Five more things I learned in Romania in 2017

When we grow up, we learn to walk – but I am walking to learn. I’m a perfectionist, so I always want to get things right the first time round. But there is no way to do that with an adventure like this: I have to learn on the go. About my surroundings, about myself. About my limits, my body, my fears; about techniques, gear, the weather. In fact, I no longer even want things to go perfectly right from the start; I love the everlasting learning process. I’d probably feel very bored without it. These are some of the things I learned throughout my second hiking season in Romania.

1. Drink!

Of course I’ve known for a while that drinking plenty of water during a hike is important. But that isn’t enough. If you are going to set off on a long hike on a warmish day, it helps if you hydrate well before you set off. Also, make sure you replenish the minerals you sweat out; it will prevent you from getting dehydrated. I usually add mango flavour PowerBar electrolytes to one of my bottles of water and keep the other bottle ‘clean’ (for cooking). These come in compact ten-tablet tubes and are sold at many outdoor stores, like Decathlon.

And then there is coke. There is this myth buzzing around that coke helps cure stomach sickness. Now there is no scientific evidence to back that up, but it is true that initially cola syrup was sold as a cure for an upset stomach. Scientific evidence or not, I am happy to carry the extra weight of a tin of coke (or two) on a long hike. More than once, I’ve managed to ingest bacteria on a hike, probably through water, that made me very sick. And in more than one case, coke came to the rescue. I don’t know how it works and for how many people it works, but do try a sip or two of coke if you are suffering from serious stomach sickness. It made all the difference for me.

2. Even if things go wrong, they can still turn out right

As said, often things don’t go the way I want. I remember sitting under a bush that barely offered any shade, crying, with my faithful canine friend, Fluffy, beside me (a stray dog that fancied a hike). I had just slid down a slope with lots of scree, the heel of my shoe was coming off and I fell on my nose when I tried to scramble back up again. And I had lost the trail. I felt so stupid. There is no brilliant twist to this story, but, with the help of the dog I found the trail again and ended up where I wanted to be. I think she must have sniffed the trail – just following the scent of people. Thank you, Fluffy.

And then there are the many situations in which nothing really goes wrong, but you can’t follow your plan. Romania isn’t really a good country for following plans to the letter, anyway. There was that time where I intended to take a bus from Bâile Herculane to Reșița – I had to wait for a couple of hours and when it finally arrived it turned out to be full. So I took a ride with a lorry driver to an intersection just out of town, intending to hitchhike to my destination from there. But instead, some people invited me to their family reunion in a village close to the place where I intended to end my hike. So my plans were turned upside down – but in a very good way.

At the end of day two of that same hike, something similar happened. I was still a few kilometres away from the village where I wanted to spend the night, but I was tired and preferred a ride. There were lots of people in the parking lot about to head home, so I quickly asked for a ride and got one – only to find out the road wasn’t leading to the village at all. I panicked and asked the driver to drop me off at a pension along the road. I decided I could probably stay there and make my way back the next morning, but the pension turned out to be full. I asked the owner if I could camp in the yard and that was possible, but he thought he could do better than that and called a friend who would drive me back to the village. What followed was a crazy ride with two crazy guys over dark and bumpy roads – and finally we ended up in Sasca Română. Which wasn’t exactly where I wanted to be – I wanted to end up in the next village, Sasca Montană. They stopped so I thought they had misunderstood and started to panick again – but they had stopped because they saw the mayor. Who, of course, knew everyone in the village. He asked me what sort of shelter I wanted – what my budget was, whether I was in need of any luxury – and then phoned a lovely lady in charge of an evangelical centre with cheap rooms. The crazy guys drove me there, I gave them the 50 lei they asked for (quite a lot considering the distance, but to be fair, they helped me out brilliantly), and then I bathed in the warm welcome of Doamna Livia. I decided to stay an extra night. I got invited to Sunday lunch with the family. Who wouldn’t want to make mistakes if they lead to amazing extensions to your adventure?

3. Trust in providence

Trust in providence, whatever that is. I wrote that sentence down on my dedicated ‘things I learned’ page in my notebook, and now that I’ve written the above, I don’t think I need to expand on this one. I’m not a very trusting person; I tend to plan for every contingency. But Romania is teaching me I don’t need to; there is always a solution. Of course planning a trip is important, but I’ve learned I can allow some wiggle room. If something goes ‘wrong’, it will probably lead to something better than I had planned for. Romania and its inhabitants help me to let go – at least partially – of my urge to control things. I can’t count the times people have said Ușor! to me: take it easy! Well, I’m learning. So thank you, my dear Romanians, for teaching me to trust and let go.

4. Cold butt? Wrap it up!

OK, that is a bit of a weird heading perhaps. But really – when I get seriously cold at night it is my butt that suffers the most. I suppose this is more of an issue for women than for men, considering our fat distribution. So if you know the night is going to be cold, wrap more layers around your butt straight away. I usually bring a pair of pyjama shorts to wear over my thermal pants; then over that I wear my hiking pants if it’s proper cold. Around all that, my sleeping bag (with liner) – and if even that isn’t enough, I use my coat and zip it around my hips as well as I can. Because I really, really can’t sleep if my behind is cold.

5. Feet grow

When I got back home after five months on Romanian soil, I realized my regular shoes suddenly felt really tight. Apparently feet expand when you walk this much. It was a nice reminder of everything I’d gathered during these months: hiking makes me grow. Covering new territory over and over again expands my world, and strengthens my mind. It has also made me more aware of the essentials. I waste less time and energy because I know what matters to me. Which has made me a better decision maker. This journey teaches me to get rid of the superfluous: clothes, conversations, worries. To let go of anything that is too heavy. Of burdens that keep me away from my goals; from my heart. From who I am and want to become. It has made me more observant of what is happening around me. More aware of what is right beneath my feet. More present. More alive. More grounded.

I’m so glad I have feet that can carry me anywhere I want to go. Feet that are getting itchy again – it’s March already. I’ll soon be off again!

Itchy feet yourself? Check out the mountain category of my blog for itineraries! 

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