Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Alba Iulia-Sebeş-Sibiu.

Trip dist: 80 kms. Trip time: 6 hrs, 13 min. Tot dist: 6,558 kms.

Oh boy. What a ride (and not in a good way!). Where to start?

The day started pretty promising, even though the road had a lot of uphill/downhills, through "hills" that were minor mountains. Montes, is the word for these hills in Spanish, something between a hill and a mountain, the word for which I cannot find in English.

I passed by a good part of Jules Verne's Carpathian route, detailed in his story "Le Château des Carpathes" of the series Extraordinary Voyages, (and which, in spite of being a Verne fan, I have not yet read, unfortunately), as the sign just outside of the town of Sebeş pointed out. If you think that, as it happens, his route goes pretty much the way I'm headed on my bike from Cluj all the way to Sibiu, well, it turns out that my proud "discovery" in the halways of a little old lady's pension in Budapest was not, after all, all that "secret". Esoteric, perhaps, only. :)

Anyway, all of this and a cool, cloudy (but not rainy) weather kept me in good spirits for the start of the ride, and what was my surprise when checking the map I discovered that, unbeknownst to me up to that point in spite of my rather careful marking of the 160+ UNESCO World Heritage Sites on my big map of Europe prior to departure from the U.S., I had missed the fortified town of Câlnic, which, as it happens, was only 3 kms off the E68/E81, the road I was on.

So off I took a minor detour there, on a lonely, loose gravel road (see picture above) heading towards some valley in between the mountains, and no sooner had I started the descent from a difficult (not easy having good traction on loose gravel) prior 1 km ascent, that I found myself as if having crossed over to the "Twilight Zone".

Seriously. It was as if time had stood still, transported back to the mid 19th century. Approaching the little village I saw one or two people, an old woman with headscarf and dark-colored dress walking towards the village here, a little old man with a rough wooden walking stick walking away there, the only vehicles horse-drawn carts. But then as I entered the village, I was hit immediately with the silence, there were no people walking about, the few that were stopped whatever it was that they were doing (fixing a house façade here, picking up hay with a pitchfork there), including walking, to stare and follow my trajectory with the head, but without smiling or saying a word, adding more to the silence and the eerie feel of things.

I then approached the city center, and was about to veer towards where the fortress ruins were according to the signs, but as I approached I saw two kids no older than 7 or so in hostile attitudes: one of them held a long horsewhip which he emphatically started cracking as soon as I approached, thus "encouraging" me to pass by.

Passing by, however, soon led me to the edge of the village, which was less than 600 meters across, so I had to turn back, and besides I wanted to see this famous fortress: if it is a UNESCO WHS, it should receive visitors, sometimes, right?

So back to city center. I carefully avoided the boys with whips, who again, cracked them with silent stares as I approached, read the little blurb outside the fortress detailing how it was constructed (uninteresting information to me), and then went on to discover that it was closed.

So back for 3 kms on loose gravel it was. Total time spent in the village of Câlnic: 15 minutes.


Anyway, as I said, then going to Sibiu the road got rather mildly mountainous, but with very beautiful views, until something like 40 kms before Sibiu, it started to rain.

This wouldn't have been too bad (I've biked in the rain before, as you know), except that here in Romania things are very dusty--there is loose earth and dirt everywhere. And you know what happens when you combine dirt with water, right?

Right. As it happens, at about 20 kms before Sibiu, the rain turned instead, for me, into a veritable mudbath. It was unavoidable, the dirt was everywhere! And right before Sibiu they were doing a lot of "road fixing". Except that here in Romania they tend to like to "fix" everything at once, instead of section by section, so you have very large stretches of unkempt and unpaved and dirt-exposing roads. Combine this with the splashing your wheels are doing onto your clothes and panniers. Combine this with the mud splashing the trucks are contributing to you every time they pass. And this dirt, this mud, was not just mud that is black and has this oatmeal-like consistency but then falls off or you can brush it off, clean mud, in other words, no, it was clay-like mud, made out of ochre-colored earth that sticks onto your tires and fingers and gets into your braking mechanisms and gears and pedal cranks. After 20 minutes of this, I had to stop at a gas station, and try to clean things as best as I could: the derailleur was no longer even shifting gears properly.

So I found a gas station and looked at myself in the mirror with much trepidation, for if the state of the crystal on my glasses was any indication, I must've been covered in mud head to toe.

And it was so! It was icky just to look at the state of my clothes, splashed about everywhere! Yuck.

So, cleaned things as best as possible (an effect that lasted, in the end, only 10 minutes after I once more started pedalling again), hoping that things would get better once I entered the city.

It was not to be. As it happens, they are doing some sort of MAJOR overhaul on the electrical lines of Sibiu. These lines are buried right underneath the sidewalk surrounding most of city center. Now, tell me. If you were a city engineer, and you were given the task to plan out the logistics of replacing all of the city's underground electrical cable, how would you do it?

Here, they have decided, apparently, that it is best to do it all at once. Which means, that all of the sidewalks and part of the streets surrounding most of city center have been jackhammered, earth uncovered, and opened up, to expose the electrical wires and guts to the city.

Even in no rain, it would not be hard to imagine the mountains of loose dirt that this would cause.

Even in no rain, it takes no stroke of genius to forsee the traffic jams it would produce, and the re-routing of incomming traffic it would require.

Multiply the chaos by 10, in the rain.

None of this, apparently, has been considered here. Unbelievable. The traffic: trucks, cars, motorcycles, bicycles and pedestrians await in move at a speed of 2 cm/hr congestions cursing and honking interminably. The puddles: 2 or 3 meters long and 5 cms deep. The clayish, sticky, sickly ochre brown mud: EVERYWHERE. If I was expecting to somehow get cleaned up after arriving in Sibiu, I was gravely mistaken. It would've been like trying to fight the 7-headed hydra.

I have no doubts that my appearance was the reason why I was refused a room in 4 of the hostels I tried (I swear, I looked like I had just been pulled out of some Brazilian favela).

After dark, however, I found a hotel that was under renovation (lobby currently being whitewashed, at 9 p.m. at night, paint fumes flying, as I speak!), and therefore in as much state of chaos as my bike, clothes and luggage were. I guess the managers figured, my hair made stiff and coiffed by thin clay sculpting gel, I wouldn't much clash with the decor there.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

It seems that all Romania is bringing a "total beauty bath "... with clay masks... for free... :) Olga