The Walk (Part II)

Trip Start Apr 01, 1979
Trip End Ongoing

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Thursday, July 13, 2006

Continued from The Walk (Part I)...

Atel was a comfy little village, not unlike Bretaiu, although it seemed to be slightly more affluent. It's main thoroughfare was at least paved, as were a few of its side streets. We entered the town and looked for the fortified church that it possessed. When we came upon it, after only about 10 minutes of walking, we found a decrepit old building in desperate need of restoration. Its fortification, though, were very much in place, and while we walked along the outside of it, there was no way into the church grounds. The building, it appeared, was condemned, hardly safe for tourists. I doubted if any tourists ever came here anyway. Supposedly there was a guesthouse of some sort, but I never saw it. When I saw a young woman walking down the street, I immediately took the chance to ask for the directions to our next destination. Luckily she spoke English.

"Pardon me, do you know the way to walk to Dupus?"
"Dupus? No, you cannot walk there. It is too far."
"Are you sure?"
"Yes, it's impossible. It is way too far."

On this trip, whenever someone says that I always react the same way, I ask someone else. The next person did not speak my language. I dragged out in a smattering of Romanian and German that Dupus was not at all too far to walk. In fact, all we needed to do was walk down the main road to a sign, which pointed the direction down another road directly to Dupus. I asked how far and he replied in German, "two kilometers." As we began to walk in the pointed direction, we saw a small store at the edge of the town. Since it's always wise to double check, I popped into the store, bought a melon soda and asked the way again. The directions were the same. Head down the road. Look for the sign, and turn right directly towards Dupus. It was that simple. And for once, indeed it was. When we had walked about two kilometers, we did indeed approach the sign. It pointed down a glorified road (no more than a gravel path in truth), surrounded by fields of corn. The sign was shaped as an arrow and read clearly, "Dupus, 4 Kilometers". Progress, I reasoned, came at a price. Our price was a little extra walking.

The gravel path, though, was at least very clearly defined, without the forks or other obstacles of previous encounters. In fact, we were even passed by a van, which appeared to be delivering mail, and a lady on a bike, who reacted to our waves of hello with a pained and disgusted look. Perhaps she was frightened, perhaps we smelled truly awful. The flies seemed to agree. With rows of crops on both sides of the path, presumably fertilized with manure, the bugs became a thick cloud around us. They attacked my traveling companion with far more vigor than me, yet we were each engulfed in their buzzing tirades. It was, at times, miserable. Swatting was necessary, but hardly sufficient. Each fly seemed hell bent on finding a path into our eyes, nostrils, and ears. They were relentless and our odor only served to attract more and more as we walked. Bug spray, at that moment, would have been a nice addition. Alas, I did not see a CVS around any of the bends, and I had left my CVS card back in Washington, DC. Otherwise, with the warm sun bathing us in light, and the mountains growing around us in the crop-filled valley, the stroll to Dupus was uneventful.

Dupus itself was another story. The village was from another time. It was small, to be sure, with a population probably numbering around 100 at best. There were maybe 20-25 houses, and very little in the way of modernity was visible. In the distance the only movement on the mud path that marked its main street was a large donkey lying in the middle of the road occasionally raising its tail to defecate (that's poop, in layman's terms). Yet of course, I was ecstatic to be there, enthused that we had made it through this second leg of the journey with little difficulty. Now we only had to find the way to Biertan, make the walk, and ride victoriously back to Medias.

As we entered the town we saw a man sweeping the entrance to his house on our right. He wore an old straw hat, open shirt, and his shoes were bust open in the front. He appeared to be in his sixties, and looked up excitedly as we approached. We waved hello, and he immediately answered back, in German! My traveling companion engaged him in basic conversation. When we told him we were from America, he responded quickly, "California?" We unfortunately disappointed by saying we were, in fact, from Washington, DC. He had clearly never heard of it, and changed the subject. We spoke through our limited German and few words of Romanian to him for about 10 minutes. He asked where we had been in Romania and for how long. When we told him we had been in Sibiu, he paused then said, "Ah Hermannstadt," which was its Saxon name. This man, this relic, appeared to be one of the very few remaining Saxons in Transylvania. Sure, there were others like the proprietors of the Schullerhaus, but they were very much engaged in modern Romania, and perhaps could have come later rather than being holdovers from an old society. But here in poor Dupus, wearing ancient clothing, this man was not modern at all. He was the descendant of some old family of a distant era. His German, which my traveling companion described as odd, was difficult to comprehend. Yet from this genteel old fella, we tried to ascertain the way to Biertan. He pointed and gestured and told us about a vineyard high on the hill. He talked about his brother, the small fortified church, and the bridge that would take us to the path to Biertan. We gained as much as we could, missing many details in trying to keep up with old German by those who don't really speak German at all. After a while, we bid him farewell and continued to walk through Dupus.

Since we were getting a bit hungry and running out of water, I stopped in at what looked like a dry goods store of some sort. It seemed to have an old sign out front for toothpaste, or a like product. Although the sign was on the ground, propped up by the wall and quite rusty, I thought that this must be what passes for advertising in rural Romania. I pushed open the door, saw and empty room to the right. As I looked left I saw the store, and it was filled to the brim with customers. Three to be exact. Everyone looked up and stared, and no one said a single word. I said hi. They did not respond. I noticed the complete lack of light in the room save for the window on the far wall. And of course, since I didn't believe they had electricity, the goods were all on shelves and usually dusty. I walked up to a woman that I looked like she worked there and asked for a bottle of water. She pointed to two bottles behind her of different brands. This, I thought, was probably a pretty good selection. I asked for the least dusty model and paid. The 1.5 liters of semi-fresh apa minerale set me back about a 25 cents. Not too shabby. I said thanks and again surveyed the room. The "customers", who only seemed to be lingering about, were still staring. I would later remark insightfully that they, "looked kinda Amish." Indeed it was true, with their dated, worn, and conservative clothes. Their features were also dulled and I thought to myself, very unfairly I'm sure, that they appeared to be somewhat inbred. Despite how awful that sentiment was, I couldn't shake it from my head. I'm not known as being culturally sensitive, so suck it. (FYI, the people were seemingly very kind, and I have no evidence of their breeding, but to me it seemed that way. Just a feeling.)

Upon leaving the store, we walked to the edge of town and ate the cookies and chips we'd brought along as snacks. We finished off our first water bottle and opened the new one. After a few minutes, we headed out, taking what we thought were our last steps in Dupus. But oh, were we wrong!

We trudged ahead and immediately the trail split. We continued straight and later the trail split again. We kept walking on, then before our eyes the path became overgrown. It seemed no one had walked this way in months, if not years. This couldn't be the path, could it? We thought not and headed back to the second split. We walked up a large hill that overlooked Dupus well down below. The scene was breathtaking.   On an adjacent hill was the vineyard that our Saxon friend had mention, but as we continued the path again became overgrown. We decided that we'd better head back to town to ask directions again, and alas, 20 minutes later we were at the same spot where we'd earlier stopped to eat. I saw a youngish looking dude on a tractor and flagged him down. I asked him if he spoke German, French, English or Italian. Apparently he only spoke Romanian, which made perfect sense considering our location. He was kind enough to deal with my few words and gestures and point out the way. I thanked him and returned to the trail, taking the first split to the right. After about 30 minutes of walking the trail ended. We returned to the split and went back the way we starting, vowing this time to push through the underbrush towards the vines on the hill. We successfully did this and walked up into the grapes. Then the trail ended. Coming back down I concluded there must only be one further way to go. We started back to the very first path, the one that like so many others had become overgrown, and pushed our way through. At the top of a steep hill we found a trail that went deep into the woods. There was no other answer, we had found the way. Unfortunately, we could've come this way with a short 15 minute jaunt, but had turned it into a wandering trudge up and down hills and on random paths for more than 2 hours. Now, on moving into the forest, we had no idea how far it was to Biertan, nor whether or not there would be further splits in the trail. We only had the hope that we could make it. Ignoring my instinctual fears of the wild Romanian wolves and the corn vipers that preyed on unsuspecting dopes like yours truly, we walked on.

"This place looks like the Fire Swamp," I commented to my traveling companion (referencing the great movie The Princess Bride). She was too busy worrying about the thorns that still seemed to be lodged in her leg from one of our many pushes through the underbrush to respond. But it truly did. Large trees with roots pushing up out of the ground formed the trail's boundaries. We were in a tunnel of sorts, since the forest around us was incredibly dense. Luckily, for a time at least, there were no splits in the trail. Rain, though, had dampened the path and the mud began to increase as we walked on. At one point, the road appeared impassable, and without an ability to go around on a shoulder, we had to push our luck. I stepped forward and then tried to quickly step through the morass. The mud came up above my shoes sometimes engulfing my leg six inches above the sole. My smaller and lighter traveling companion found the going tough but not impossible. She pushed through with aplomb. Then it happened. I slipped, lunged, and hopped forward. My momentum carried me several feet, yet the mud had sucked my right shoe into its belly. I walked back with my sock as the only barrier to the moist earth and dug my hand in to extract my now grotesque New Balance sneaker. It squished as I slipped it back on.

Yet the mud eventually became less and less and the walk turned into a nice stroll in the woods. Soon we emerged on to a solid path on the other side of the small mountain and descended into a sprawling valley. On a hill ahead I saw a power line. Biertan must be close, I exclaimed. And it was, we would soon find out. It was probably not more than 3 kilometers ahead, which would have gone smoothly if not for the sound of thunder on the horizon. A storm had decided to bring our walk to a rousing conclusion. We were tired and dirty. Sweat had soaked through my shirt, then dried, then soaked through again. We had been walking for about 6 or 7 hours, and somehow, someway we found the strength to run. And run we did, fast and hard. The thunderclaps grew louder in the distance. Suddenly we saw a road ahead, and even an occasional car driving by. As we got within 100 yards, there was even a bus that passed on the road. My traveling companion remarked through quick breaths as we scampered towards its trail of exhaust, "Surely that wasn't the last bus to Medias, was it?" I reassured her that it couldn't have been, then realized that it probably was. Upon reaching the road though, Biertan spilled out before us like a shimmering oasis. Eureka!

The rain began to fall in huge drops but not in huge amounts. Having reached the shelter of town rather than being exposed to the potential lightning bolts in an open field, we hardly cared. The water felt invigorating. The storm, without too much more than wind and those large drops, passed quickly. When we finally took the time to survey the village, our eyes were quickly drawn to the imposing church upon the hill. Yes, I answered to myself, it had been worth it.

After viewing the church grounds we walked back down its steps and sat upon the stoop. The church had been locked and I didn't see anyone around that seemed to have the ability to open it. This was only part of our problem though. After asking a local, we found out that indeed the bus to Medias had already passed, and we were seemingly stuck. While on the stoop contemplating our next move, a beaten up old Dacha drove up with three young travelers crowded inside. They exited the car, two girls led by one guy driver. They appeared to be in their 20's, and were certainly Eastern European of some sort. (Of course, who else besides Eastern Europeans would be in a Dacha?) The guy, dressed in white pants and a white t-shirt, came directly up to us and asked in heavily accented English, "Is the church open?"

"You can walk around the grounds," I replied, "but I don't think you can get in the church." He said thanks and went on his way.

I turned to my traveling companion and said boldly, "I am going to convince them to give us a ride. They will be my huckleberries." A moment after I said it, the guy had returned, telling us that in fact it was possible to see the inside of the church, but we had to knock on some random door. They would charge us, "about one Euro fifty." He said it with a frown, as if that amount might be too much for us. Perhaps we looked like paupers, given our haggardness after the long walk. We thanked him and set off to win our ride.

The girls, with less English than the gent, but with a far superior level of English than either my Romanian, like the guy, or Hungarian, which the girls turned out to be, were my first target. I walked up and introduced myself, telling them about our walk and subsequent missing of the bus. When I found out that they were Hungarian, I told them about my recent trip to Budapest and my fondness for the city (in truth, I only kinda liked Budapest. It was nice, but not too nice. Perhaps the summer heat had dampened my image of it.). I saw them go off and tell the story to their male companion, who I had also spoken with at length. They were nice people, of that I was sure, and I think our story was just compelling enough to gain us the reward we sought. Indeed it was. The man, whose name turned out to be Sluj, approached.

"We would like to offer you a ride. We are headed to Sighisoara. There are many great sights to see there, so perhaps you would like to join." Sighisoara was a town in the opposite direction of Medias, one that I would be traveling to the next day, but also one that had a train station with frequent service back to Medias. My heart leapt at the offer. It was our chance to get out. I immediately blurted out my reply:

"Thank you. We'll think about it." I know I should have just told him yes immediately, and the confused look on his face told me that perhaps he knew that I was just playing it cool, but I took my time to decide anyway. 30 seconds later, after realizing that they might change their mind, we locked in our ride.

Sluj, Matilka, and Beetlenutz (okay, I don't actually remember their names, sorry) were good traveling companions during the 45 minute drive to Sighisoara. They were as curious about us as we about them, and Sluj was filled with information about the area. Sure, I had to deal with the obligatory question about whether I liked George W. Bush, but that comes with the territory I guess. (Incidentally, the answer is a resounding NO, but you knew that, right?) When we actually did arrive in Sighisoara, Sluj nearly insisted that we visit the town with them. He was full of information and ready to share. We politely declined and offered as many thanks as we possibly could before walking the 15 minutes to the train station (a decidedly easier path than through the woods, I should add). There was indeed a train to Medias in just over an hour, and since there was a friendly restaurant at the train station (you can replace friendly with dirty and scary if you're so inclined) we settled in and bought ourselves a soda. I had the American Cola, which was bottled in Bucharest. My traveling companion had a beer (my kinda girl).

The train was actually quite nice, and the 30 minute ride back to Medias went off without a hitch. We again walked from the train station back to the Schullerhaus, and since there had been a medieval fair taking place, we even found a food stand that was still open. We were absolutely starving, and to our good luck they happened to sell my favorite dish in the world (at least at that moment): A large pita stuffed with what looked like a Tyson's chicken patty, French fries, lettuce and a large gob of mustard. I also ordered a bag of some puff chip somethings, which advertised a hidden treasure in every bag. (They had pictures of robots and spaceships but I got a large grey comb.) The meal hit the spot, and the next day after breakfast we had the pleasure of telling the tale to the Schullerhaus hoteliers.

And however stupid it may have been, however foolish we may have looked, we had done it. We had completed The Walk.
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