A Short Tale: Hitchhiking and Hospitality

I’ve been back in the Netherlands for three weeks now. I was hoping to have plenty of reflection time and therefore also writing time, but the fact of the matter is that I’ve plunged headlong into a situation that is called moving house. Yeah. Me and my husband will be moving to Ghent, Belgium, in a matter of weeks. Which means that I’m travelling to and fro, getting rid of surplus books and clothes, getting lots of things sorted generally, and that my head has turned into a tumble dryer that tumbles all sorts of things that should not go in a tumble dryer: furniture, moving companies, money, paint, wallpaper, friends – to name but a few. But thought I should try to put something up here – even if it’s tiny. So here’s a story about more Romanian hospitality – I could write tons of those but this is one that sticks and just popped up in my tumble dryer mind. So here you go.

On my last hiking adventure sometime in October, I had to somehow move myself from Băile Herculane to the Semenic Mountains. I had found one bus that could get me to Reșița, but after hours of waiting it turned out to be full. Which meant more hitchhiking. This was towards the end of my five-month adventure and I was getting mentally exhausted, so hitchhiking didn’t seem particularly attractive to me at the time: more hassle, more communicating, more risks. But I was left little choice (other than giving up), so I tried. A truck driver kindly took me out of Băile Herculane to a junction; after what must have been 15 minutes or so (it felt like a long wait because usually I get rides much faster, but of course it’s still reasonably fast) a couple picked me up. I had eaten a banana during the wait and had faithfully kept the peel; the first thing the lady did was dispose of it through the window. Sigh. They then dropped me off near a godforsaken village – leaving me their phone number though so if I couldn’t find a further ride they would pick me up again and let me stay at their place. Which did make my heart feel a bit lighter, because the afternoon was getting on and there was very little traffic on the road. But I did get another ride, after some fruitless thumbs up. And what a ride it was!

It changed my plans. Or rather, Marioara and Cornel did. They weren’t going all the way to Oravița, where I thought I wanted to end up, but only as far as Bozovici – and then on to a tiny village where Cornel’s parents lived, for a family reunion over the weekend. When they heard of my plans and understood I also wanted to hike in the Nera Gorge, which is very close to Bozovici, they said I could as well spend the night at their family’s place and then Cornel would drive me to a junction the next morning from where it should be relatively easy to get a ride to the access point of the Nera Gorge. I didn’t have to think long before I accepted their wonderful offer – even though it meant turning my plans around entirely; I had planned to do a north to south traverse of the Semenic and this would mean starting at the southernmost point. But the only reason I had wanted to start in the north was that the south seemed difficult to access; I hadn’t been able to find accommodation anywhere near the start of the Nera Gorge. Initially the plan had been to start in the south; but after a friend who had advised me on hiking in the Semenic said ‘Aren’t you pushing your luck too far?’ I changed things around to make things easier for myself.

But lo and behold! The good Marioara and Cornel turn up. Spending time in Romania, and specifically on the road in Romania, has greatly increased my faith in humanity – or at least in the Romanian department. I am the sort of person who plans everything in detail – I don’t tend to want to leave things to ‘luck’. But over the course of these five months, I have learned that I can: I can trust in some sort of providence; trust that things will work out; trust that people will see me; trust that people will want to be kind and generous. Because generous they are – I think that might be the word that best describes most of the Romanians I’ve met. They just seem to be waiting to lavish it on you: their homes, their food, their stories, their drinks. And, in this case, their family: because, as said, I had stumbled on a family reunion.

When we arrived at the house in little Lapusnica Mare, I got introduced as ‘the new daughter’. I got a room of my own; then I was directed to a seat in the courtyard. Apparently the seat wasn’t deemed good enough; I had to lift my butt for a second for someone to shove a cushion under it. My bag was on the floor; it also got a cushion. Someone brought me a mugful of a transparent liquid – not water. Then a bottle of juice. Then placintas. There has probably been more food involved but the whole thing was a bit overwhelming so I may have forgotten a thing or two. Cornel and another relative were chopping wood – the others were drinking coffee. Marioara showed me the backyard with the chickens, clearly anxious to do anything to make me feel at home. A short walk through the village resulted in a lot of curious glances and questions: ‘Where are you from?’ ‘Have you married a Romanian?’ ‘Why are you staying here?’ Read: ‘What are you doing in this godforsaken village?’

I woke up at six the next morning because I needed the bathroom. Cornel’s mother and an old lady were sleeping in the kitchen – which I had to walk through to get to the bathroom. The old lady was still in bed; Cornel’s mother, not young herself, was already up and cooking, and instructed me to go back to bed. When I did finally reemerge, I got fed again with bread, cold chicken and milk, and got a package of food for the road (I had to slightly discourage Marioara because I didn’t want to carry too much weight).

When I left I was going to offer them to pay for the night but I got so many hugs and kisses that I forgot all about that. But I haven’t forgotten that their door is still open for me – their new daughter.

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