Not may people would be able to say that their bathroom wall causes them to do things that are out of the ordinary. The culprit is an unsuspecting piece of artwork that hangs from the comfort of our London bathroom wall. It says, ‘The Mountains are calling and I must go” – so go we did. We sort of ignored the part that I was five months pregnant.
Our destination was Cabana Dochia, which is tucked away at the top of the Ceahlău Mountain range some 2000m plus in elevation. Now, although we had thrown everything possible at gaining information about the winter adventure we were to embark upon, the only confirmation that they were actually ‘open’ was from a Romanian farmer “da, open!”. I don’t even know if he understood the question. That was enough for us, as the Mountains were calling our name and we had to go.
To reach Dochia you can start at a whole host of points. However for us, we chose Cabana Izvorul Muntelui where we were greeted by a National Park worker. Really, he was more so intrigued by the presence of a car in his town and he stepped out of his house to greet us. With a flimsy map in our back pocket, a few broken English tips stored away and snacks for the journey, we set off.
Within seconds of starting the walk, the forest encompasses you and all sounds of civilization are silenced. I remember standing there a wee 200 steps into the walk, and listening to the silence of the woods. It was the sort of silence that makes your ears buzz like amplifiers, a silence that is rarely shared between man and nature. Snow particles were effortlessly dancing down from the canopy to find their new home amongst the forest floor. Reluctantly, we set our feet down onto these manicured particles with a ‘crunch’ and weaved our way up the initial incline. It wasn’t long that this familiar crunch of fresh snow, turned into a more unfamiliar ‘crack’. Due to the unseasonably warm spell that Romania had been subject to, some of the snow had melted and then re-frozen overnight. The fresh snow that had fallen looked so delicate but was purely a smokescreen to the death trap of ice that waited under our feet. Throughout the journey up the mountain there were moments that we must have resembled youngsters attempting to walk up a freshly lubricated slip-n- slide.
Upon arrival at Cabana Dochia our hands had a pungent pine smell lacquered to them due to the hundreds of trees we had to latch onto to assist our clawing up the mountain. The hike was the warm-up act for what Nature was to throw our way next. It was a ‘top of the world’ experience. And thankfully, we just saw it. I am always in a relentless pursuit of ‘the moment’ so instead of resting our freezing and tired bodies after reaching the summit, I suggested to keep going past the Cabana to see what was over the other side of the mountain. Sunset popped her head up and stayed for a while. It was just Her, us and a few wild dogs. We were above the clouds and, although tired, cold and hungry, our spirits couldn’t have been higher. I will let the photos speak for themselves on this one. Nature says it better than I can describe.
From the moment we stepped into Cabana Dochia, it was filled with more highlights than can be counted. The main act was four Romanian locals who had hiked up for the night. The stage was set, and the frivolities began. With a copious amount of Țuică (a local alcoholic drink made from plums) on offer and cheap cheap beer, the singing didn’t take long to start. However, the four men all had ‘roles’ – they were a very unlikely band. There was the musically talented one (Harmonica man) who was blasting out the melody. There was the over zealous one (Pearl Jam rocker) who was lead to believe by the persuasion of the beer, that his voice was better than what was actually coming out. There was the shy one (Mr Egg shaker) who liked to observe and chipped in with the odd word here and there. And finally, our favourite, was the passionate one (Mr Bucovina) who sang with the fervour of an Italian tenor. Joel and I sat back and enjoyed the show. You didn’t need to know Romanian to figure out what was being sung – you could read the face of Mr Bucovina and quickly tell that the song was linked to Romanian land being taken by the Russians. True anguish, true passion, true fervency, true heart. It was a show that didn’t require a ticket, yet we felt like we were being treated to something very special. However, about 30 minutes into the sing-a- long, Harmonica Man turned to us and said, ‘Ok. Now, your turn’. At this request, Joel and I balked and scratched the surface of our Australian ‘folk songs’ repertoire. Embarrassingly, we only came up with ‘Waltzing Matilda’ and ‘What would you do with a drunken sailor’ (not even Australian!) which they LOVED! The sing-a- long continued for some time into the night with intermittent pauses to share stories of the history of Romania in broken English phrases. We lapped up every story with our personal favourite being about a Cuckoo bird from Bucovina, which linked to a song of desperation and distress about land being stolen (again) from the Romanian people. A final glass of Țuică was swallowed to warm the insides like a hot-water bottle and bed beckoned. As we drifted off to sleep, the sound of the harmonica was fired up again and swooned us into a slumber.
Dochia had something special about it (these pictures of the sunrise are untouched!) and, it was therefore with regret, that our journey took us away from the Cabana. Yet, in a slice of fortune, we took a piece of Dochia with us. The four dogs that belong to the family at Dochia, joined us for the 5 hour trek back down the mountain. They acted like mountain guides, stopping at each bend and each precipitous section to ensure our footing was guaranteed. In fact, the journey down from Dochia, which takes an alternative route, was even more beautiful that the way up. The one constant was the ice that was always lingering beneath the topsoil layer of snow. It was our undoing on more than ten occasions.
With slightly bruised buttocks we said our farewells to our canine companions and set off to explore Bucovina.