Summer in the Romanian countryside is all about hay. Is it the right time to cut it? Is it dry enough to turn? And most importantly, will it be safely stacked before rain ruins everything? Each area uses different techniques for each process. For the bigger fields in flatter areas they use modern machinery. But we came to Magura, a picturesque mountain village, where old traditions still thrive.
Previously you found us leaving Zărnești. Marian found us the connection in Magura – a place we chose randomly based on better weather predictions (not so hot and humid due to an altitude of ~1,000m). This is an area of small hills surrounded by the Piatra Craiului ridge on the one side, and the Bucegi mountains on the other. Magura doesn’t look like the average village where houses are usually clustered together. Steep landscape scatters the homesteads along two main dirt roads, with no apparent village center. Our ride dropped us where the roads converge, and around one of the bends we found our volunteering destination: Villa Hermani, a guesthouse owned by Herman and Katharina Kurmes.
We placed our bags in our room, and eagerly went to see how we could help. We found Herman piling up hay with Mihaela, one of the vila workers and superwoman. During the week we’ve spent there we learned that summer in the village is a very busy time. Each farm-hold needs to harvest as much of their fields as they can so they could feed the livestock during the cold winter.
In Magura you can’t harvest the fields with tractors, the hills are too steep and the fields are fairly small. So they still do it the old fashioned way: with a scythe – not the mechanical kind, but Grim Reaper style. Entire families work shoulder to shoulder, from young teenagers with iPhones, to little old ladies with traditional head-covers, each knows their part of the work.
You want a day with light summer rain for cutting, since it’s easier to cut when the fields are wet. After the men cut the field, the women or children follow with rakes, scattering the hay for drying. If all goes well and the next day is sunny, around noon the hay is turned in order to complete the drying process. In the afternoon the whole family pitches in – the women and children rake the hay into small piles, the men lay two long poles underneath (like a stretcher) and carry the piles up the hill closer to the house. Now you start piling the hay around a pole with pitchforks, while one of the women is standing on the pile and making sure everything is balanced and pressed tightly. When the pile is too tall to keep stacking, cover it with a piece of nylon and voilà you can start making the next pile.
During our week in Magura we got to do most stages of this hard labour, but were generously fed three course meals in the Vila. Seriously, way too much food, but it was too tasty to resist. We had lighter jobs as well, like feeding and taking care of the house rabbits, stacking firewood, cracking nuts in rainy afternoons, and playing with the house cats & dogs.
One day we went out to hike around, and generally simply enjoyed the peaceful and beautiful surroundings. It was really amazing to see (and taste) how much villages in Romania are self-sustained. Every morning you can enjoy fresh milk and eggs, a green salad made from the house garden, home-made jams & honey, and in the evenings sit and relax with a small glass of home-made Palinca (the romanian Schnapps) or cherry liqueur.
It was nice to stay in one place for a period of time. The Vila people were kind and hospitable, we got to see some amazing weather changes we’re not at all used to from Israel where the summers are a dry season, and we learned a bit about farm life and Romanian traditions.
Our next destination was a last-moment pick from Workaway. Perhaps stupidly, Noa offered to take a couple of bunnies with us, and the journey there was much less smooth. Could the lame sheep in the back yard be a metaphor for our next adventure? We’ll all find out by next week’s post…