Thursday, April 29, 2010

To the batcave!

Ladies and gentlemen, I would like to take this opportunity to declare the 2010 rock climbing season officialy open. Yay!
Last weekend was full to the brim with activities ranging from retail therapy all the way to cave exploration. Saturday afternoon, after a successful shopping expedition through the thrift stores of Alba Iulia, we went to the white rocks of Ampoita, 12km away from Alba, a location with a special place in the hearts of Romanian climbers. Most of the tracks there exceed our skill level, but we managed to discover one that was quite manageable, so that lead to a well spent afternoon, practising things we had learnt last season and forgotten in the meantime.
It was hard to choose between climbing and walking around to enjoy the view. It was such a perfect spring day, with everything around green and blooming and fragrant.
Down there, in the village you can see from this hill, one can eat the best pancakes in the world, served in the cosiest orchard in the world. Mama Lutza rocks! :)
Sunday morning, we got up at dawn on to embark upon what would become quite an adventure: going to visit the cave called Magura in the Apuseni Mountains. The trip started well: all 5 of us (plus climbing gear, caving gear, food and all the crap previously purchased from the thrift stores) jam-packed in the car, happily chatting away as we drove through the sunny morning.

A good omen met us as we were going higher up the mountain road: what seemed to be a man with his arms up standing on a rock outcrop proved to be a chamois goat. We get excited at the sight of any animal, but seeing a species that is now so rare and endangered was a special moment. So we stopped and burst out of the car with cameras and binoculars, while the goat just stood there surveying the surroundings, with not a care in the world.
At about 10am we reached the valley of Sighistel, where we were planning to leave the car and then continue on foot. The view was so pretty and fresh, that I felt like yelling, like the drugged guy in Death at a Funeral: "everything is soo GREEN!!!"
We left the car at the edge of the village, had a quick bite to eat and got ready for the stressful way up.
Why stressful? Because Mr. Lutzu Long-shanks, the eternally-in-a-hurry leader of the expedition, can walk uphill with speeds the rest of us can never dream of reaching. I was also forbidden to take pictures, which would have slowed me down even more. But I managed to sneak in the following ones, of the way up:
There had been a storm on the valley recently, and whatever path we were hoping to find had been washed away. In addition to having to cross the stream back and forth all the time, we had to slide over and under fallen, slippery trees too. I managed to get there with my feet still dry, thanks to Salomon :D
The valley has about 200 caves in the space of only 10 square kilometres. So questions like "is this the one?" were inevitable. But after getting a negative answer for about 5 times, we gave up and shut up until we reached Magura. At which point I understood why we had had to hurry. The cave is huge, and every single nook and cranny has something awesome to show. We spent 3 hours there, and that was barely enough.
The first hall has a profoundly Gothic feeling to it: grey rock, melted wax, gargoyle heads, pillars, the sheer height and silence of it...
Then comes the hall of the bats. In which one can find... surprisingly! lots of bats. They are endangered too, so we had to be nice to them: no loud noises, no flash pictures, and not too much time spent there. They had woken up from their hibernation and seemed very busy coming and going and swarming and doing all their batty activities. I saw guano for the first time in my life, it looks like poppy seeds :)
On we went, to find an old man with a pointy hat (a tomte perhaps?)...
...glimmering ceilings...
...glimmering floors...
...mouldy stuff...
...wavy stuff...
...and lots of macaronis! Yes, macaronis are small tubular stalactites which are hollow and translucent. They look so thin and fragile, and so weird hanging from the ceiling.
The floor was generally quite flat and comfortable, but with a lot of pools. Luckily most of them were dry, but the ones that had water in them could not be told apart from the dry ones, since the water was so clear. Like this one here:
Can you tell if there's water in it or not? Yeah, neither could I. End of dry feet; thanks alot, Salomon!

But on we went, to what is known as the Kangoroo hall. I really don't know why, that totally looks like a cat to me:
In the more remote ramifications of the cave we found bats who were still hibernating. Look at him, holding on with those tiny little toes, isn't he cute? This one was a particularly fat one, larger than the other ones we saw. He would have been about 15cm:
Even if we had a map with us, and we had used a Hansel-and-Gretel-type system, with leaves placed on the floor pointing to the exit, it was still quite easy to get disoriented. The ramifications have other ramifications which branch into other tunnels and passages, and you soon forget if you're supposed to turn left or right.
So you'll excuse me if I don't remember exactly where the following items were found:
the jellyfish...
...the alien oozing...
...the pillared pool...
...or this narrow canyon:
We did a little experiment at one point and we all turned off our head lamps. I realized that one never experiences complete darkness in the outside world; there is always some source of light close by. But not there: complete, utter, thick, silent darkness, save from a solitary drip here and there. Awe-inspiring.
But we were quickly on to happier stuff, like these baby stalagmites:
Oh, I almost forgot! We filmed the bats a bit, there you go:

video

As we were heading towards the exit, nature had another surprise in store for us. It had rained in the forest, and the entrance hall was now filled with mist, just another element to add to its Gothic-ness. It was so beautiful.
Out we went, and the heat and humidity felt tropical. Even if three hours were a short time to explore all the beauties the cave had to offer, it felt like we had been there forever. Being in the outside world seemed so strange and unusual. But the fun quickly returned when we saw how dirty we were.

The map didn't fare much better:
But that was not the end of the adventure, oh no. Now we had to go back down, again crossing the stream back and forth and getting tangled in the fallen trees. Except this time it was faster, since we didn't care about getting wet anymore. We reached the car, crammed everything back in it (wet dirty gear, wet dirty people) and were on our way home, half an hour behind schedule. But that was not so bad,we would still get home by 11:30 and be in bed by midnight and fresh for work the next morning. Yeah right! The road back to Mures was so bad we had to drive quite slowly. It was getting dark. It had rained. It was foggy in some parts. And when we finally reached the valley of the river Aries and were 25km away from civilisation, flat tyre! By the way, it was already midnight. And there was no phone coverage.

I'm sorry I didn't document that moment too, but that was the last thing I thought of. Everyone was too sleepy or angry to tolerate having a camera shoved in their faces. So the gear comes out of the car, the spare tyre is extracted, the gear is put back in, and the driving resumes, this time at 70kmph, the maximum speed the spare tyre tolerated on that terrible road. We finally made it home at 2:30am... and were obviously fresh for work the next day!

Weekend well spent... up until the very last minutes of it :D

Monday, April 12, 2010

Spring!

The time has finally arrived for us to reclaim our bodies from underneath the piles of wool and polar fleece that have been smothering us for way too many months. To smell the blooming trees, to chew on little fresh leaves coming out of the ground, to run down hills like silly children and to smile at everyone.

This is the city seen from a vineyard:
These are the meagre results of a photography class. I think I've failed :D But these leaves look like hungry bird-babies.

Do you know what this is? It's a future jar of the best jam ever:
And last but not least, the storks are back! They settled nicely in their old nests and the village is back to its old self now.
The village I'm talking about is Dumbravioara, home to a large colony of white storks. The people have built nests for them on top of almost every power pole. One of the nests has a webcam, so if you'd like to watch a reality show involving a bird family, go here.

And if you look attentively enough, you'll see three nests in the picture below (guys, you're supposed to look higher, above the girl in the red skirt).
Alright, I'll go outside now; the garden is calling :D