June – August 2016
My colleague: “And how was your day?”
The hills look innocent; there are worse cliffs in the North Downs. And yet…
I’m glad – immeasurably glad – that my red hiking pole was rescued. Nou Săsesc, like all Saxon villages in Transylvania, is firmly embedded in the very lowest part of a valley. It is a lean network of dusty streets straddling a river flush with knotweed. From afar, it exists only as a smattering of red rooftops.
We’re now almost exactly in the geographical centre of Romania. Horses ferried us half the journey from Richis, pulling open wooden carts – their drivers shouting cheerfully as they overtake each other, tethered horses on the roadside calling to their brethren as wheels rattled by.
The horses stopped at an ancient fortified church, giving us a moment to ponder deeper mysteries.
Then the journey continued on foot, high into meadows abloom with colour.
Several hours later, we approach Nou Săsesc, our base for the next week. There are more vehicles here than Richis; a young girl speeds past on a bicycle with no hands on the bars. One house even has tennis courts, and a helicopter regularly buzzes overhead. There is a village shop which sells Lays crisps and chocolate, but it opens at a different time every day.
Our two survey transects loop outwards, east and west. And outwards, in Nou Săsesc language, means Up.
They start so gently…
But those hills are far grimmer than they look.
It is, sometimes literally, a case of one step up and three back. Gravity argues with anyone trying to look for mammal sign on these transects. I stab my hiking pole into mud, edge upwards, scanning the forest floor for bear tracks while posed on what feels like a vertical path. The hills tumble into improbable ravines and sheer-sided gullies. Scrambling, we win the ridge – and see the high Carpathians lining the further horizon like the jawbone of a monstrous beast.
Up here there are bear and badger tracks; there are also dazzling longhorn beetles that would fit well in the tropics.
I have a datasheet with fieldsign of bears recorded on it; today’s survey is completed. We contemplate getting down.
Walkable land simply ends, tumbling into a dusty waterfall of beech leaves. We sit down and slide off it, down, down, down…into a maize field.
That, at least, is flat.