Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Only days to go...

 
Wednesday now, and on Saturday we travel on to cross the Serbian border, I hope it’s not as bad as we have been warned to expect! I have a Serbian friend called Zoran who is one of the nicest people I’ve ever met, so I hope his cousins are working on the border that Saturday night.
I didn't take any of the photos on the blog today, but would have liked to. I just want to give you a feel for what was around us as we trecked through the forest. We still have a few days to go so who knows, we might get lucky. These animals stay well clear of humans, because more are there to kill them than to film.
Brown Bear
 A big hello to John and Cath, our lovely next-door neighbours in Penrith who I know are following the blog. Are you up for starting on the house 2 weeks today (Tue 29th) John? Beverley and I can be living in a palace by the summer holidays. You’ll have to catch me up on all the footie, I only know City won the title and Arsenal came 3rd .What happened to Burnley?
I need to make a number of corrections to my earlier blog as it’s now being read here in the village and we can’t afford a diplomatic crisis. The blacksmith’s wife was 60 not 36, which is still very young. When I asked originally, a lady held up 3 fingers then 6, so I thought she was 36. Apparently she held up 3 to tell me that she would show me with her fingers, then 6 fingers to say she was 60. The local man was not crushed by something falling off his lorry but by the wheel of something going over his chest. There is a local florist and they make all the funeral wreathes. I just thought local people made them because they looked so similar to their hedges, and I still haven’t found the florist’s shop.
Wild Boar
There are only 3 people in the village who know enough Hungarian to be of help, Paul White, his wife Laura and Anna. I have developed a method of sign language that others seem to understand which is just as well because most of the time I have to cope alone. Going to the supermarket with Anna and Lossi takes 20 minutes to get a trolley full, by myself that would take half a day. If a product has a picture on it’s fairly easy, but most haven’t. When I wanted spicy sausage I had to go and get a packet of paprika which had a picture of paprika on it, then go to the butcher and point to the picture, then the sausages. Fish Fingers were easy, they are in a ‘birds-eye’ packet but over here they are called ‘Captain Igloo’. It’s fun though struggling around with people chipping in to help you, but I can’t get over how if you don’t understand someone, they will just shout louder and louder thinking that you will eventually. “I’m English, not deaf” I want to shout back! In England, people park close to the supermarket because they are lazy; here they do it for a different reason. When I first parked, I did it as I do in England; I always park as far away as possible. This has 2 advantages, firstly there’s plenty of space and secondly I benefit from the exercise. As I walked across the car park to the front entrance, a young boy approached me and I haven’t got a clue what he was saying, but he clutched his stomach in agony, coughing and holding his hand out, but I got the idea. I gave him 5 leu, about £1, he made a remarkable recovery and ran off with a smile! I had cured him!? Without knowing, I was now being marked as a ‘generous fool’ by others who would wait until I returned to my car after shopping. As I came out of the front entrance, women and children of every age wanted the same cure that I’d given the little boy earlier, and there just wasn’t enough to go around. They were still running after my vehicle as I sped from the car park. I felt like Elton John at a gay rally! Now I park close, use other people as decoys and judge the sprint back to perfection, keys already in hand.
Yesterday, after spending all day in the forest we saw plenty of fresh bear, wild boar, wolf prints and a fair amount of their dung and hair, but didn’t see an animal. Nothing on the camera traps this morning either, so with just 4 days left will we come back without a sighting? If you ask anyone in the group they will say that they’ve seen just about everything, but nobody has a photo and nobody saw anything at the same time as someone else. Are we all just making it up? Well when you want to see something so badly and the light is poor, you start to convince yourself of anything. A bush or a rock could as easily be a bear so hey, what the hell, it was! A cow running across a field becomes a wild boar, a large dog becomes a wolf and a gypsy in a fur jacket becomes a Lynx; need I go on? So I’ve seen brown bears every evening, dozens of wolves, numerous wild boars and a Lynx wearing a red neck scarf with matching shoes.
Wolf
After yesterday in the forest we then went up to ‘bear ridge’, which I’ve renamed ‘frozen ridge’, after standing up there for 2 hours in the bitter wind. As hyperthermia set in, I started to get bottom cramps, pins and needles and very tired. I went back to the vehicle with Rob before the others and I’m having a day at base to recoup some energy. I’ll get tidied up here in this ‘student’ accommodation and make the dinner for tonight, at last something we all love and recognise, Captain Igloo’s fish fingers with chips, peas and tomato sauce. You can only eat so much smoked sausage and we’ve all reached that point
I must talk about Romanian Gypsies, and this is not fact but just what I’ve observed in my short time here. Every town has a gypsy population; maybe 20% of the total in most towns but a huge amount live out in the countryside in separate townships and as individual groups. They are nothing like English travellers! They keep very much to themselves rarely mixing with other people, and I imagine it would be very bad for a gypsy to fall in love outside their community. They work very, very hard, no doubt about that! They seem to get the blame for anything bad, though I’ve not seen evidence that they are any worse than others. They don’t seem to cause any trouble but I would be reluctant to go into their community by myself to film. I have a feeling that with the language barrier I wouldn’t be very welcome and have no way of explaining myself.
So how’s the expedition been? Certainly an experience but more a challenge, and one things for sure, none of us will look at the other and see the same person that we saw 3 weeks ago. But if a first year student asked me to write a list of advice to make their experience better, it would probably go like this…
·      An expedition needs rules, agreed by everyone from the start and then implemented throughout. Without rules you are just going on holiday!

·      Draw up a ‘responsibilities list’: who checks the car oil, the first aid kit, the bear spray etc. on a regular basis. If you are living in accommodation, who cleans the toilets, the kitchen etc? Never share a responsibility, because when it’s not done, the two blame each other!

·      Go camping for a long weekend several times before you decide on your team. Some people, who get on great on daily basis, quickly tire of each other over an extended period. Nobody’s fault, just a fact, you are all different.

·      If you travel by road be more realistic about the length of the journey. Your biggest enemy is tiredness in the group, because then all logic goes out the window and relationship breakdown is inevitable.

·      Make the roll of your expedition leader very clear: to promote unity within the group and make everyone feel included. 

·      Have daily meetings, these stop any issues growing and getting out of hand. It’s a good time to let everyone discuss the plans for tomorrow.

·      When you have finished planning the expedition academically, you must then plan it for 'reality,' because ‘expected’ is very different to ‘reality’.

·      When you have raised funds make sure that everyone has a weekly balance of where the fund stands before the expedition, then make sure that there is an agreed procedure for all expenditure, with receipts.

·      When you decide on a date for your expedition, make sure you leave free days in your studies, before and after. You then get time to pack and unpack without stress.

·      Think carefully before deciding on an exotic costly destination, you get no less marks for going to Skegness! But if you get on well as a team, go to the end of the earth and make it the experience of a lifetime.
Lynx
I think this might be my final blog from Romania, and thanks for sticking with me through the experience. I’m ready for home, some of Beverley’s amazing cooking and sharing a lovely big bed together. Ahhhh….
 
Many thanks to the Transylvanian Wildlife Project: To Paul White and his team Laci, Barni & Botti for making me feel so welcome and for being fantastic people to be with. Not forgetting Paul's lovely wife Laura, her Mum and little President Regina.You’ve put up with a very diverse group of 2nd year wildlife & media students and asked for little in return. If any of you ever make it to England, you are always welcome to stay with Beverley and I. Can’t promise you Brown Bears, but Cumbrian Farmers are by far scarier!
Thanks to Yossi and Evva, for all the cakes and kind words that I couldn't understand, and for allowing us to have the protection of Bhunda. Thanks to Anna and Lossi, for proudly showing Ryan and I around your home village and helping with so much translation, esspecially in the supermarket! Thanks to Colonel Gadaffi for all the fun and handshakes even though I couldn't understand a thing.
Thanks to the people of Ojdula, for making me feel so welcome with your smiles and waves every day. You have given me something back that I had lost, and will now treasure always.

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