Early summer and I’m up to my ankles in the mud. For a moment I even think it will run into my boots. My guide Matei gestures me to be silent and points to the right. After two days of hiking up and down the mountains, through thick bushes, stepping over fallen trees and ducking under branches, I finally see one: a wild, European bison.
It’s a magnificent sight. I’ve seen so many wildlife tracks over the last two days. Not only of bison, but also of deer, roe deer, fox, wolf and bear. I spotted a deer, seen and heard plenty of birds, and let’s not forget the landscape we’re in. So lush and green, rolling hills with snow capped peaks in the distance. Wild flowers everywhere. It’s a beautiful place, this valley nestled into the Southern Carpathians, in the south west corner of Romania.
My guide Florin picked me up from the airport in Timisoara and we drove for two hours through fields and villages until we reached Armenis, the hub of the Bison Rewilding area. The European bison once roamed over most of Europe but disappeared more than 200 years ago from Romania, and has been very close to becoming extinct in Europe. In the area around Armenis, Rewilding Europe and WWF Romania are working to establish a free roaming bison herd. Protecting this wilderness, and bringing back what has been lost.
At the Visitor Centre, I meet Matei, my other guide, and together we leave in a 4x4 to the Tented Camp, close to the Bison Release site.
It is a neat little camp in a small field beside the dirt road, with a big tree in the middle and a small white building - The Ranger Hut. Spread out on the field are sturdy green tents, with two stretchers in each tent. A compost toilet stands in the far corner. No shower. I drop my bag and we quickly leave again to maximise our time in the mountains.
Matei knows where the bison herd - including a new born calf!- was last spotted and we set out to find their tracks in the mud. We see a ot of signs of their presence, but no actual bison. We decide to walk higher and out to the platform at the Landscape Observation Point - where we a treated to a beautiful vista. I’m very hungry after the walk, so when Matei pulls apple pie out of his backpack, I’m incredibly happy! To top it all off, he then takes out two small cups and the local plum liquor, which of course has to be sampled. Not too much, or I won’t be able to get down the mountain anymore...
When we return to camp, a local woman from the village is cooking us dinner. In what I soon learn to be true Romanian style, it consists of meat (although vegetarian is also an option), a staple like polenta, salads, bread, hard cheese, fried fish or egg, and sour cream. It’s tasty, hearty, filling and wonderfully welcome after all the exercise that afternoon. I lay down my head early that night, ready to track more bison tomorrow.
The next day is just as good: more wildlife tracking, more mountains, more mud, more hiking, more good food, and more gorgeous views. And just when I least expect it, we bump into a bison. Not from very close - they are shy animals - but nonetheless, a wild bison! That evening I sleep like a log in the local guesthouse in Armenis. But not before I happily wash the mud of my boots and the sweat off my body.
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