As I’m walking down the trail, back from Moldoveanu, the highest peak of Romania, I scan the scenery around for some good shots, noticing that the afternoon light is getting better. The photography bug has caught me. It also fits perfectly with being a mountain guide. The tourist I lead today, an old lady from France, has a constant pace, so I am a bit behind since I often stop for photos.
Further down the trail, someone waves at me. I don’t know her, but it seems that she knows me.
Oh yeah. How can’t I know her? It’s that typical German girl with those lovely blue eyes of hers. She asks me a lot of questions and tells me that I look like a mountain guide. One that she knows. Thank you. I am a mountain guide, but not the one you’re looking for.
Oh, those eyes. I would have stayed with them, but today I’m working and they’re headed in the opposite direction. Being a mountain guide has its perks but also its downsides.
Later, three guys are passing us with two more hours left to get to Moldoveanu peak. They look very tired and they’re sweating like crazy under those huge backpacks they carry. One of them has a beer in the exterior pocket. It’s the beer of victory. I’m sure of that. For when they’ll get to the top of Romania. It’s already late now, so they’ll have it at sunset. Which, with all these playful clouds around, it will be no less than magnificent.
I envy them. For the sunset I mean, not for the beer.
We’re light and we move fast back towards the Podragu mountain hut, me and my tourist.
In the saddle above the hut, the cold wind feels like thousands of needles stinging my skin. My T-shirt is damp and cold so I change it fast and also put my camera in the backpack, thinking that the day is done. I got from around 15 degrees in the sun to less than 5 in the shade and the wind. I take everything I’ve got on me and move on.
Shortly after, descending towards the hut, I’m too hot. How dumb. I should have known. Ten minutes later, the sun creates lovely shadows in the valley below and the hut is in the spotlight. Did I mention that I’m dumb? The view is gone before I take the camera out of the backpack. I still manage to get some decent shots but in a few minutes my hands are freezing.
It’s sunny but so damn cold at the same time. And what do you think I see down below, in the lake? A guy swimming. No, wrong. A madman swimming. I find out a bit later that he’s Swedish. Of course he’s Swedish.
Upon reaching the hut a beer quickly comes to me from the French lady as a form of thank you for the day. The conclusion? Wonderful day. In French. Some more French words reach my ear but they’re not coming from her. They come from behind, spoken in amusement. It’s another mountain guide from Sibiu who knows me… and a little bit of french. Not that I’m an expert anyhow. We greet each other, change a few words and then I go buy some biscuits for a photography walk around the lake.
I reach the lake, drink the beer, eat the biscuits and go back without taking any photos.
The hut is getting full again and I recognize the crowd. It’s the noisy and disorganized group of Czech tourists that were here last night as well. Their mountain guide has no worries enjoying his soup while the rest of the twenty-something group keeps on coming as only a few have already reached the hut. He’s a long-haired lanky man, walking clumsily in his light blue baggy pajama-like pants and he looks like Jesus. I don’t know how Jesus looked like, but my guess is something close to this guy. He has to bend down a little bit when he comes in through the door.
Since the dining room isn’t too crowded right now, we take advantage of that and have dinner. Soon after, my old French tourist goes to sleep. I roam around the hut a little bit more. The temperature has dropped fast and there’s no one outside besides the sheep, the donkeys and the guard dogs. The sheep look at me with a blank stare, the donkeys come looking for food and the dogs don’t have the slightest care in the world.
The evening is young so I decide to go back to the dining room and hang around with the other tourists. I go inside and then back out again. The smell of sweat and heated canned food and feet and socks all together drives my nose away, so I’m going back to the room to stick it in Jack Kerouac’s book, On the Road.
That I did and had a great evening with myself, Sal and his friends. A few chapters later, I’m too sleepy to continue reading so I let myself have another two nights’ sleep in one, thinking about how good the previous night had been, sleeping for ten hours instead of my usual five. And how awesome today’s morning was after those two nights in one.
But I didn’t get any luck on this one. A tiny fellow flea thought it would be nice of me to share my sleeping bag with him. I had to accept his offer since I didn’t have even the slightest chance of catching him. He had a good night. I didn’t.
In the morning I woke up dead tired. Well, nothing new under the sun. Just another usual summer day for me. The morning was fine, the breakfast not that much, but the weather looked perfect.
We’re heading back on a different trail today. It goes through the valleys and not on the main trail that follows the ridge. Jesus chose the ridge. Perfect. We’ll have a quiet day.
One hour on our path we meet two Germans. They’re worried that it might snow. To get an idea, it’s sunny and nice and there are no more clouds to be seen, it’s neither cold nor hot and on top of that, the weather’s stable. It will stay like this for days. But the guys are still worried about it. They’re camping and a shepherd told them that it will snow soon.
Oh well, I guess that the shepherd didn’t know too much German and they didn’t know too much Romanian so the language they spoke was for the most part the international language of signs. Out of which they somehow got… snow and… soon.
We go on and for the rest of the trail we meet nobody else besides a herd of indifferent chamois that hurry nowhere since for them there’s nowhere to hurry. We’re close to the intersection with the main route on the ridge. From then on we’ll follow it for the last part of our hike.
We stop for a break at the intersection and two guys with funny beanies pass us. One of them is wearing biking gloves, gloves that have no useful purpose here but he doesn’t seem to care about that. The other one has a shattered, overused backpack on his shoulders, with light-green colored side straps glowing in the sun and flapping haphazardly behind him like the wings of a drunken bird, if anyone has ever seen one. He also wears a funny, child-like beanie and dirty baggy pants, all that making him look like a professional hobo.
I know I’m critical about other people’s gear but please don’t judge me. It comes together with being a mountain guide.
And guess to whom we’re saying hello twenty-something more times today. Yes, it’s Jesus again and his funny group of Czech tourists. They started earlier than us this morning and took the main trail on the ridge. The French lady looks at me and I understand. We need to go. Before they’re all here.
The final part of the trail is even more crowded. It’s because it’s a weekend after all, although I’m not sure of that. I’m not sure if it’s a weekend. I turn my left arm to take a look at my watch. My watch shows Thursday.
We follow the trail down and we pass by a tired group of Germans that are going up. We greet them but they’re not able to say anything anymore, not even answer our greetings. Then I change a few words with two Israeli girls and see that the group following Jesus is closely behind us.
I notice more and more people ahead on the trail. First, there’s this huge group of Turkish people. They don’t talk too much but they’re all smiles.
Following them is a smaller group of Ukrainians, with three wonderful Ukrainian girls. They’re all smiley and cute and cheerful but again they’re going away in the opposite direction. They’re chatty and stop to encourage a trail runner. I encourage him as well with some good thoughts and then I encourage myself to mind my own business.
Right before our final destination, the Balea Lake area, is the Capra lake. We take another break here, chilling our feet in the cold water. The area isn’t too crowded. Nearby there’s only a couple resting on the grass by the edge of the lake. They’re quiet, peaceful and chill. Unbeknownst to them is the wacky Czech group that is about to arrive and drive their zen state all the way to Valhalla.
And here they are. Without any sign of empathy for the young couple, they surround them as if that was the only place left by the lake. The couple doesn’t understand anything. They’re lost in the tumult, as half of the Czech group undresses and goes swimming and the other half encourages them from the side in loud nutty gestures. Jesus gets into the water as well, but contrary to what you might believe, he doesn’t walk on it. He swims.
It doesn’t take long and my French lady wants to go. I would love to stay and watch the show to the end, but duty calls again. The day ends with a nice vegetable soup and a strong dark beer.
It was the last day. The last day out of 11 consecutive days in the mountains.
Being a mountain guide it’s a wonderful job but it’s also tiring as hell sometimes. And you don’t necessarily get the prettiest of the tourists. But you can’t have everything you wish for, can you?