This may be my last post from Transylvania. After nine years, I shall be leaving, hopefully crossing the border next Friday. It has been an often interesting and sometimes rewarding time, however I am glad to be moving on.
The equestrian business is a hard way to make money. My health has suffered during the past few years, including chronic lower back pain. I haven't slept a full night in the past couple of years, in a country where there isn't a single registered chiropractor. The best that the Romanian health service can do is prescribe opium and ketamin-based medications, which are potentially addictive and compromise one's balance and alertness. Meanwhile, I have been working 8am to 10pm virtually every day, with all the stress of running a business, whilst making about as much money as someone on welfare in Britain.
It is also desperately difficult to sell holidays in a country that shoots itself in the foot again and again. A deeply corrupt government craves industrialisation, announcing that "the only tourist zones" are the polluted mafia-owned Danube Delta, the low-class ski resort of Poiana Brasov (also mafia-owned) and the chaotically developed Bucovina region (whose only real attraction is several Painted Monasteries).
I cannot sell trips in the mountains when the forests are becoming ravaged by an excessive volume of logging and where logging tractors churn the trails into knee-deep muddy swamps. This log pile has just appeared, so a hill somewhere has been clear felled.
I cannot sell a nation whose government, aided and abetted by most of the urban population, is set on destroying sustainable rural life. All the activities shown in the picture are now illegal, despite the rather obvious lack of traffic (and the frequent clusters of pot-holes that keep the limited traffic going slow). Hardly anyone stands up for family farmers, not even the so-called ecotourism industry.
Then there are the ugly new houses that litter the landscape. Where else in Europe will monolithic pink and bright blue villas appear scattered across a National Park (facilitated by some well directed bribes) or climbing a once beautiful hillside? Pictured are some of the smaller new houses in my relatively less affluent village. In what lurid shade will they be painted? These people are building more square feet per occupant even that well off families would expect in the West. And it is heated by wood, meaning even more forest cut.
It is difficult and costly to run a business when the basic infrastructure is run-down and broken, despite the vast sums that the EU is pouring into Romania (largely, it seems, to benefit the capital city Bucuresti - now rated as "Europe's most polluted city" - and provide new villas and cars for the ruling elite). The picture shows the "main road" to my village and its neighbour, the only road linking some eight thousand people to the outside world. The concrete mining structure has stood derelict for nearly two decades, and will probably remain there until it falls into the road.
I could mention too the supposedly good restaurants where "hot" meals arrive cold more often than not, and where a simple order can take an hour to arrive. I could ask why an average hotel offering indifferent service in an ugly communist-era district of Bucuresti costs appreciably more than a pleasant friendly hotel in a leafy street in Budapest, Hungary? I could complain about the slow, dirty, ill maintained trains with third-world lavatories. Then there are the omnipresent beggars, who are becoming more assertive as poverty bites. I might note that, within 24 hours of announcing my departure, a group of gypsies drove into my yard with a truck and tried to steal several agricultural implements for scrap metal. I feel as if I live in a country where hardly anyone seems to care about anything other than their immediate gratification.
Meanwhile, heritage is going to wrack and ruin. Did I mention that the state railway is trying to auction off its preserved steam locomotives to raise money because it can't afford to pay the electricity bill for its electrified main lines? Meanwhile, this old narrow gauge steam train has stood derelict on the edge of Cluj-Napoca for many years.
There are still some wonderfully beautiful areas within Transylvania, such as the Szekelyfold where part of Romania's extensive Hungarian minority lives. They have more pride, work harder, and have a relatively Western outlook. The Hungarian minority generally are proud of their traditions. It is there, to Count Kalnoky's Estate, where many of my horses are going. Count Kalnoky will be taking over my trail riding business and website, with the first trail ride starting on 11 May 2008. He has an excellent, well respected tourist business (patronised by HRH Prince Charles, amongst others), and I am sure that he will offer some excellent trail rides in his enclave.
My Hutul horses are going to a Hungarian breeder near Lake Balaton. Isn't it curious how it is left to Hungarian enthusiasts to keep alive a Romanian breed whilst over here the stud books aren't even maintained up to date? The old mare Kaluga has gained a little extra strength and is retired to a farm near Targu Mures, where a horse-loving travel agent is allowing her to live her last months in peace. Luciana and colt Luke are going with Tudor and Gelu to the Ratiu Family Foundation's site near Turda, south of Cluj-Napoca, where Cornel will also be employed. Doru and Pintea will travel to Britain with Pintea and I.
The three dogs will remain six months before they are allowed to enter Britain in October, along with the cats Tiger, Zgomotilla and Lucky. The remaining cats will find new homes with some of the horses at the Ratiu Family Foundation.
Yes, I expect that I shall raise a howl of protest from some Romanians. Perhaps I shall hear from the professor who harangued me a while ago, informing me that "there was no Jewish Holocaust"? Perhaps I shall hear from the lady who demanded an assurance that, when I return to Britain, I will tell everyone to go on holiday in Romania? Or maybe the Ministry of Tourism, which had my phone tapped a few years ago to find whether I was opposed to their awful Dracula Theme Park project, will attack me? After all, it is easier and less challenging to shoot the messenger than to deal with the problem.
Nevertheless, I have seen a potentially good country turn sour over the past few years, and I don't want to be corrupted with it. I cannot change a country for the better, nor seemingly even my neighbours. I am deeply sad about this. I have fought the long defeat, and now is time to escape whilst I can.
I have enjoyed the doings with horses and carts and peasant farming in this shrinking enclave. I am fortunate to have experienced a dying way of life whilst, superficially at least, it appeared vibrant. I have enjoyed the remote mountains in silence, and the wide open skies. Now, at least, I shall be spared the sight of this community in its death throes. My horses have good homes, the cats and dogs too. Doru and Pintea, good Transylvanian horses that they are, will accompany me on the next stage in the journey of my life with Danielle.
Anyway, soon we shall be living at the foot of the chalk downlands that sweep across Berkshire, Oxfordshire and Wiltshire, including the Vale of the White Horse. It is a scenic area with, by English standards, a lot of open space and many places to ride including the Ridgeway. There are lots of historical references, from the prehistoric through Alfred the Great. I used to live around there so, in a way, I am going back home. After these nine years here, I am going back considerably more capable than when I left. These long years have not been wasted.
I hope that I shall find a job as an engineer on the railway, even on the restarted Crossrail project that I helped design in the 1990's before it was shelved for a decade. I miss the railway, where at least four generation of my family worked.
I shall, of course, continue posting from Britain. There will be a gap of a few weeks until Danielle and I get established. However, there will be plenty to write about, with news about the horses, riding, and equestrian matters generally. It has been a pleasure writing for you, and receiving your comments. Please do keep on visiting my blog.