First Month: Ups & Downs (and two routes to Scăriţa Belioara)

By now I’ve spent a month in Romania, so it’s time for a review – and a post. Things haven’t been easy, and I’ve spent a considerable amount of time pondering how I want to use this blog. I feel a strong urge to write Real Stories – as opposed to Smooth Stories that may make my adventure sound like a dream come true (which it is) and encourage you, my reader, to come visit Romania, but don’t reflect the hardships that are also part of my dream project and of my life. It’s a lot less scary to write up an attractive itinerary and a cheerful account of all the beautiful moments I go through here, but the truth is that Real Life comes with Rough Edges.

No matter how perfect our lives may appear to others – we know that everyone has their struggles under the surface. And I think it is important to let these struggles surface sometimes – so that others can relate and we can support each other. So I decided to do just that. It means feeling more vulnerable, but I believe one of the things we are all called to do is to support each other. And one way we can do that is through sharing Real Stories. So what follows is an account of the past month, about ups and downs – and I’ll embed an itinerary to a beauty spot called Scăriţa Belioara. In my last few posts, I struggled to combine the personal and the ‘tourist guide stuff’ – this post is an attempt to merge the two. If you’re just reading this for the itinerary, please scroll down. 🙂

My first two hikes – from Turda Gorge to Rimetea, from Rimetea to Salciua de Jos – went pretty well. Navigating was hard on the first one and both were considerably longer than anticipated (20+km), but I was well pleased that I’d gotten off to a good start, even though I was still feeling a bit feeble because I was (and still am) adapting to my new antidepressants. After these two hikes, I moved all my luggage and myself from Cluj to a campsite in a tiny village in the foothills of the Apuseni Mountains called Runc (comuna Ocoliş, jud. Alba), which was going to be my basecamp for the next couple of weeks. Or as long as needs be – and by now I’ve spent three weeks at Tara Nomada already.

During two of those weeks, I was sick. Somehow I managed to catch a seriously bad cold – the kind that limits your breathing ability severely and stops you from doing much beyond lying down, in a hammock, in my case. Sure, there are worse places to be sick – but this episode did pull me down into a more depressed state. I felt very bad about not being able to hike, and I felt bad about feeling bad – and the longer I stayed put, the more anxious I got about getting started again. It was like being pulled down in a vortex. A couple of days ago, as I conjured up that image, I remembered my uncle, who was my teacher when I was ten, taught us that, if you get caught in a vortex, you should always swim with the current, not against it – and ultimately you’d emerge again, because that is the nature of a vortex. It spirals down, but ultimately, it will also go up again. Going against the current is no use when you’re really trapped – it will only wear you down and make things worse. So I had to somehow accept that I was feeling under the weather, lethargic, anxious and paralyzed, and tentatively, actively wait for a chance to get out again. And I did. After a gentle(ish) stroll through the hills around Runc on Monday, still blubbering, I finally managed to go on a proper hike on Friday, to Scăriţa Belioara nature reserve (1387m). It went well and made me feel energized and more confident. Then on Tuesday, I got up at six and hitchhiked to a nearby village, Poşaga de Jos, for another approach to Scăriţa Belioara. It resulted in a hefty 25km hike which was well worth it – the hike was deeply gratifying and the views stunning.

I know I promised an itinerary but there isn’t much to it – the paths are well waymarked. So I’ll just give you basic instructions for access and then leave the rest to you to discover. 🙂 Let’s assume you will come from Cluj – which is the nearest large city. The best thing to do is to take the 1pm bus from Autogara Fany to Câmpeni, and get off at Ocoliş after about 1hr 40mins. Walking or hitchhiking 4.5km up the road will take you to campsite Tara Nomada in Runc; I can warmly recommend it. There is space for tents but they also have beds in a hostel and a beautiful apartment for rent. From the campsite, turn left onto the road and after 400m, you will find the start of the blue triangle trail to Scăriţa Belioara on your right hand. Follow it all the way up; it’s pretty straightforward. The first 5km are over a forest road, through the Pociovaliştei Gorge. After that, the trail delves into the forest; you will be walking alongside a stream most of the time. The only potentially confusing situation is when you are about 2km into the forest and the waymarks seem to disappear; there is a tiny trail up to the left though, that leads you to a meadow where you will see a signpost. The views up there are amazing and it is paradise for bees and butterflies – tons of flowers. Follow the blue triangle trail, now merged with the red circle circuit trail, until you see a blue cross signpost. Turn right and go down the hill until you see a blue arrow on a tree; there are very few waymarks here and you’ll have to wade through hip-high undergrowth, but just cross the meadow to the east and after a few hundred metres you will see a waymark on a tree at the far end, after which you are back on a clearly marked trail. Follow it alongside (sometimes through) the stream all the way down to the hamlet of Lunca Larga, then turn right onto the road and walk back to Runc through the gorge.

If you would (also) like to try the longer and slightly more challenging approach from Poşaga, take a bus or hitchhike to junction to Poşaga on the DN75 road. From there, walk up the road through Poşaga de Jos and Poşaga de Sus for about 7km until you see a small monastery on your left. This marks the start of the red cross trail. About 1km after the start of the trail, turn right into the village of Poşaga de Sus, towards the stunning mass of rocky towers that constiute Scăriţa Belioara. When the road splits, turn left at the signpost and follow the red cross/red circle waymarks. Walk through a wooden gate; after just a few hundred metres the trail turns right, steeply up a narrow trail (there is a faded red circle on a wooden fence).  The trail goes steeply up and alternately passes through meadows and forest. There is one steep, rather enjoyable (I thought) rocky section. When you come to a large open area with a signpost and an observation hut in the middle after almost 14km, turn right onto the red circle/blue cross trail. After a while, the blue triangle waymarks will be replaced by blue triangles. Continue on the circuit of Scăriţa Belioara and then follow the blue triangles down to Runc. Don’t forget to bring plenty of water (I’d say 2.5-3 litres per person) because it can get pretty hot up there. There is plenty of water on the trail too, but you’ll have to filter it first if you want to drink it.

Both these hikes have a total altitude gain/loss of somewhere between 950 and 1000m. The first one took me about 5hrs 15mins (excluding breaks); the second closer to 6hrs (but I walked at a speed of over 4km/hr so you might want to allow a bit longer). There are also plenty of shorter, unmarked walks to be made from Runc. It’s an amazingly beautiful and quiet area – so if you are planning to stay somewhere around Cluj I warmly recommend adding one or both of these hikes to your itinerary! And you’ll probably find you’ll want to hang around for just a little longer – just to take it all in.

I may only have done five hikes this month (well over 100 km though!), but I feel like I’m getting the hang of this. This is all part of it: the vortex, the anxiety, the virus, the heat, the ticks, the scars – the struggle to get going, the gathering courage. I walk for a living, but I also cry for a living, get lost for a living. Get up for a living. And it all brings me closer to home, to my self, every day.

Whew, that was a long write. A month’s worth. Time to put my feet up!

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