Maramures is a region in northern Romania which holds what is generally held as the last stronghold of true rural Europe, people living and farming much as they have since medieval times. We planned to base ourselves in a central village in the Mara valley and to hike to neighbouring villages but our plans didn't really last very long...
We grabbed a bus from Cluj-Napoca to Baia Mare (big mine-a predictably nasty looking town) and from there another bus which was headed for Sighet at the entrance to the Mara valley.
The first bus trip was no fun as Adam was busting to go to the loo the whole time, and when we arrived we dashed off the bus so quickly we forgot the package containing the Russian dolls we had been lugging across mountains etc for the last five weeks. By the time we realized what had happened the bus was long gone. The package was addressed and all too. We might have to chase down some Romanian dolls or something....
We grabbed some pizza in between buses which led to the next trip being doubly as unenjoyable as the first. Eva's stomach disagreed with the pizza - violently. After an hour of chills, spasms etc. Eva stopped the bus on an isolated hill top in the middle of a forest, leaving Adam to lug the bags off and tell the driver not to bother waiting as we had no idea how long we would be.
After that problem had resolved itself we were left with the entirely new problem of being stuck on top of a hill in the middle of nowhere. We knew another bus was due to go by in several hours but didn't really feel like hanging around not knowing if it would even stop for us as we weren't at a bus stop. Eva voted for hitching and Adam voted for walking. After every car that went past in a 15 minute window was either flash (therefore not picking up feral backpackers) or full (the one place they carpool!!) we were left with walking, Thankfully the roads here are very well signposted so we knew the next village was 12 km away and that we had about 3 hours of sunlight left, we got cracking.
The road was marked at every kilometre and we were walking at 6kmph (downhill thankgoodness) through very pretty forest. Unfortunately it was a little hard to enjoy as we had no idea if the village we were heading to even had a place to stay or even a shop and our worries were confirmed as we finally arrived and the place was a one street affair. They had a shop though so we stocked up a drink (frutti fresh saved our lives) and decided to try the next town which was only another km away.
We were walking through such a pretty village it was hard not to appreciate, with huge wood carved gateways and matching woodcarving on the homes themselves. When we rolled into the next town and saw a sign for a pension we almost fainted, they even had nanna out the front making jam over a fire with an ancient wooden mixing device.
The place was really, really nice and cheap too. We got to have dinner with the couple who run the pension (well he drives trucks, she manages the home). Everything was home made, the soup, bread, dessert and most importantly the palinka! They were a fairly young couple with a fourteen year old daughter and an eight year old son and they were passionate about their heritage, showing us photos of weddings and occasions where they had all the traditional dress on. They even had the 24hr culture channel on TV and seemed to enjoy it!
The next morning we were pretty sore but hiked on to the village we had originally planned to stay at, Ocna-Sugatag, another eight kilometres on. The countryside is wonderful, we passed so many people making haystacks, doing the washing up outside, making jam and heaps of old ladies lugging huge loads on their backs in baskets. It was quite a timewarp and once again there were loads of horses and carts trotting by, even the odd ox-drawn cart.
The next day we decided to visit a nearby protected peat bog instead of a village as we were keen to see some wildlife. We took a picnic and got to see more village life on the way. Arriving at the bog we sat for AGES not moving or talking hoping to see something living but to no avail. We did see a pretty cool nature at work moment though when a wasp stunned a caterpillar on a leaf, then when the wasp realized the caterpillar had dropped to the ground it in turn dropped straight off the leaf to get a search area figured out. It took a while but just as the caterpillar was waking up the wasp found it-brutal.
When we thought that was all we would see we stepped in some long grass and YAY!!! FROGS!!! We spent the next half hour searching for frogs and scaring the daylights out of the poor little things.
We bussed it out to a larger town the next day but rural Maramures was definitely a highlight so far.Photos: Strip farming, Wooden gate, More scenery