Racing to Romania

Day 4 of the Mongol Rally was one of the ones where we were just trying to get from Point A to Point B on time. Unfortunately for us, Point A was the Czech Out Party outside of Prague, and Point B was the Black Sea coast of Romania, in the hippy beach town of Vama Veche. A pack of five Romanians driving an ambulance, the Paramongols, had set up a big gathering for the ralliers, and we were determined to make it “on time.”

We got off to a veeeery late start after the Czech Out Party (we were hurting), we muscled our way through what ultimately became a 36-hour drive. We drove through the remainder of the Czech Republic, a half hour chunk of Slovakia, the entirety of Hungary (which, save for a jaunt through downtown Budapest by night, we experienced entirely by way of a dark motorway).

By 2AM, we were on the country roads of Hungary, headed toward the Romanian border checkpoint. Jeff, who has never learned to drive stick before and thus has been relegated to the back or passenger seat for the entire trip so far, finally took the wheel. We stalled-and-stuttered our way to the border, Jeff swearing as he grinded the gears.

We lurched into the Romanian guard booth at 4AM, our car stalling out right in front of the waiting border guards. Luckily, the guards welcomed us by laughing at Jeff’s misfortune, rather than questioning us for having an inexperienced driver at the wheel (“first time driver” Jeff yelled out to them as the engine cut out, and they laughed, because they’d been there too).

The border checkpoint was a piece of cake, and Pete took the wheel for the early shift. Driving through Romania at 5AM was quite the trip. As we crossed from Hungary, the towns and people seemed to jump back several hundred centuries, as we bounced along the cobblestone streets of Romanian farming villages. The women wore the headscarfs that you think of when someone says “eastern European” and the men were also dressed like they would fit perfectly in turn-of-the-century black and white photos. At dawn, everyone was awake, and doing something — mostly tending to chickens, sitting on their front porch, or taking their cow for a morning walk. (Apparently that’s a thing in Romania, to take the cow for a walk. We saw one woman doing it in high heels.)

The roads through Northern Romania are sparingly paved, rutty, bumpy farm roads full of horse-drawn carriages, cows and herds of goats. They twist and turn through the rolling hills, sometimes hairpin-curve windy and go up and down over every hill possible. The morning drive through Romania was one of the highlights of the trip so far, and the first time we got a taste of a truly different way of life.

After our stop in Kluj Romania (addressed in the next post), we assessed our schedule and realized that we were way behind. We wouldn’t arrive at Vama Veche until the middle of the night when the party was, at best, winding down. “You know, they really should have scheduled this party a day later,” we found ourselves saying several times, as we fought off sleep. Still, this was one of the last chances we’d get where we could hang out with lots of other teams, so we powered through the remaining twelve hours of driving from Kluj to the Black Sea Coast, Pete and Chris rotating driving duty as the other one slept.

By 3AM, we could see glints of water to the East. After 36 hours of driving, we were finally at Vama Veche! We rolled up to the beach front, the site of the Mongol Rally party, aimlessly searching for other Mongol Rally cars. The party on the beach was still going strong, with around 100 people standing in a lighted area on the beach dancing to “You Shook Me All Night Long” by AC/DC (how appropriate).

That’s when we were approached by a guy on a motorcycle who introduced himself as Bogdan.

“Are you looing for the Paramongols?” he asked.

“Yes! We just drove all night to get here. Did we miss the party?”

“No, not at all. You are the first team to arrive.”

We were a full day early (WHOOPS!) Apparently, the event had been rescheduled a day later when the Paramongols realized how crazy it was to expect anyone to make it halfway across Europe just two days after the Czech Out Party. We never got the memo. If the Rally were a race, we would be in first place.

After a beer with Bogdan, we pitched our tent on the Black Sea, with hints of the first sunlight rising over the water.

Klenova Castle, Romania to Vama Veche, Romania in one straight shot. Talk about a long day.

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