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Monday, 2 January 2017

The Delta



Pace… The pace of your life, the rhythm in which you work, love, and play. I should tell you something about pace in Romania – it is the most accelerated of all the places I have been in; not many could adjust to it, but we Romanians manage just fine. In fact, I love it. However, every once in a while I surely must escape it. That is why I await my time in the Delta, year after year.
In a rather large country [for European standards], with 20+ million inhabitants and an overwhelming number of outdoor activity lovers, it is still quite strange that adventure travel is only shyly developing. There are, for instance, only 100-200 kayaks in the entire country, while some owners have more than one. My case.
August was the month we’d chosen for our adventure under the stars, in one of Europe’s wildest places – the Danube Delta. My boyfriend and I packed our gear, got our kayaks fixed on top of our car and were on our way. Summer [even June!] is very hot in the Delta – you can feel the sun as it rises and by 9 o’clock, it becomes unbearable anywhere else but on water. We didn’t have a clear plan, but were hopeful that the temperatures would be slightly lower (27-28ºC), allowing us to move more freely.
After purchasing the Delta permits, our first stop was in Parcheş, the place that always calls us back, because it is practically unknown. No large boats charter the waters, you occasionally get to see a local fisherman greeting you, and that’s that. There’s a steep steppish road getting you closer to the water. By the time you reach it, you can’t wait to get in and paddle. Mosquito repellent and safety equipment should not be taken lightly, though. We’ve started to really know our way around the labyrinth. Mangroves to our left, a line of water lilies to our right, followed by a first lake and then a second one /where we saw pelicans up-close a year before/. The usual egrets welcome us and, as we pass our stops and paddle ahead, we realise – between a swan spotted and several common moorhens, it’s chick time! – that the water level is low, so we return to our second lake, drag our kayaks on land into water and see that we were not wrong at all! The myriad of cormorants of last June is still there, in the background, and yes, there are pelicans, too. Whitish-pink, arranging their plumage with those long and powerful beaks. We must get closer! Unfortunately, the lush water vegetation doesn’t help. Our strokes are as strong as they get, yet 15, 30, 45 minutes later we’re still trapped in a sea of green. Marcel manages to get across first and checks out the birds and the smaller canals for a way out. There is none, it gets darker and darker, so we must head back the same way we came. With our last powers, we struggle and we make it in time to see the orangish echoes on the water that’s very still now. The mosquitoes start attacking.
Parcheş
The following day’s sun is up too early, it seems, so we have a small breakfast by the water, share our snacks with the shepherd dogs and watch the dust awoken by the herds of goats. ‘This is Dobruja!’ I smile to myself. We pick up some litter around our sleeping area and notice that it’s getting cleaner by the year, which makes us feel happy.
We drive to the ferry in Tulcea and we miss it by minutes! Luckily, someone’s in a hurry, pays an emergency fee and we’re on board, too. We follow a dusty road along fields of corn and are stopped by a border police patrol.
‘You can’t cross into Ukraine. There are only a few permits granted and those must be obtained in Tulcea’, explains the officer, politely.
We continue ahead. Blue-eyed people are everywhere. Their glances leave you hypnotised and we stop when a cheerful chap waves at us. We agree to take him to the nearest village.
‘The Romanian mobile networks don’t work well here. Sometimes you tend to get the Ukrainian networks more often…’ he smiles at us. ‘Thank you for dropping me home, I hope you’re not mad at me.’
No way! We still have a long way to go. In the end, we reach Pardina and it feels very remote. There is only one guesthouse in the entire village and we hope to have early dinner there and get back to water. They only serve food for their guests and it’s full. The view over Chilia Branch is beautiful, but the arrogance of the owner is something so rare in Romania… We leave, go under the bridge and pass a few families and friends picnicking and camping by the water. An old tree, precisely what we needed! We gear up and launch! Marcel has a surprise in store and we have to paddle a stretch of 8 km that evening.
Pardina
I feel the water’s force as I’m following an egret. We have to occasionally stop and wait when larger boats approach. They are polite and always halt their engines when they see us, yet waves still form and we surf them. The canals get smaller and smaller, people on cruises wave at us and ask us about our route. Curious. We get to a large lake, in the end. It is beautiful and wide – you wouldn’t think that such small stretches of water could connect you to something of that size!
On our way to the cormorant reserve

‘We are close!’ says Marcel.
He is taking me to a secret cormorant reserve. Large boats can’t get through, especially in August. It’s true. I look at the trees, they are bald and black – cormorant territory alright. We start paddling and everything is green around us, like a carpet made by nature. Swans are teaching their cubs how to fly. The noise made by the birds – almost sunset now – is a delight. We are happy and go under tree branches in our attempt to get closer to life. We then paddle ahead, see the cormorants scanning us and some flying away. It is a magical time.
The cormorant reserve
Sadly, we must return. Near our camping place, some youngsters greet us:
‘Would you like to stop for a fish soup?’
I am a vegetarian, but Marcel is a big fan, so we do. They give me fruit and we stay for a chat. The mosquitoes attack, though, and we are forced to leave with tens of bites under our skirts.
Morning arrives peacefully. The wild pig – doesn’t look quite like a boar – roaming around the next tree in sight is gone. Boats start passing by. And a beautiful formation flies over our heads.
‘Pelicans!’
We head back to Tulcea, pass sunflower fields and gaze at the beautiful traditional carts.
‘Summer is not done… we’ve got some left. And if time doesn’t allow us to plan another escape, there’ll always be next year!’ we secretly wish to inspire others and get them to paddle along.        

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