Transylvania Travelogue

STORY BY Tyler Sharp & Danny Christensen

TRANSYLVANIA


It was dark when we crossed the border into Transylvania, and darker still when we pulled into the winding valleys that skirted the feet of the Carpathian Mountains. 

ARRIVAL IN THE LAND OF LEGEND 

Tyler: As we arrived at the lodge of our host, Silviu Marinescu of SS Wild Hunts, the wind whipped through the canyons, howling; the trees swayed to their very roots; and the veiled moon peeked through the clouds to reveal the jagged teeth of the cliffs that loomed over us. It was a fitting introduction to a land of such legend, one that I’d dreamed of since hearing nocturne tales as a child. But Silviu’s hearth was warm, his hospitality grand, and the exotic local foods spread across his table quickly warded off the chill of a strange and mysterious country still cloaked by darkness. 

Danny: On our approach to Romania, Silviu sent us some pictures that were a reminder of the natural connections still tying the rural people to the land there. In one, a farmer holds a domestic sheep’s head while he slits its throat, the man’s face showing some of the same pain of the animal. He’s embracing the sheep as he kills it. 

On the long road into the mountains, we drove past an old couple on a horse-drawn carriage. A little dog ran alongside them. The scene reminded me of photos of my great-grandparents in Denmark — that country has changed, though. The couple smiled at us as we passed, and Silviu told me that he once visited their little farm. It was without electricity and grew a beautiful garden in the middle of pristine mountains. The old man told Silviu then: “I am the luckiest man alive, I have everything.” 

THE DRIVEN HUNT

Tyler: With the sunrise came our introduction to driven wild boar hunting. The local group of hunters greeted us with the sort of respectful skepticism typical of the rural reaches of the world. We split up, encircled a large, wooded valley, and started converging from opposite ends. I felt I was halfway in a dream as I sat amid tall, thin trees that reluctantly let their last orange leaves fall under the coaxing of a persistent morning breeze. Branches creaked, leaves whispered, and the sounds of barking hounds muffled the fragments of Romanian shouted across a now-bustling forest. There was one boar, but it got away, and the group came back empty-handed. 

When we broke out the beers, the hunters warmed to our cause, and agreed to let Danny take their portraits. In our makeshift studio, they proudly displayed prized guns, dogs, and as much bravado and prowess as can be shown in one moment of time. Transylvanian Hunters. 

Danny: I heard the distant barks of the dogs bouncing up through the valley. The sound spiraled, louder and louder. Shots rang out, followed by distant shouting. When everyone came down from the mountain, there were scores to be settled. A beater was very upset — a close encounter with a giant wild boar had almost cost him his life when one hunter missed the beast. The arguing rose, back and forth, until enough cigarettes had been lit to start calming the nerves. 

THE ELUSIVE RED STAG

Tyler: Red stag proved the most elusive quarry, and we must’ve hiked 25 miles or more looking for them through silent groves. We found imprints of recent beds, but the giants had moved on. On the last night, a mist crept across the elbows of the mountain as the sun started to sink. As the fog reached the knoll we were watching from below, a magnificent stag stepped onto the trail, displaying his gargantuan antlers for a brief moment. He lowered his head, and I got into a shooting position, readying the crosshairs for an unobstructed shot. My heart pounded, and I exhaled, and started to squeeze the trigger in anticipation, but the fog billowed in, lowering the visibility of the scene with a maddeningly slow gradient. When it dissipated, he was gone, like a ghost in a mist, and the image of his massive antlers in the crosshairs is still burned in my retina. While we saw a few others, none presented a shot. That was him, and he gave us the slip. But it left an addictive spark that will smolder until I return. 

Danny: Silviu spun a story that the beasts in the Transylvanian mountains are so big that they can barely fit into their skin. News had arrived from loggers that they had supposedly spotted the giants. We arrived, on the trail of their hints, at daybreak, and the clouds and sun were dancing in a way that I had never seen before. The birds fell silent, and the mountains flexed their muscular silhouettes against the fiery sky. 

Fighting, sliding and crawling through the dense forest, we spotted fresh rubs on a few young trees. We pursued them to a small clearing. The animals were there, with an enormous stag leading the herd down a little ravine. I struggled to steady my aim as a fog approached. The stag wove in and out through trees toward the edge of the forest … and then was gone. I waited for his return that never came. Octaviu tapped my shoulder, and pointed to the left where Tyler and Marian were, close by the spot where the herd had been swallowed by the forest. We had been hunting the same stag from different sides of the valley. Shooting that deer would have been a fantastic experience and, most likely, the end of my valued friendship with Tyler. 

SEARCH FOR CHAMOIS

Tyler: We hiked to a skyscraping alpine region to seek the nimble cliff goats called chamois. It was a clear but frosty morning, and as the sun crept over the distant peaks, its rays danced across a frozen, crystalline ground. Danny hiked an adjacent ridge with a forest ranger, but they saw no chamois. Right habitat, but no luck. The winds were gale force and a chill set in as we glassed the valley. Cold was countered with palinka, the potent plum liquor, which seemed to be as necessary a hunting tool as any. The hike down was much more cheerful. 

Danny: It was my turn to hunt for chamois, and the hike was long and tough to get to their domain. As we broke through the trees, the first light revealed a vague shine of the ice-glaze on the mossy rocks beneath my feet, and I instantly slipped and fell off of them. We hiked to the highest point, but found no sign. On that outcrop, we glassed for chamois and shared the moment, as hunters. We checked one last area: shit, shit, and more shit. Chamois shit and bear shit, scattered all over, made it clear that the goats had been forced out of the area by big brown bears. At least we had palinka. 

WILD BOAR

Tyler: On our last foray, we got caught in a torrential downpour that seemed to signal the end of autumn, and the onset of winter. Danny had one final chance for a wild boar, so he belly crawled through the mud to pursue them, and I sat in the jeep with Octaviu, smoking cheap cigarettes and conversing in broken Spanish about what hunting in Montana was like. Danny was successful, and would be taking a massive pig back home to Italy. Though I was going home empty-handed, I count it as a very successful trip, gaining a week of unforgettable experiences in some of the most mystical mountains I’ve ever seen. We had learned the ways of Tranyslvanian hunting, been in the lairs of the beasts, and made new friends in high places.  

Danny: It was getting dark as we drove down through the secluded valley. I was told to get ready. Past the bend in the road, we would meet the low spot that the boars descend to, feeding on the lush vegetation in old river beds. Down on all fours, I crawled, carefully peeking ahead. There were two massive wild boars on the edge of the forest, so I picked the bigger of the two, and sent a bullet into the vitals. My aim was true, the death was clean, and together we celebrated success on the last day of the hunt. 

A different kind of love enveloped me. It felt ancient and eternal, reminiscent of a time when one lived off, with and by the land, where you simply took what was necessary — where homemade high-octane plum wine and old rain boots were all you needed. 

One hundred and eighty pounds of boar meat fed my wife and I through the winter. Meals shared with loved ones are always a pleasant reminder of when time stood still, or instead went back to the only future worth living. One with nature, a simpler one, as the luckiest man alive. 

Related Stories

Keep on Riding

Keep on Riding

PHOTOGRAPHY BY Chris Douglas My great-grandparents were some of the earliest homesteaders in the Jackson ...

Latest Stories

Pin It on Pinterest