by others from local villages. Beer flowed, sausage meat was fried, and live music floated across the town square. As we sat, and looked, and listened, it struck me that they certainly know how to have a party here!
This is the seventh in a series of posts based on diary notes written on a recent trip to Transylvania; but being posted now owing to the lack of internet access at the time!