Cycling 100km through the Apuseni National Park
We woke up in Cluj-Napoca, fuelled for the day and ready to begin our big adventure – cycling 100km through the Apuseni National Park. We each had our heavy bags attached with bungees on the back of our bikes, with our camping gear and personal items. To be honest, we hadn’t really planned, or thought it through, we just decided we were going to do it and thought it would only take us a day – oh how we were wrong!
As soon as we passed Gilau, we were in rural Romania. The scenery had turned beautiful – wild and green, and every so often we would spot a horse and carriage along the road. Just outside of the small village there is also a stunning lake that we stopped and admired.
The weather was intense and incredibly hot! It was 30 degrees and we were already sweating buckets! All of our water that we had drunk this morning had soon evaporated through our skin.
We passed a few shops along the way, drinking fizzy water (it seems to be cheaper in this region) and filling up on things like cherries and ice-cream. The further we got into the forest, the less civilised it became and shops became sparse. It was getting later in the day and we decided it was best we bought some food from a nearby shop that we could easily bike with – A chocolate croissant.
At about 5pm, we got tired and tried to search for a place to set up camp. Finding a place was fairly easy and we had a beautiful spot on the opposite side of the river, with two cows to keep us company, although one decided it wanted to steal our cherries!
Once settled and filled up on our chocolate croissant (thank god we bought that!) we lay in our tent and embraced the peace and quiet… that was until a massive Landover decided to plough through the river, straight towards our tent!! Fortunately it saw us and didn’t mow us down. Instead the driver got out and said ‘no problem!’ and then whacked out an axe! OMG I thought, we’re going to be axed into little pieces! But instead he just hacked away at the trees near our tent and chopped a few down (as you do!) so as he could drive past us.
The sun had set and the temperature dropped significantly. It was here we realised a few things: A – we both hadn’t gone for a wee all day and were seriously dehydrated; B – We realised we had no food or drink for tomorrow and it didn’t look like there would be many shops along the way; C – our sleeping bags were incredibly thin and we hadn’t prepared our self for such a cold night; D – there appeared to be lots of strange people walking around with axes.
We awoke to another hot and sunny day, packed up our tent and gear and began the steep climb through the National Park mountains. We had been climbing for about 1 hour, and we were both seriously dehydrated and starting to feel dizzy. Fortunately we came across a lodge in the forest, who was able to provide us with lots of fresh water – it tasted so good! It was here we realised the mountain was a huge supply of fresh water! Every spring we saw we fuelled up on water.
It was almost 2pm and we were both starving hungry and the water was no longer satisfying us. It got to a point where even leaves looked appetising and I was considering eating the insects scurrying along the floor. Surely there was a place to eat somewhere!
We passed a small house in the middle of nowhere, where a family were having a BBQ. We asked them how far until a shop of restaurant. Fortunately they could speak a little English, but unfortunately the shop was about another 5-6 hour cycle!
We were about to head back on our way, knowing we were going to go a full day of burning about a million calories with no food, when they invited us to join their BBQ. There was no hesitation and we hastily agreed to join them. They piled up our plates with delicious fresh food of meats, breads, salads and even cake. We both piled the food in and enjoyed every second of it – it was delicious! The family were so generous and lovely and we are so, so grateful for their hospitality. We stayed a full hour, socialising, and enjoying a Romanian family BBQ. They even provided us with some directions and a bag of food for us to take with us. I don’t know what we would have done without them!
We continued our cycle journey and the forest no longer looked edible, but beautiful. It was great to enjoy the beautiful pine forests once again.
The food the Romanian family provided us gave us enough energy to climb the steep mountainous road until 6:30pm, where we found the most amazing wild camping spot, located right at the stop with breath-taking views. The 800m incline had been worth it after all.
Whilst searching for a place to put up the tent we saw a tiny puppy curled in a ball next to a sack on the side of the road. It had clearly been dumped and we didn’t have the heart to just leave it there! The poor thing was so weak it couldn’t even stand. We picked it up, gave it a load of water and fed it some bread. It lapped it all up like it hadn’t ate or drank anything in ages (I knew how it felt). Nath then made it a small little cave bed, whilst I prepared the tent. We sat with the dog and our bag of food, taking in the last of the beautiful scenery before the sun went down and the temperate dropped considerably.
I woke up extra early as I wanted to find the puppy a home! I picked him up, carried him like a baby and began a long walk through the farm tracks, knocking on each house to see if someone would take him – no one would, and what was more difficult, no one spoke a word of English and I could only say ‘hello’, ‘thank you’ and ‘water’ in Romanian.
Eventually, after an hour of walking in the baking sun and doing charades with the locals, I came across a farm house with lots of dogs. The man seemed very friendly and although to begin with he did not want the dog, I eventually persuaded him! I then ended up getting invited into their home for a cup of coffee where they talked at me in Romanian for a while (I just nodded at them, not a clue what they were saying).
Before leaving, they piled me up with (quite literally) a ton of food! I then had to walk all the way back to the top with the biggest loaf of bread I have ever seen in my life, about a kilo of cheese and two massive bricks of pork fat! How they expected me to eat all that I shall never know. But I was truly grateful for the food and once back at the tent, Nath and me enjoyed a nice big breakfast.
The rest of the cycle was mainly all downhill, along an insanely bumpy road. We skidded our way down, with a massive loaf of bread and a kilo of cheese on my handlebars.
Once at the bottom it was a whole new world, we entered our first village and stopped to drink from the spring. The village was full of Romanian gypsies who were intrigued by the two crazy foreigners that had suddenly appeared from the mountains and were now drinking their water. One by one they all came out of their houses to have a good stare at us. It was quite amusing.
The rest of the journey was a breeze compared to what we had endured the past few days. We cycled along an actual road, saw actual shops, there were no cows blocking our path and we hadn’t seen one Romanian walking around with an axe! We finally arrived in Scarisoara and oddly enough, I missed being in the incredibly remote mountains with the amazing generosity of the Romanians. It has been one of the most challenging, but most amazing experiences!