The Transfăgăraşan Highway

July 31.  It was Monday, and a good day to head out of town.  All the museums were closed.  I headed into town and had a latte at my favorite spot, Hugs Cafe, and wrote till 3pm.  Much longer than I’d planned, but I wanted to catch up on my blog.  Then I headed out towards Brasov, turning off on the Transfăgăraşan, also known as Ceaușescu’s Folly.  It’s a paved mountain road which I had been told winds through some of the most breath-taking scenery in Romania.  It’s the second highest paved road in Romania after the Transalpina. The road crosses the southern section of the Carpathian Mountains of Romania and winds its way for 56 miles between Moldoveanu and Negoiu, the highest peaks in the country. It was built in the early 1970s as a strategic military route, connecting the historic regions of Transylvania and Wallachia, in response to the 1968 invasion of Czechoslovakia by the Soviet Union. Ceaușescu wanted to ensure quick military access across the mountains in case of a Soviet invasion. At the time, Romania already had several strategic mountain passes through the Southern Carpathians. These passes, however, were mainly through river valleys, and would be easy for the Soviets to block and attack. Ceauşescu therefore ordered the construction of a road across the Făgăraş Mountains, which divide northwestern and southern Romania.

Built mainly by military forces, the road had a high financial and human cost. Work was carried out in an alpine climate at 6,600 feet, using 6,600 tons of dynamite, and employing junior military personnel who were untrained in blasting techniques. Many workers died; official records state that only 40 soldiers lost their lives, but unofficial estimates by workers put the number in the hundreds. The road was officially opened on 20 September 1974, although work, particularly paving of the roadbed, continued until 1980.  It’s a seriously windy road, dotted with hairpin turns, curves, and sharp descents. There were a plethora of bikes, motorcycles, and drivers on the road, and was probably the only place in Romania where people actually drove the speed limit. The northern section is used for annual cycling competitions, including the Tour of Romania, and the 14 mile section to Bâlea Lake has been used since 2011 for the Sibiu Cycling Tour, which is similar in difficulty to hors catégorie climbs in the Tour de France.

I enjoyed the mountain drive.  The air was clean, and I stopped several times to take a walk in the forest.  There was the usual toilet paper and litter, but the forest was so pretty I overlooked it.  I stopped at the base of the cascade, but decided I’d rather drive over the mountain and not lose daylight.  So I continued up and over.  After going through the tunnel to the other side, I met a nice Romanian man who was showing his customer from Ghana the sights.  His name was Lorenzo, and his friend from Ghana was Victor.  Victor was impressed by the view.  So was I.  We chatted, and he told me that they were going to a remote region of the Danube delta, Sulina, on Saturday. Wow! I asked about the possibility of going.  Lorenzo said he’d get in touch via Whatsapp.  The drive down was spectacular.  I got out and walked for a few minutes in an alpine meadow.  People were picnicking. Romanians are as crazy about picnics as the French.  A man was taking a bath in a pure alpine lake.  On closer inspection, I saw litter strewn all around.  What a shame.  It seemed that Romania was full of litter, at least where people came on vacation.  I wondered when this trashing of the country had started.  I later spoke with a native who said it was never like that in the past.  Was it the fault of too many disposable objects?  Maybe.  Or lack of education, or a dysfunctional garbage pickup service.  I’d driven by many bins overflowing with waste.  Or all of the above.

I daydreamed about making it out to Sulina, the most remote outpost in the delta, as I drove down the mountain through forests and meadows.  Eventually I drove along a dam which seemed to extend for miles, then made my way down to a village.  It was sunset, but I wasn’t ready to camp, so I kept driving, exploring small roads and nearby villages.  I half-heartedly looked for a place to camp, but didn’t find one, so headed back to the crowded banks of a river where many had already set up tents.  I drove to the back and started to unpack the car, putting my poles on the ground near the tent.  Another sickening feeling.  As I picked up the poles, I realized that the three pole section that acts as a spanner for the tent and fly was missing.  Yikes!  I got a flashlight and thoroughly searched the car and all around, but to no avail.  Angry at the recent arrivals of teens who blasted their music and ran their engine to shine their car lights until 2 am, I didn’t sleep.  Instead, I went back in my mind to where I’d last seen my poles.  It had been that morning when I had disassembled the tent.  With heavy heart, I resolved to drive back along the Transfăgăraşan to try to find my poles the next day.



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