El Dorado (no really)

by achuggabug

Where to begin? It’s been a bit of a crazy ride since we left Poland. We drove down through Slovakia and into Hungary last night, and only found our campsite by the grace of a stranger. Today, we woke up and made our way into Romania, and tonight we’re camping outside.

Yesterday was easily the most terrified I’ve been on the entire trip. After a pleasant enough drive through Slovakia we crossed the border into Hungary and found ourselves in Ozt. The former Soviet city was left nearly abandoned, only the ghosts of factories and monumental concrete structures standing testament to it’s former industrial glory. We stopped in a gas station to ask for more specific directions to our campsite in Borsobota, and to our immediate horror, neither of the attendants had heard of the city that was supposedly just down the road from us. Fortunately, a very kind and generous man overheard our conversation and explained that he drives through Borsobota on his way home every day; he invited us to follow him, and, without any other options, we accepted.

Our fear started as mock gallows humor, joking about how we were probably being led down the road to an ambush of some sort. When our road got down to a single lane winding through tall weeds and scattered trees up the side of a mountain, our worries became a bit more earnest. We dug out Chase’s Maglight and hoped for the best.

As it turned out, our concern was for nothing, and our kind guide even helped us drive around the tiny village looking for our campsite. When we found it, he sat down with us and the owners to give us some first-hand advice on our days to come. I’ll divide his suggestions into two categories, advice that’s payed off and advice that hasn’t yet, and I’ll address the latter and then the former.

First, he told us the tattered histories of Hungary and Romania and about the Roma population growth in both countries. Then he told us about the gypsies. Rule number one: never give them anything; number two: never stop the car; number three: don’t drive at night. He also referred to the Carpathian Mountains as the end of Europe. Everything East (including a good chunk of Romania) isn’t “civilized.” Since we haven’t stopped more than twice for bathrooms and gas and got to our campsite with a few hours of sun left in the sky, we haven’t had to head much of this advice; also, our journey across the mountains is tomorrow.

What we did use was his advice about the corruption in the Romanian police force: never pay them. Only minutes after crossing the border, we were flagged into a roadside checkpoint and asked to present proof that we’d payed our “road tax.” If you don’t know, there is indeed a road tax in Romania (which we didn’t pay), but it doesn’t apply to E route roads that are funded by the EU. In a moment of brilliance, Chase played the part of the “dumb American,” explained that we didn’t have any cash but would be happy to pay our fine at the nearest police station by card, and somehow, we were free to go without any more discussion.

After this incident, we made it pretty well the rest of the day. We were stopped at one other checkpoint but only because our headlights weren’t on. A friendly wave later we were back on the road with no problems (or fines).

Tomorrow we head to Bucharest via the Transfagarasan Highway, which is supposedly the greatest drive in the world. If I can find a photo shop to get my pictures put on disc, I’ll try to get them up tomorrow night, but if not, I should be able to in Istanbul the next day.