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Raid in Paradise

Rafting on Nera Valley

"God, stop the second with whom You measure the eternity !"
Lucian Blaga


Day one
That day the Big City was melting under the merciless sun of the end of July. There couldn't be a better opportunity to leave for a new adventure: rafting in Nera Gorges. Five of us take the train bound for Timisoara, planning to meet the other five in Herculane camping.
Leaving behind the smog and the scorching heat of summer, the landscape changes fast from the yellow of the sunburnt cornfields to the green more and more pure of the hills. And there, appearing suddenly from somewhere, it's Her, the Danube, so old, yet so new, unspoken witness of so many millenia of history. The glowing sun is melting in the waves of the river which makes its way gently through the green hillocks and granite walls. And I know that somewhere on such a hilltop, in a small wooden house, a grandfather is telling his story holding his grandson on his lap. And I know it's been like this forever and it will still be. But enough dreaming ! It's time to get off, we are in Baile Herculane.
The Danube
The Danube at sunset
We don't even have time to admire the stylish station, because we are taken by a taxi which leaves us at the camping entrance, in the new part of the town. We put up the tents fast, change our clothes and rush towards the place where our instincts guide us: to the first restaurant we encounter going towards the old town. We eat decently at a terrace on the Cerna river bank, the night falls with its legion of stars and it's time to go to bed.
I struggle to catch some sleep on the rigid ground and at about 2 a.m. I hear voices and I see flashlights: the other friends have finally arrived by car.
Baile Herculane Baile Herculane

Day two
We regain our consciousness (because "to wake up" means you've actually slept !) around 7 a.m., we all meet at a coffee/tea and chat about what's next. Around 8, Nae comes - he's one of the organizers. He tells us we'll have to wait a few hours until we start the rafting, so we go together to the center of the resort.
And here is the part I wish I would never write, because what we see in the old town leaves us shocked: this resort, visited since the times of the Romans and which should be a pearl of our tourism, looks completely abandoned. The fin de siecle buildings are a shadow of what they used to be, all seem left to hazard, with broken windows, falling painting, broken statues ... We talk to a few locals and they tell us they were visited by politicians of all governments who made lots of promises and nothing more ...

Anxious, we leave this ghost-town, but on the road the landscapes of this part of the country smooth us down. We notice the "architecture" of the haystacks, different from a region to another and we can't stop thinking how long will we see these haystacks as they are ? Maybe not after long the globalization will come to us as a roller and the haystacks will be just like everywhere, some tasteless parallelepiped packs made by a machine ...
But for now we enjoy what we have and we continue the trip to the little village Sopotu Nou, traversed by the Nera river. Here we find out we'll begin the rafting after the lunch, so we have time to rest on the Nera banks and take a bath in the surprisingly warm water. We eat a bit, we play Frisbee, time has patience with us ...
Finally the jeep arrives with the other organizers. The boys climb the open platform, the girls go inside and after a short off-road trip we stop. We try our neoprene suits, make lots of fun and photos of each other, the boats are pumped up by electric pumps and, after a short training, we leave ourselves to the water.
Sopotu Nou
Landscape at Sopotu Nou
Pregatire pentru rafting
One of the boats and the jeep
Noi in costumele de neopren
We in our neoprene suits
We are in two boats: six people plus the "captain" Sorin in one of them, four plus the "captain" Lucian in the other. The commands are simple: "All ahead !", "All back !", "Left back !", "Right back !" and "Stop !". We practice them a while, at the beginning clumsy - which amuses us copiously -, but later we function more and more as a team and we start to anticipate the right maneuver.
The landscape around us is wilder and wilder as we enter deeper into the gorges. The water is warm and thus we find many opportunities to dabble. From time to time we stop to admire strange natural formations. One of them is The Devil's Lake, an odd green-blue lake suspended above the river in a cave with a partially collapsed ceiling, which makes me think at the Mexican cenote.
The river is rather shallow and we notice that as soon as we have to get off and pull the boat. But we are told that only two months ago the water level was at least three meters above us, which gives us cold shivers.
The Devil's Lake The Devil's Lake (courtesy Razvan)
The Devil's Lake The Devil's Lake We delight ourselves with the newly learnt "Matrix" maneuver, simply put we bend backwards as much as possible when the boat passes beneath low tree branches. From place to place small islands appear from the water, uncovering sand as fine as on a seashore - it's as if we are in a TV advertisement to an exotic place far away. The few tourists who greet us from the path seem to look at us with admiration - some on them are video-recording us. And as we advance deeper into the gorges and the stone walls come closer, we feel like explorers in a terra incognita.
As the evening comes, we feel a pleasant fatigue in the muscles and an acute hunger. A last stop brings us to a canyon paved with fine sand, the undulating walls rising high above the ground, washed by water. Where the canyon ends we are in a natural amphitheater, surrounded by vertical walls from three directions. And above us - a sky indescribable blue.
The stars begin to shine and soon we reach the destination - it took us almost 7 hours and 17 kilometers. We stop at Damian's Hut, where we struggle to take off the neoprene suits. We are exhausted and hungry - luckily the organizers wellcome us with a campfire and some food and drinks. With a supreme effort we put up the tents, we sing songs around the fire and finally we fall into a deep sleep directly under the sky with its myriad of stars ...
Rafting Rafting Rafting Rafting

Day three
We are woken up by the barking of a dog. It's a morning that gives me a fresh feeling, a feeling of a world just created. We wake up slowly, we eat something and pack the tents. Yesterday evening we decided not to do rafting today, as we were so exhausted then. Now we regret the decision a bit, but without too much ado we get in the jeep - all ten of us plus the luggage on the open platform - and we start the off-road tour.
We ride a while through the thick forest on the Nera bank and the landscape becomes increasingly spectacular. At a certain moment we leave the river somewhere under us and ahead we see vertical walls and forested hillocks. The first part of the off-road trip finishes, we get off and walk on a picturesque path. We cross tunnels dug in the rock of the mountain - some say the Romans made them, others say it's the Turks, others claim it's the Germans and so on. It doesn't matter for us, they are there and they are beautiful. We climb the stones, at a certain moment we are just above Nera and our narrow path floats over the river as it meanders on the edge of a vertical wall. The landscape changes suddenly, sometimes we walk on a flat surface admiring the green ridges around us and we even see traces of habitation - haystacks -, sometimes we climb steep rocks appearing in front of us out of the blue and at times we cross the river on beautiful wooden foot bridges or traverse fields of wild flowers. From place to place we stop to pick wax cherries and plums from the trees on our path. After an hour walk we re-encounter the jeep and we get in, all of us on the platform again, starting the second part of the off-road. This time we pass through villages leaving behind clouds of dust. Some old men on the porches look at us confused. The villages succeed one after another, modest but pretty, with their neat houses, vividly colored and it seems we want the time to stop for a while ... But the time hasn't got patience any more. And thus we arrive where we started the trip just one day ago - God, it seemed an eternity -, in Sopotu Nou.
On the path in Nera Gorges
On the path
Rafting in Nera Gorges
The lost world
On the path in Nera Gorges
Flowers and hills
Off-road Off-road through villages Here we get in two cars and head towards Herculane. On the road, in one of the beautiful villages of this little heaven, there's a big fuss: it's a wedding and the Romanian round dance (hora) blocks the road - an opportunity to stop and admire the colorful traditional dress of the Banat region.
In Herculane some take the train to Bucharest, others continue the trip by car. Three of us remain in the resort. We take a dip in pools with thermal water and then a cab brings us to a wonderful place, just above the resort, at the foot of the rocks. We put up the tent, collect some firewood, cook, eat and then we fall in a deep sleep, dreaming already at the next adventure ...

Sorin-Alexandru, Iulie 2006
Wedding in Banat Wedding in Banat
Cheile Nerei


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