Flinn Scholars

On the Road 2009: Day Sixteen

June 9, 2009

By Flinn Foundation

Imagine your most intimate experience with nature. Perhaps it involves the silence of a dark forest; maybe views of a shaft of light cascading between mountains; it may simply be hiking to the top of a great peak. Today’s hike, or should I say mountain climb, in Torockó was probably one of the most fantastic encounters with the natural world I have experienced in my lifetime.

We arrived in Torockó in the afternoon from the comparatively buzzing metropolis of Tîrgu Mure. Torockó was a disarmingly quaint village whose initial impression revealed nothing more than beautiful gardens and a few folk art shops not a run of the mill tourist stop, but a place where people raised their families. The looming Carpathians at that time seemed to be nothing more than a great landscape.

After lunch in the dining hall of the hotel, or perhaps better called a hostel, we all retired for a while for a well-deserved nap. Most of us were extremely worn out from the fast-paced but equally enriching tour of Romania that involved nonstop day-to-day hotel changes. After an hour or two and an interesting lecture on environmental issues, we were prepared to take on whatever our initial expectations of the mountain involved. Our tour through the first part of the hill leading up to the mountain seemed fine. However, as I say about most hikes (being an avid hiker in Tucson), there is a point when the mountain decides to be a Mountain, whether hikers are prepared or not. Thanks to our solidarity as a group, pretty much everyone made it to the top, scrapes and all.

The hike probably took twice as long as it could have simply because the landscape was absolutely astounding. After just half a mile from the base, views of the underlying village were picturesque. Not to mention the countryside: the encroaching forest looked as if it would crawl over the entire village and outlying hills if it could. On the mountain, the wildflowers, grass, and ivy seemed to make the landscape blaze with life in a way that is nonexistent in Arizona. Let’s face it I’m waxing poetic. But it was so beautiful; it seemed almost out of a fairytale.

I think that idea of a fairytale touches on a theme that has really interested me throughout this Central Europe tour. We (at least I) have been constantly presented with things that we have never seen or understood before. The gut reaction in this situation is to try, obviously, to compare it with a past experience. But there are often things that are incomparable, which is really shocking at first. Stepping out of your bubble (or having it demolished) is an experience that’s been really awakening. My point of reference for the world, let alone my life, has been changed in a dramatic way that I know I don’t even completely understand yet. That has been one of the most purposeful travel experiences I have taken away from this. The Carpathian Mountains, village life, even simply touring somewhere where you know no one will understand English has been a great growing experience for us all. It’s made us contemplate a world without us, if that makes sense. And I think that’s really important.

After this great experience (especially reaching the summit) we all headed back to the village to eat some typical Hungarian stuffed cabbage and delicious herbal tea. For dessert, we enjoyed some tasty cornbread that had the consistency of angel food cake-scrumptious! Then we played some card games, sat around and talked, and generally enjoyed the clean countryside air and quiet. Everyone was pretty exhausted from their physical accomplishments. All in all, words can’t really describe the experiences of that day, but to use lesser but semi-adequate ones, it was truly majestic.