Sunday, July 31, 2011

Putting the Car in Carpathia

We broke camp to make the ten hour drive to Vama Veche.  We decided to shorten our route by forgoing the scenic drive over Transfăgărășan pass and instead took the “main” road through the Carpathians. Our two-lane road snaked up and down sleepy steep-sided river valleys covered in a thick layer of deciduous forest.  Another beautiful region of Romania. The going was slow despite the good roads… a steady line of trucks meant passing was fruitless, so we took in the view, tried copying the gesture of the many hitchhikers along the way (sort of a slow-down style palm-down wave) and bought a plump round of a strong smokey cheese from under a roadside umbrella. 

You can buy just about anything along the side of this road – stands offered fresh cheese, watermelons, and gnomes. People lean out into the roadway offering berries, nuts, keys to rooms for rent, and some would just like you to pay for their company. I pulled the car over so Mike could stop to adjust the nipple on the water jug only to see a woman on the other side of the road making the same adjustment on herself so she could strike an even more compelling pose for the next driver coming her way.

Our progress was steady until our tour of Carpathian splendor came to an abrupt stop. Road construction.  We waited. Then waited a little more. The heat of the day slowly crept in and began to cook us right in our seats. After an eternity, Mike took action and hopped out of the car to see if leaving our hot little capsule would  start traffic again. It worked like a charm… he gets no more than 30 feet from Swifty and the line of cars started moving. Our joy was punctuated by two jolly rally cars pulling up next to us offering hearty greetings. We rolled through the remaining hills watching the occasional local filling up at water spigots poking out of the valley walls.

We pulled in to Vama Veche tired and bleary from the road. I discovered that Mike has a skill, or more accurately, a passion for driving in the “chaos” model.  In southeast Romania it works like this: two lanes of traffic enter a busy intersection. From that point, it’s all out aggression: extreme automotive combat that would make power forwards in the NBA jealous. It’s all positioning, bluffing, and accelerating with no braking allowed. Four cars abreast then five, and finally funneling back down to two lanes.  It’s a bit like the traffic in India, but the Romanians have confined it to busy intersections. A few hours of that can wear down both passenger and driver. The first cool beer on the beach was sublime as we relaxed in our cabana with wifi and gratefully called home after a long day.

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