Wild winter adventure in wild Covasna County –Romania

 

My experience with Romania always starts with chorus repeating in my mind an old communist song “My country with beautiful eyes”, every time I traveled here and about Romania. “My country with beautiful eyes” is a hot reason to get writing and starting  I explore in Romania y own business as tour -operator. Sometimes, when I try writing about amazing places, I get stuck in suburban groaning and I have no sufficient or expressive words to describe Romania. I’ll talk about one of the adventures to Lacauti, a settlement in Covasna county, a mountaintop in a godforsaken place. The adventure was deeper as, after we had seen the mountain during leaves fall in the autumn, we descended as Eskimos to adventure in the snowy winter, a downright memorable adventure!

Covasna -trees at hotel
Covasna -trees at hotel

It happened three years ago. When I first went to Lacauti, I said to myself I cannot find in any dictionary proper adjectives to describe the location, nature, mountain or even the kindness of people used to live in wild places. The second time, as we went in full winter, the feeling given by the snowy mountain was stronger than the first time, but I would be trying to combine two words into a sentence to tell you what adventure was about. We went in the same formation as usual, the same gang of friends. I cannot say we were ten little dwarfs, that would be an exaggeration in many ways! First, the group was muuuch smaller; secondly the only “dwarf “of the shocking troop was me, considering my size!

The trip was well established, as we planned it   a couple of weeks before happening: to have a ride by snowmobile from Comandau to Lacauti, both situated in Covasna County. Lăcăuţi is not a tourist resort with shops, hotels and restaurants. This place is in the middle of nowhere, actually a mountain peak of 177 m height, in Vrancea Mountains. It is situated on the border of three counties,  even if administratively it only belongs Covasna. The sole human settlement there is the weather station. All the way from Bucharest to Covasna town, we looked longingly and sad to the dry road, at the sky slopes not so crowded in Predeal as there it was a thin layer of snow, the thermometer showing about two degrees above zero. We all felt that our plans were half ruined. We arrived in Covasna late in the night and the road was wet-slime and the ski was clear.  The morning clouds brought the rain and I was almost on the point of despair! “No snowmobiles in the mountains!” I said to myself.  As I am kind of engine power freak wearing a skirt (not literally speaking!), my sadness was double: no mountains, no monsters on caterpillars. Only enormous snowflakes, coming from the upset sky, finally brought a smile on my face.  The big water-frozen crystals fell in a fury, like chasing each other rapidly.  I forgot all former internal struggles, the mumbling and discontent voicing I previously had. We all were prepared to go in the mountains, muffled top to toes, thus we were ready to proceed. Through a long chain of “friends of friends”, we came to meet a great mountain man, owner of several snowmobiles, and from the point we met him on, the entire organization failed in his reins. I must admit that he was a great host and guide, and the only reward that was waiting from us was for us to enjoy the wonders of the place as much as he did.

Comandau- snowmobiles
Comandau- snowmobiles

Far from cityscape

When I left Covasna the snow started fall becoming stronger, faster and denser.  The cold wind, transformed the white snow layer turn into a fluffy thick pillow of snow. When we reach Comandau we felt like in expedition story down in land of white amazement. Snow white, tall pin trees, haystacks dressed up in glowing-white, giant snowflakes slipping on my face and sending my imagination to a children book with stories of Christmas (or Old Jack Frost as it was named in my communist youth, when we were not allowed to speak about Santa). Only trees were straight, in spite of branches bowed by heavy weight, resisting under the pressure of the white-coats placed layers-after -layers.

As we passed Comandau, snow creaked under our wheels. Cozy-wooden houses, scattered in a small depression, decorated the place. Our host leaded us to the end of the village, where we passed under a large wooden gate. Behind the high fence I noticed the monsters that we were to go by up to the Peak of Lacauti. In fact, that was all we knew! I would not belabor these toys-adrenaline injectors, they themselves were enchanting stories with caterpillars and fed with petrol, but they did not spit fire, but snow! it was important the experience itself, and for us snow-countries were only  means, even if the joy would not exist without them.

me at Lacauti
me at Lacauti

We took the “road” we knew to Lacauti. The “road” was a wider path, with a thick layer of snow. The lack of the trees in our way was the only mark that underneath snow there was a road.  Where in the autumn we followed the route by car, now I could see only a thin strip of whitish- grey traces made by another snow-country and trees that guarded the path formed. The road winded left and right and curvature of the path challenged us to move our backsides one side  or another when the aggregate sled, we just counterbalance with our weight. At a short stop in a clearing at the base of a slope serious, we stopped and took a deep breath. It had maybe two or three hours since started snowing heavily and wherever you turn your head  the whiteness blinded us. When the flakes did not came straight into our eyes! The wind took his own privilege of being on its territory  and started playing with snow in the air, pushing it up and throwing back to the ground, most of the times falling on our faces (or what was left of them after we covered them with protection helmets). Trees were monumental; each of them was an admirable altar! Straight stems, so high I twisted my  neck looking up towards the top of it, bearing the weight of snow of unbalanced layered crowned the branches. From place to place,  the snow on the lower branches leaned down to the path unifying the tree and the ground in a common white arch of snow.  Fabulous!

We continued our journey on our snowmobiles trembling and shaking left and right, against the path which was sliding us upon its will. From time to time, we deiced the visor of the helmet by a hot breath. So I first arrived at Lacauti where we revived a little. We had a Romanian meal with bacon, bard, cheese and onion. And we hit the road again.  At a point, I could not tell you where we were, in my opinion was “in the middle of nowhere”, but that nowhere was just beautiful! Along the way I was simply amazed as our guides had the control, they knew where to take left or right in a places where for me all the clues were all the same: trees, bushes or piles of snow. The new route was crazier, shakier, curved and wild. We finally reached a large opening where we, the girls,   took over the mad engines and went wild by pulling the throttle. After a few laps, I felt my arms burning of effort against the cold and wind, the blood became hotter from adrenaline. Cool! Route had continued to Comandau, taking a detour from the one we knew.  Our guide said that it was a short cut and we would have a surprise! And another round to Lacauti! Beasts on engine shout against whirlwind of mountaintop!

Adventures were just beginning …

It was dark when we left  second time Lacauti. It was maybe 10 PM. Our guide asked us if we would go on a short road version, about 30 minutes or a half an hour route, but much nicer. Considering the late hour we decided to choose the short way and  we choired “ we take the shortest way”! I went to the carriage powered by fuel engine, which were already overwhelmed by snow weight. We got ready for  a smooth ride to the hotel. So we believed! The wind had stopped, the tree branches were still and white shining.

Lacauti -during autumn
Lacauti -during autumn

Lacauti, last call

Our guide, “pack leader”, he unexpected turned in the opposite direction that we thought we should ride. But he knew better after all! Above on the sky: darkness that one could stick his finger in his eyes, below- pure virgin white snow. We had traveled for more than 10 minutes when we started getting deep into the forest. Path that we rode on was wide just enough to have the snowmobile to ride through and bellow the trees.  I said  path, if I can name it so as we were gliding on a giant uniform pile of snow. Above our heads threes were embracing each other, forcing us from time to time to stoops the giant snowy arms of the trees would not slap us. Often  we touched the pin tree branches with our helmets and we heard loud noise of heavy layer of snow falling behind us. Forest has its charm in snowy night, a strange mirage that I never imagined could exist. You feel like you’re in a black and white movie: one cannot see the sky, in fact, do not even think to look, the road curving in front of you is immaculate, only the  snowmobile’ lights reflected on the foam- fluffy snow breaks into thousands of rainbows.

After eternal long minutes of riding through the trees, the trail moved to the edge of a deep abyss.  The deep haul was on our left, and the only way to keep riding at a promiscuous level of safety, without being drawn into the abyss, was to move the center of gravity  as far right as we could. We pulled out backs and entire body to the right, uphill, in order to counterbalance the weight of our monster on the edge.  Even rising my body was a difficult task as my trousers were frozen-stuck on the chair, when I pulled them I heard a short crack of broken ice. I passed by the abyss on the left, we move to another on the right … and so, much of the route we had traveled bend far outside the snowmobiles, oscillating on the road dependent on forest good will.

At some point the column stopped. Just in the middle of the trail there was a broken tree.  A dreadful thought occurred into my mind thinking we would be forced to go  back on the narrow path. We could not fly, so the only good way was around the enormous log into thick forest.  The slope uphill was as deep as downhill, the only difference were the trees. Downhill the forest seemed less thick, so we chosen downway. Our guide passed the caterpillar monsters one by one, without passengers on it, while we walk on the snowy ground. We heaved a deep sigh and carry on our journey! We passed that blind alley , when we reach another at an intersection! In fact, intersection was an exaggeration, it was a white meadow, like all others, surrounded by trees, covered by some bushes thrown from place to place. It looked so much like other places we passed by. I would not have known for anything in the world  that were turn right! While trying to turn the engine uphill, the snowmobile continued to slide downhill despite of our efforts to counterbalance it. We solved the problem by placing one more person on the snowmobile, riding one by one. This situation lasted several minutes, but those moments were  long enough for me to consider them eternity.

I felt later the adrenaline. From place to place, bears footprints appeared here and there. They were old enough, a few hours maybe, as snow laid over them. Quite old for the  bear to be far enough from the group, fresh enough for the bear to sense the group. At one point, when we slowed down and the engine toy rumbled quieter, I thought I heard wolves howling. I commented shy “I heard wolves”, but everybody told me it was only an impression. I did not carry on, not to seem paranoid. I had not long enough in the forest and I noticed two sets of wolf tracks, disturbingly fresh. About that time, the adrenaline hit my brain.  I really grew stiff: skin due to cold weather, the zest of fear! I went along with those wolf tracks like road signs leading us in the wood. A couple of times they have gone deep in the woods, reappearing a few hundred feet below, but keeping the route we followed. After a while (from  Lacauti to Comandau I lost track of time) I got used to the presence wild mammies  proved by sporadic footprints in the snow, and my heart rate returned to normal. The occurrence of traces of foxes was already causing for rejoicing, seeming like the beasts of prey were having a party!

 

Suddenly, the virgin white snow, I noticed a big fresh track. There was a recent pug of a bear. Bear in the dead of winter, the animal must have been starving! Someone in my group commented easily amused “now you should be afraid!” Well, I had no choice but to go forward. Now I have not thought about fear, because cold ice weather was chasing me! When I arrived in Bucharest, I saw on the news that a man had been torn by a she-bear, right in places where we rode our snowmobiles http://stirileprotv.ro/stiri/eveniment/un-barbat-a-ajuns-la-spital-dupa-ce-a-fost-sfasiat-de-un-urs.html .

We stopped at another pseudo-cross-road (that because we had to change the direction of travel, as we saw later, not because it was a proper crossroads), where I, traitor, I lament the I was cold. I was not complaining in vain. While the entire suite I was wearing was nice and warm, the boots were not high enough; snow melted and got frozen in my boots. Variants were either to go on a road as beautiful as the previous, but who would have taken half hour or to return the forest road that we road initially. I preferred the second choice, quick and safe.

When I arrived in Covasna, while I was taking off my boots, I believed that the old communist hotel, but imbued with a strong smell of pin wood, was the hottest place on Earth.

 

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