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Crisul Repede

A Surrealistic Experience

"The only difference between me and a madman is that I'm not mad."
Salvador Dali

Day one
We leave Sibiu early in the morning with a coach for Cluj. As we advance deeper into the Transylvanian plateau, the clouds dissipate and make place for a magnificent summer sun, even though it's the end of September.
We pass by fascinating places: Calnic with its handsome fortification, Sebes, Lancram - Blaga's village, Rapele Rosii, Alba Iulia, Aiud fortress, Turzii Gorges and, after almost 4 hours from departure, here it is Cluj, at our feet, stretching over and among the green hillocks.
We get off in the center and start visiting the old town. First we enter the Orthodox Cathedral, with its beautiful golden Byzantine mosaic, then we stray about the narrow streets of the old town until we reach Saint Michael Cathedral, built at the middle of the 14th century. In the small square next to the cathedral, a folklore fair is under way. The villagers, beautifully dressed in colorful traditional dress, present to the public their pottery, wooden musical instruments, colorful rugs, home-made sweets.
The cathedral, a beautiful Gothic building, is supple and vigorous, with a simple but elegant decoration both on the exterior and inside.
The city is full of life, the atmosphere is wonderful, probably partly due to the many students who are going to begin the university year in two days.
Cluj, Saint Michael Cathedral
Cluj, Saint Michael Cathedral
Cluj, Saint Michael Cathedral
Cluj, Saint Michael Cathedral
We head towards the train station, where we have a train to Bratca, a village in Apuseni Mountains, where we scheduled a rafting trip.
First, at the bus station we ask about buses to Bratca and we find out there is one getting as close as 20 kilometers to Bratca, but not stopping there. So it's not good enough for us and we prefer to take the slow train, even though we know it'll cover the almost 100 kilometers from Cluj in more than two hours.
Out of the window, plains and hillocks pass by first, gradually making place to the karst landscape of the Apuseni Mountains, with the tall rocks bored by caves, emerging abruptly from the river banks and with the smooth, green ridges inviting you to climb them.

Towards the evening we reach Bratca, where one of the organizers is waiting for us and he takes us to a pension in the village center. We leave the luggage there and go to the tent camp of the organizers, on the bank of the river, just outside of the village.
Even though we are not up in the mountains, we breathe a fresh, cool air and the silence here is breathtaking.
Back to the village we buy some supplies for the next day and go to sleep, because we know it'll be a short night.
Indeed, at about 6 a.m., when it was still dark outside, 9 friends of us arrive from Bucharest, with the direct train to Bratca. They took the train immediately after finishing the work Friday afternoon and Saturday morning they are in the opposite corner of the country, exhausted after the sleepless night, but excited to start the rafting trip.

Apuseni Mountains
Apuseni Mountains seen from the train
Rafting on Crisul Repede
Pumping up the boats
Day two
After a frugal breakfast, we meet all twelve and head towards the camping, where the rafting trip is to start. The day shows itself in all splendor: even though it's early in the morning and we are among the mountains, the sun shines omnipotent and we are outdoors in t-shirts.
Choosing the neoprene costumes and trying them on offer many comical moments, some of them hilarious, and take us much longer than expected. We pump up the boats, the organizers are completely unprepared.
Finally, around lunch we manage to move on, we are two big boats of 6 people and a small one with 2 of us. The river is pretty shallow and slow, but there are regions where we feel the adrenaline is growing along with the water level.
The river takes us past magnificent caves in the rocky walls, reachable by picturesque suspended bridges. At a certain moment we stop for a rappel in a wall, even though less than half of us dare to take part. We let ourselves hanging 50 meters above the riverbed, the adrenaline reaches its peak, the landscapes around us are fabulous, but we are too focused to admire them. The rappel finishes with a plunge into the water from about three meters above its surface and our friends recover us from the river with the pneumatic boat.
The experience is demanding enough so that we are unwilling to continue the rafting trip, except for four of us. We get back to Bratca on foot, first walking aside the railroad, then past orchards from which we don't hesitate to take supplies. We must look pretty strange entering the village like this in our neoprene costumes, because the villagers squint at us, as if the circus is back in town.
We buy some supplies again, then get a consistent, warm diner and later a dreamless sleep.

Rafting on Crisul Repede
Putting on the neoprene suits
Rafting on Crisul Repede
Rafting on Crisul Repede
(courtesy Corina)
Rafting on Crisul Repede
Rafting on Crisul Repede
(courtesy Corina)
(courtesy Corina)
Day three
It's the first day of October, but it looks like July. The sun shines powerful up in the sky, the hillocks around us are green, it's again t-shirt weather.
After the experience of yesterday we decide not to do rafting today, especially since the organization is really poor. Thus we proceed to a hiking trip in the surrounding region.
We take the slow train, which stops at the Pestera flag station, from where we cross a suspended bridge and reach the portal of the Vadu Crisului cave. We visit the cave, admiring the awesome formations and the long, hidden galleries. We climb the ridges, which offer us superb panoramas over the Cris Valley. As we hike we encounter strange waterfalls, flowing above mosses clinging stubbornly to the rock.
Back to the camping, we go first to the tiny plum brandy factory, a true jewel on the Cris river shore, where we buy some "fuel" for home. Then we get our luggage and wait for the night train that takes us back to the sleepy city, where some of us go directly to work.

Plum brandy (palinca) factory
Plum brandy (palinca) factory
And if standing up from your comfortable chair at the office on Friday evening to get directly into a train that'll take you to the opposite corner of the country in about ten hours and there you'll hike, do rafting and rappel, just in time to catch the train back on Sunday evening, reaching the city on Monday, when you'll jump directly into your comfortable office chair - so, if all these are not a surrealistic experience, then I don't know what I should say, so I'd better stop here.

Sorin-Alexandru Cristescu, October 2006


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