In 1990 we spent 3 months traveling around Australia in an altogether different kind of ‘camper’ - a Toyota Lite-ace panel van with a thin sponge mattress in the back! Dave kept wanting to divert off the main road to see if we could come across any crocodiles in the wild – I wasn’t so keen. We never found a crocodile but did come across lots of snakes and spiders.
Here we are all those years later with a similar scenario – Dave wants to find a brown bear in the hills. The signs say they are here somewhere - he has the rucksack with the first aid kit and camera in, I have the one with the packed lunches. I was hoping the bears around here don’t have a very keen sense of smell!
We were walking in the Ceahlău National Park in the North Eastern part of Romania in one of the highest mountain ranges in the Oriental Carpathians. Finding a map and information on the trails wasn’t easy as there are few Information Offices out here and the one in the town of Bicaz we did eventually find seemed to be undergoing a major spring clean. The lady was very helpful though and, once she understood what we were after, took off her rubber gloves and found her box of maps and envelope for the money underneath a pile of books, the office doubled up as the local library.
Having read the odd English translation of the region on the map we felt we had to visit….
‘The legendary aura is fortunately completed by the true majesty of the mountain owing to its massiveness and clear-cut delimitation by wide and deep valleys, dominating the surrounding mountains. Owing to its majesty Ceahlău hides bits and pieces of the millennia-old civilisation under every stone, in every brook and on every trail. Owing to its beauty, Ceahlău has attracted ever since the dim of history the attention of travellers, researchers and nature lovers’
We drove up the valley shown on the map and passing a warning sign of a 3 meter height restriction (the van is 3.1m high) we were unsure as to whether we would even be able to make it to the start of the trail. At the top we found a basic campsite costing 10 Lei (£2) for the night and a park warden who collected another 5 Lei each (£1) for access to the national park – seemed reasonable. The campsite was clean, quiet and deserted apart from us and the birds.
The sun was shining as we set off at 9am, climbing steeply through the dense woods from the campsite at 800m to the top of the plateau at 1800m. We didn’t see another living thing until a solitary walker popped over the hill about 2 hours later but we were rewarded with some spectacular views.
We wouldn’t make very good trackers as we pondered what animal had left the footprint in the mud, or what creature had scratched away the bark at the base of the tree. We watched a very industrious woodpecker demolishing the bark at the top of a dead tree oblivious to our presence but other than that we didn’t see any of the animals reported to be in the area – bears, lynx, wolves, foxes, wild boars or vipers.
We ate our picknik on a rock with a close eye out for the elusive brown bears but maybe they were pickniking somewhere else!