THE SULFUR MOUNTAINS. Enormous, tree-covered, volcanic, deserted. There is not so much as a single tourist cabin. Vultures wing aloft in the pale firmament above. Wildly jagged cliffs stand at crater’s edge – igneous apostles. Below, ferocious dogs guard mottled herds. They surround the pilgrims, their teeth snapping close. In vain, you brandish your stick – it only makes them. A shepherd boy of about five years old runs towards you. He kicks the dogs who turn and slink back to their herds, tails between their legs. At crude sulfur mines, you collect the yellow brimstone that lies strewn upon the ground. Its smoke will come handy when you tell your tales of hellish Călimanic adventures. Over a century ago, the borders of Hungarian Transylvania, Austrian Bukovina, and Romanian Moldavia met here in Căliman. Even today, there is evidence of Maria Theresa’s influence alongside the remains of World War I era military trenches. But peace has long reigned in this region, and the Căliman Mountains now belong to a single country. Grassy ridges and rugged cliffs stretch on gently till they are lost to sight at the horizon. Vast expanses, wild horses, and gentle breezes.
We arrived from the north, passing around the crater and across Negoi peak. You must have your own food and bedding wherever you go there. Though once we dined with some shepherds on mamaliga – thick, rustic cornmeal porridge and sheep curds – washing it down with amber schnapps. Enormous fleas leaped from their woolly coats, but it would have been impolite to show our surprise, and anyway, the little creatures vanished swiftly enough. But the taste of yellow porridge and amber schnapps will stay with us forever. What more could you ask, little brother?
We endured many storms in Căliman, which clouded trout-filled streams. But at long last, we descended from the ridge, climbing down into the long Ilvy valley and the villages of upper Mureş. We had grown wild and hungry in those mountains and were in need of a good shirt-washing and fingernail trimming. The feast in Wallachian Hot Springs was nearly at hand.