THE FLORAL MOUNTAINS. The paths to Cernei mountain valleys pass through great craggy gates cascading with cataracts. Alpine swifts shriek shrill before precipitous portals and lofty, towering walls, their voices somehow different than at home. Steep, rocky landscapes. Villages nestled at ends of valleys – comforting little dwellings on slanting slopes accessible on foot or donkey. Blossoms blooming all around: large, abundant, colorful, thermophilic. Flower gardens near houses, wildflowers on bare cliffs. High above the valley, Arjana gleams. Steep ivory mountain. So abruptly does it rise, some have wept in weariness upon its craggy plateaus.
The Cernei Mountains fall steeply southward into Cernei valley, where one of the most exquisite of Romanian rivers flows. To the north lie the high rocky pastures of the Ţarcu Mountains which join the pathless Godeanus. This is the boundary of the Southern Carpathians.
Once, wearily, I sat on the bank of a brook beneath some mountains. My fire blazed as people, cows and goats returned to their remote hamlets from forests and mountain pastures. I greeted them and drank my tea. It was growing dark. As I prepared my bed for the night, a group of children dashed up from the hamlets below. Their little heads trembled in excitement, but they halted a good ways off. They were frightened. Some even held rocks in their fists. I called to them, they dropped their weapons and crept closer. The oldest began some jibber-jabber, and the others laughed in relief. Their parents had told them that a terrible stranger sits beneath the mountain at the forest’s edge, and his beard stretches all the way to the ground. That is how fairytales are born in the far reaches of the Southern Carpathians. Fear dissipated, the beard grew much shorter. Long into the night, the children poked and prodded me, closely observing me as I lay down to sleep, whispering and begging for Czech coins, thrusting slimy bits of bread into my mouth. I felt a bit like Mungo Park, the first white man in upper Nigeria.