Bucharest, the capital of Romania, late May, 2018. I was here for a solo hike across the Maramures region in the far north of the country. Before my next flight later in the day, I visited some of the sites in the city that interested me.
Maramures is on the border with Ukraine. To get there, it's a 400-mile flight from Bucharest to Satu Mare plus two mini-bus trips and an overnight stay. I could have taken the two-day train ride (plus two buses) but I wanted to get moving.
Outside Satu Mare, the driver stopped for gas. I saw an opening and walked the rest of the way.
Gutter Wall, Satu Mare.
Bus Ride #1.
Five days, ninety-plus miles. I picked Maramures because my research informed me that it is almost medieval in places and I was certain to have it to myself. No trail markers, no sag wagons. Maramures is surrounded by mountains and far enough away from Bucharest that it wasn't as impacted by the former Communist government that had made a mess of everything else. Normally, I do a Point A-to-B trek but I wanted to visit some of the older villages, especially the ones away from the main roads. Hence, the journey ended up resembling the steps of a very confused hiker.
I was let off on the side of the road and climbed a fence to begin my hike. As always, this would be strictly open-country: weeds, riverbeds, animal trails, farm tracks, ancient footpaths and a few unfortunate miles on pavement. I had two compasses, a stack of satellite maps and the phone's GPS for confirmation. The Eastern Carpathians are in the distance, I'd get there in a couple of days. My first destination is the tiny village of Văleni, about 18-19 miles ahead.
I keep places like this in my back pocket, just in case.
Romania in three seconds.
This is the Carpathian Sheepdog. He is not posing for me. I pulled his picture off the internet. This version of the sheepdog is not as fast as the Tatra assassins I encountered in Poland but he is every bit as business-like. He is trained to defend the herd from marauding bears, wolves and the occasional lynx that lives in the woods. I didn't stop to take pictures because the dogs were constantly charging me. I only incurred two incidents that caused me to pass any gas and both times I was bailed out by a grinning shepherd who would magically appear from the ground. The fact is that these dogs are highly territorial but well trained. As long as I didn't do something stupid like run away or pet one of the baby lambs, the confrontations were eminently survivable. I quickly learned how to sense a nearby herd of sheep and negotiate detours. Fantastic dogs.
Over the years, I have found that the easiest way to enter an unknown village from the woods is to locate the church and arrive from there. The dogs are usually out by the main road or the bridge. Șieu, Romania.
Better than the shed.
The Trail of Tears and Wild Boars.
The Trail of Bare Feet.
The Trail of Black Feet.
Entering Poienile Izei.
It is 1 am and I am standing outside my room. There is no point in trying to get any sleep. One of the ladies has just turned eighteen. In a few hours, I start an 18-miler over some pretty big hills.
Moving across the grass in the direction of Botiza.
The correct way to ford a river is to do it in shoes. Not the Zamberlans, of course, those go around my neck. I always carry a pair of runners for road walking and river crossings. Otherwise, one piece of glass and the whole pack goes downstream.
I followed the Mara Valley towards Ukraine for about forty-five miles breaking into the hills every so often when the need came.
Mara Valley: 9:18 pm. I'd breached the perimeter defenses which consisted of the usual collection of chickens, a pig and six-inch yappers. No German shepherds. From this point forward, only cats.
Outside Oncești, Romania. As soon as I stepped onto the bridge, the mutts started up. I was hungry and had grown accustomed to the welcoming committees.
In the morning, I departed Oncești for the climb into the Carpathians. This was the final day of my journey.
There were no trails until I got over the top so I had to improvise. About three hours.
On the other side, I came upon a church and entered the village of Valea Stejarului. Then it was up and over the next mountain before the final long descent into Sighetu Marmației. Other than a brief episode with a pack of junkyard dogs, I passed through the day unnoticed.
Sighetu Marmației, near the Ukraine Border.
The first two minutes of my 36-hour journey home.