Romania: WWOOFing in Transylvania and back to the US



After hitching into Bucharest from Bulgaria and spending the night there in a hostel, I set off the next day to a farm a few hundred kilometers north close to the larger town of Brasov. I found the farm through WWOOF, which is a network of organic and conventional farms that ask for moderate levels of work (4-6 hours) in exchange for a place to sleep and food. From what I heard, it was a good way to experience the local culture, explore the beautiful countryside, and save money to boot.

The farm was located in a national park among the Carpathian Mountains in the Transylvania region, right on top of a ridge with mountains rising on either side in a village called Magura. The family, consisting of a thirty-something guy named Iosef with his mom, sister, and sister’s daughter, had cut down on food production in favor of retrofitting their house to take tourists to gain income. This left mainly just cows and sheep to take care of as well as a smallish garden.

It took several bus transfers to get from Brasov to the farm, and it was dusk by the time I was making the final 4 km hike up to the farm. They welcomed me with a bit of food, and the next morning the work started in earnest. The big project for the day was collecting the hay that had been cut with a scythe and dried for a few days. We lumped it into large piles, carried the piles to a thick synthetic sheet that was tied to a truck, pulled it up from the valley to the house, and then added it to the winter storage pile.

There wasn’t enough room in the loft for all the hay throughout the winter in most Romania homes, so what you see across all of the Romanian countryside are semi-conical piles of densely packed hay that are slightly elevated from the ground. The conical shape keeps the internal parts dry and protected from the elements, and the elevation also helps keep it dry. Each pile was enough for a few cows and sheep to eat for about a month, so several times during the summer the family has to undertake the labor-intensive process of cutting, drying, and collecting the hay by hand. The last step was making the stack; a lady from down the road, considered a local expert, came and hopped on the pile to compact and effectively place the additional hay as it grew to ensure long-term stability.

It was a hard days’ work, about 12 hours, but I couldn’t really complain since even the grandma was out raking the whole time (cooking food in the down time) and the time passed quickly with everyone working. The next day was more or less the same way, but we finished earlier. The next day there was no work, so I took advantage and hiked a bit through the mountains and over to the next town where I could find internet. On my final full day, there was some easy picking of cherries and spreading of hay after cutting to start the drying process.

Overall, the family was too tired and busy to really socialize much, and for that matter so was I. When we did talk it was mostly about generalities, and Iosef was keen on fixating on the evils of multinational corporations. His sister’s daughter, 12 years old, tended to push the conversation toward American pop culture. She likes Britney Spears, but not Lady Gaga, in case you were wondering. Food was basic and tasty, with plenty of vegetables and homemade cheese.

While there, I had been wearing a hat I picked up in Turkey after it fell out of a car I hitched in (seriously, that isn’t a euphemism for me stealing it) and Iosef had his eye on it. There was wire around the edge of the brim and I shaped into a cowboy-style look, mostly for the best vision while still protecting from the sun. For whatever reason, Iosef fixated on it and would insist that I was from Texas. He repeatedly mentioned how cool it was that I had an authentic American cowboy hat, but it was always in passing and I never really took the time to tell him how I came across it and that it wasn’t really “authentic” American.

By the time I was leaving, he made sure to repeatedly emphasize how cool he thought the hat was and it was clear he wanted it. I wasn’t particularly attached and happily gave it to him, but I didn’t have the heart to tell him that it wasn’t from America. The truth would have been a major let-down, and he was much happier with the illusion of authenticity. It was sort of like half-ass tourism in reverse; instead of backpackers going into a foreign country to see an “authentic” experience and being fooled by a performance (think: doing a corny yoga/spirituality class in India), I, the backpacker, was being requested for a hat that he imagined to be truly, through-and-through, authentically American. And really, I think preserving his subjective joy at believing it was authentic was far more important than revealing the truth to him, and I’m sure the sketchy tour operators (some of which I've fallen for) around the world taking holiday travelers and backpackers think the same thing, they just make a profit. Sometimes believing something is true is much more interesting than the truth. He insisted on giving me a wheel of cheese in exchange for the hat to take on my trip back to Brasov.



I spent a few days in Brasov, partially passed doing work and partially wandering the streets of the Old Town. It was well-preserved and maintained, and sprinkled with ancient churches. My last few days I spent in the capital of Romania, Bucharest, similarly wandering, sampling food, and catching up on work for a publication deadline. So it wasn’t the most blow-out way to spend my last few days of this trip, but enjoyable nonetheless.



I caught a flight back to the United States since I had medical school starting in a few weeks, and the most cost effective route to get back to Michigan seemed to be a flight to NYC and then an overnight Amtrak train to Ann Arbor. Since I had a friend in Brooklyn I hadn’t seen in a while and wanted to catch up with, I gave myself a night in between to go out with him. We even indulged in a visit to the Brooklyn Brewery around noon the next day to sample their array of craft brews before I had to catch my train. The brewery encouraged people to bring their own food, so we ordered a pizza from nearby and it made a fantastic final meal in New York. However, because we are so uncouth, we did not eat our pizza with a knife and fork like Mr. Trump and Mrs. Palin (see: Me Lover's Pizza with Crazy Broad - The Daily Show). It was a great way to re-enter the land of chili cheese fries, the Ford F150, liberty, and freedom.




0 #1 Nicole 2012-08-29 15:45
I absolutely loved WWOOFing in Romania! What did you think of it? Did you learn any Romanian? And you're also from Michigan? Do you still live there?
0 #2 Tyler Cole 2013-04-05 17:40
Hey Nicole, sorry for the delay, I just saw this comment! I did really enjoy it, but no, unfortunately I didn't learn any Romanian. It did seem really similar to Spanish/Italian though. And no, no longer in Michigan....out in California for medical school.

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