June – August 2016
I think we’ve just tumbled off the edge. Viscri took us close to modernity; Malancrav reminds us that the real world is rural, dusty, and cut over with scythes. The fifth Saxon village of this expedition thumps with Roma music over a background base of barking. Every night, one dog yelps, and the cry is caught by another, and another – the barks bounce around the village like a tennis ball. It’s like listening to a relay team.
Where else can you find a goat inspecting your camp?
Where else can you mull over both haystacks and graveyards?
And where else can you wander out of the farmhouse to spot an aesculapian snake trying to nibble the herpetologist’s arm?
This is only a small aesculapian. Fully grown, they can reach over two metres and count amongst Europe’s largest snakes. They are not venomous.
But I’m ready to be tracking mammals after the difficulties of Viscri. As a point of order, Trailcam 4’s number is not transferred; it retired with the camera’s death, like a famous footballer’s shirt number.
We have a long, long walk through the heart of Malancrav before we even turn off towards the wood. It’s a world of small sights: the well has a huge branch balancing its bucket like a see-saw. A man with a checked shirt is driving a haycart, and pauses to tell us that a cow has been attacked by a bear. Another horse is driven past with yellowish flem dripping from its jaws; its owner shows no mercy. More trusting are tiny puppies – a little girl shows one to us, beaming.
And then there’s the terrier…
We thought we were here to collect data, but, alas, the real reason is to walk this dog. He trots after us for hour upon hour, never doubting that we will bring him safely home.
He takes little interest in his wild neighbours. Here is a footprint from one of the largest: a wild boar.
And one of the liveliest: a stone or pine marten.
So we return to base – and it is there that a blonde woman walks up to us, smiling.
In her hand is the stolen camera!
She hardly stops long enough to be thanked. Eventually we establish that:
- shortly after I set Trailcam 4 in Viscri, a poacher came across it. He panicked, thinking it was a police sting operation, and snapped it off the chain.
- Two days afterwards, he went to a wedding in Viscri, and jovially asked another guest how trail cameras operate.
- Unluckily for him, this other guest was our host back in Mesendorf.
- Our local friends in Viscri joined up the dots and ran a SWAT operation to retrieve the camera.
Or something like that. Trailcam 4 is immediately put back to work.
We badly want it to catch a bear after its troubles.