• Mario Alberto Gonzalez Robert

(Romania) Welcome to Gurahont

Updated: Nov 24, 2019

I arrived by train one afternoon at the agreed time and place in Gurahont’s train station in northwestern Romania, a town in the middle of nowhere. Upon arrival, my host was there waiting for me, dressed in a silver(kind of reflective) jumpsuit, a man in his forties with his head shaved, who greeted me in a very friendly way right at the platform and led me to his car, a very old red Dacia requiring several repairs. We went straight home and on the road we were talking, as I usually do with my hosts, to break the ice and get to know each other a bit better, thus I noticed that spoke very fast and trampling ideas with others.

He told me about another Mexican volunteer he had hosted before me, who helped him paint some graffitis at the caves in which they were working, which we quickly saw on our way home and he offered me to spend the night if I fancied it, but at the moment was another guy living there, a homeless man who by misfortune had a big health problem in the lungs and required very expensive operations that left him broke and jobless due to disability.

The house was big, with an ample yard in which he had a small space intended for harvesting, an outdoor dry toilet, a shed used as a workshop, a garage and delicious dark purple grapes hanging everywhere.

The composting toilet was a small wooden cabin built behind the barn where he now stored wood and a lot of scrap stuff in a state of putrefaction. It was just like a latrine with some toilet paper rolls. The first time I went to the toilet it was already dark and I had a fairly large and powerful flashlight, since both in the cabin and in the garden, there was no lighting. First thing I did and regret was, that as a reflex, I pointed the flashlight towards the inside of the latrine, what I saw there was an indescribable mass of long time accumulated waste and the smell was "wonderful ". Lesson number one: do not look into the toilet.

The caves

In the cave there were five different entrances and a series of not very extensive and completely dark tunnels for he did not had the money to get some sort of electrical installation plus it was in the middle of nowhere and some other type of solution for an independent power source was needed. In this regard my host told me that he had bought an electric generator that had to repair and one of my tasks would be to help him transport it to the cave. He told me, these generators are incredibly expensive but he got it at a very small fraction of the price because it is Chinese and works just as well.

He explained that these caves were built in World War II by the Romanian army to take control of that area as there were no roads between the mountains and now the road and was a good defense. They were made by chisel which could be seen in the walls and the detail of the carved holes that served to have the lamps and give some illumination. When he gave me the tour I had to light with my ipad and he used a small flashlight to show me the key points, like the place where there was a base of a bed and chains, according to him for sadomasochistic guests, which I did not know if it was a joke or not.

There were a few more “rooms” that were indistinguishable from the aisles in what would call his hotel / museum / art gallery.

In front of one of the entrances was a small table with an umbrella, a sign saying Museum-Hotel-Gallery, a well he had dug and, as he told me, while doing so he accidentally cut some underground cables from a Romanian internet provider with his shovel so they had to replace them and put them below the road.

Cave in Gurahont

The story of my host and his mom

My host told me the story of his misfortune and why he is stuck in that town he considers a misery (and I would not really say otherwise). He had studied naval engineering, worked for many years on ships going around the world and quenching his thirst for adventure so now he just wanted a quiet, simple and warm place to live. Turns out he had had three opportunities to leave his village and let all of them go so now he lives in regret.

The first one was when he was working on a ship and went to the Bahamas, after a period he had enough savings to buy a house there and according to the law (his words), if you owned a house there and a certain amount of money in the bank, you could become a resident, but he decided against it and to continue working on the boat and traveling.

The second time was when he went to America for a project and had the opportunity to apply for a job to stay there but didn’t take it.

The third was when his aunt died. A few days before her death, she called him to discuss the will. She told him she planned to replace the name of his mother and put him as heir because his mother would only be getting worse and lose her mind, but he decided to tell her not to do it, that her mother would be fine, so he convinced her and she left the will as it was.

Now all the inherited money and properties are lost because his mom had sold two departments in Bucharest at a ridiculous price as well as several pieces of land that lay they had all around Gurahont. She used the money to change her teeth, make big donations to the neo Protestant church she attended to, buy imported vitamins and other pills that are useless and many other purposeless things.

One of her feats was that one day, my host watched her go to the train station, when asked where she was going, she very calmly replied that to the next village and without further explanation left.

After that, while talking to a neighbor, my host learned that his mother had just gone to town because she was getting married. Turns out she was seeing a man for some little time and was supposedly very much in love and wanted to marry him, so she did and took him to live in their house. My host was furious, he came up to the guy, who was only taking money from the mother, and when he saw he had moved into the house, drew his gun, a revolver he keeps in his fanny pack, pointed to him and said, "if you do not leave right now I'll shoot you! "and that was the last time that man was seen around.

Now all that remained was the house, the garden and his mom’s two hundred euro monthly pension, apart from a rather complicated project with the caves.

View of a village in Gurahont

The gypsy village

At perhaps two miles of the place where my host lived, there was a small village of Romas or gypsies.

One day we were working in the yard moving a few pieces of firewood and picking up a bunch of garbage that had watered out there, my host started telling me he was planning to go later in the day to the gypsy town to see a girl who according to him, Janet Jackson fell short in terms of how beautiful she was. At that time I did not really get what he meant and I just said it was fine and I would follow him as usual.

In the afternoon of that day we went on the bicycles to the Roma village which at the entrance had dismantled car which seemed to me funny because of the reputation of the Roma people in many parts of Europe.

When we reached the village, we got off the bikes and the people greeted us amicably, I was walking behind my host and he was telling me a lot of things his usual quick way of speaking, so I wasn’t really paying attention to much of what he said.

Suddenly in the garden of one of the houses we saw a lady in her forties who smiled at us in a shy way and greeted us so raised my hand and waved back. My host started telling me that she could be an option and but not the best because she was old. I was still thinking "an option?" And had not grasped well until I heard, among all the words that my host said in Romanian to the lady, the Spanish words "mexicano" "sangre caliente" and and then that the lady started doubting and laughed distressed whilst reflecting. Then my host said the other girl to whom he referred earlier would be much better so we should look for her.

Then we kept going, looking to the other one and I thought "What the hell! What should I say now? “However I wanted to wait and see what happened out of curiosity, basically as it had been all throughout my stay there, and as if something came up I would think about a way to free myself and say no . While passing some houses, my host pointed out one where there was a very fat lady who greeted him with a straight face because she was busy doing some chores and he told me that was the house, the problem was that was the mom was there so he didn’t have enough courage, besides, he couldn’t see the girl around. We walked a bit more and found the younger sister, a girl with common Roma brown skin, good-looking with pale eyes, my host greeted her immediately and we got a bit closer to which she smiled.

He told me as we approached she was the younger sister who was fifteen, that she could easily be a model and that he had not taken a chance with her yet because he knew if his dad found out, there would surely be problems. Then he started talking to her in Romanian and mention the same words in Spanish as before "mexicano" "sangre caliente", pointing at me, I did not answer anything, just watched the situation and the reaction of the girl who was smiling, blushing, saying no and thinking, he kept talking to her trying to convince her and she doubted it while I thought "what am I going to do if he says yes? How do tell them I'm not going to get involved in this?" Right before I said anything he said “she doesn’t want to”, we withdrew, she went back home and he said" I don’t think it is a good idea anyway because the parents are here and apparently the sister is not around. She was good, used to fuck like crazy since she was thirteen".

At that moment, we got on our bikes again and went quietly back to the house, relieved that I did not have to think more about how to get out of that situation and somewhat shocked.

The graffitti.

One of the tasks my host gave me to do at home was to paint something on the wall of the kitchen which was just plain white and was shared with the entrance hallway. I said agreed so he gave me a few bottles of paint with the three basic colours plus black, gray and white and a few brushes. For the finer details he gave me a toothbrush to which I cut a few bristles and attached them with a piece of wire to a branch to have a sort of a makeshift brush.

As we prepared the material, I thought and thought what to paint, sought ideas from recent conversation topics and made some sketches. When I asked my host what he would like me to paint or if he had a particular topic in mind, he just told me not to worry about it and to paint anything, he just wanted to have a work of art of my creation, so I decided to make a quick sketch and start painting it as soon as possible because I didn’t wanted to spend the whole day doing it.

I had never painted a picture on a wall before and less so with that kind of paints, so I decided to just start and experiment and as I had not very specialised tools I decided it would be best to do all the colour blends directly into the wall.

I had to do something small first as a test to see how the paints behaved and the flow of brushes felt so I chose the small piece above the doorway between the kitchen and the dining room / bedroom and a thin brush and started doing Mayan style masks I made up on the go, with orange highlights and shades in blue to see how the overall combination looked.

In the end, I wasn’t pleased with the masks, but that's normal, anyway it helped me realise that the paintings mixed well and the result was good so I could proceed to make the big mural.

Before I begin, my host’s mom came in and saw the masks for the first time, she observed them for a moment and finally said they were nice in Romanian, which understood after having heard that word being repeated many times for many other different things that she liked. It was quite late so we ate and I left the large mural for the next day.

The next day I started painting the large surface of the wall which was the hall all the way up to the door. First I had to think of a way to separate the masks from it. It did not take long to decide that I was going to paint a line using a repetition of squares with the primary colours.

Once that was done I began to trace the outline of the bigger piece, taking care of the proportions, composition, etc. and afterwards I started filling it with colour, mixing, and detailing until it was finished.

The subject of y painting was a huge skull-shaped tree with some guys approaching to cut it. This time the reaction and words of the mother were different when she saw it. She paused for a moment and instead of saying it was beautiful she just said it looked interesting... When my host saw it he made no big fuss, he was just happy that I had painted something on his wall so that it was no longer flat and thanked me for leaving a piece of my work at his home, he asked me to sign it and write the date to keep the memory of who and when it was created.

The next day he asked me to use the remaining paints to repaint the wooden floor was worn out and half orange. I told him the colour would not be the same tone but did not care and said it would be good anyway. Finally the floor was painted in a weird way as the new part was closer to magenta while the old was orange because there was not enough paint to cover it but my host said it was good anyway.

The last thing he asked me was to paint the white door threshold connecting the kitchen to the dining room / bedroom with another drawing so there I just used the red and blue colours and drew a prehispanic style theme of two heads with symbols of dialogue which he liked very much and made his mom very happy.

After several days, near the end of my stay, my host asked me to do another art job consisting of painting a huge piece of wood that he wanted to use to attach it to two small logs and make a bench to sit outside the house. I had no idea what to do and didn’t want to complicate my life doing some elaborate drawing or looking for a sophisticated idea, so I painted it white and then spattered it with the rest of the colours creating some interesting textures. In the end, the bench was very cool and both my host and his mom really liked it.

We carried it outside with the base trunks nailed, and they had a new bench just waiting there to dry up.

Kitchen mural

The funeral and the Dacia tuning

One day my host told me we were going to visit a good friend of his who is a mechanic because he wanted to replace his Dacia’s old crappy seats which were not even fixed to the floor of the car, making them move with every turn or brake.

On the way there he was telling me the interesting story about this guy who, apparently, used to live in the streets begging for cigarettes and money. One day my host decided to help him with money so he could either spend it in alcohol and drugs or on a business to improve his life, which he did. After some years he got to build his own well sized mechanic workshop and hired some people to help him.

During the way he was trying to reach him on the phone but was unable to, so we got to the workshop where there was only a guy about 18 years old who started chatting with my host, then he addressed me and told me the mechanic was at the cemetery digging a grave for one of the neighbors who had recently died. “Life at the village” he said.

He decided we should go look for him at the cemetery so we did and arrived in a small one with a few plain tombstones. Sitting over one of them there were about six guys in their 30s to 50s while one of them was digging a pretty deep hole, in the meantime the other ones chatted and drank palinka, a typical Romanian beverage with 70 degrees of alcohol.

The first thing they did when we approached and my host introduced me, was to give me the bottle of palinka to give it a try, I did and it was so strong my throat closed and I started coughing like crazy without being able to breathe properly for an instant. I then handed him the bottle but he told me to have another go at it, I tried refusing but he insisted so I did like I drank more while I actually only took a tiny sip, then handed him the bottle. He asked me then if it was strong by pointing at his bicep to which I said it was and he laughed. After a while of talking with them, my host decided to go somewhere else to run other errands and come back another time.

The next day we went back to the workshop and were greeted by the same guy who told us his boss was at the funeral and would come back later but they could start the work. The first thing they did was to put the car over the big hole they use to get inside and check the car from below. The guy got under it and began working while chatting with my host. I asked what he was doing and they explained they had to change some cables related to the lights. Then my host told me the guy had also found a small hole on the floor, nothing too serious to which the guy replied, in English and laughing, that it was a damn big hole.

After finishing the repairs from below they took the car out and my host explained that he wanted also some help to replace the old seats for some new ones he had bought for almost nothing, of a Mondeo model which we had been carrying with us from home. The guy said there was no problem, he dismounted the old ones and tried to fit the new ones in but they were too low and there was no way to fix them to the floor. Then their creativity started flowing, they decided to look for some wooden planks to attach those to the floor and then on top of them the seats. They found some and did so, making the seats fit nicely although a bit high. Then they had to replace the back seats, however, there was a small problem, the new seats were too wide and they had a metal structure on the back which prevented them to fit properly. “No problem” the guy said “I’ll cut it”, he looked for a saw, separated the soft part of the seat from the metal and chopped it. The seats finally fitted although there was no way to fix them properly so they started making holes to the metal plate and the car with a screwdriver and a hammer, because they couldn’t work out a way to use the drill in a reduced space such as that one. In the end they managed to do it and it came out quite well.

Having finished all the tuning we started collecting all the tools and nuts and bolts, especially from a big bucket where I had to find appropriate screws to fix the seats. In the meantime, the boss arrived from the funeral with a big loaf of bread in the shape of a braid which is given as a tradition on those occasions. My host, pretty happy about his car, grabbed it and said “Let’s have some fucking bread in memoriam” to which all of us started laughing and began eating.

The internet

At my host’s house there was no internet because, according to what he told me, the provider installs a device on the street with a limited amount of connections for different houses and the ones there were already full. As there were mostly old people living there with no computer knowledge, they couldn’t get enough clients to make it worth it to put an extra device therefore the provider refused to, leaving my host without connection.

Each time we wanted to connect, we had to set an hour during the day in which we would go by bike to the next town where we had two options, to sit on a bench outside the house of my host’s friend and use his wifi or to go to the town hall of that same town where they had an open connection. We always went there in the afternoon and tried to check the internet quickly before it got dark and cold because we were sitting outdoors.

One time when we were sitting on the bench, he was moving so much his laptop fell off his lap to his legs and he barely caught it before it hit the ground but he touched a lot of keys and shook it badly so when he lifted it up, the screen was a mess and we could only see random pixels going crazy. Fortunately for him, it recovered the next day.

Some day we went to the neighbour’s place we realised he put a password which my computer didn’t have but for some reason my host’s did. I didn’t remember how to check it so I decided to go to the town hall by myself. I took the bike and went there, when I arrived there was nobody around and everything was closed. I checked if there was WiFi and it was working so I went and sat down on the stairs of the building where I found a good signal. I was chatting with my family and some friends when suddenly I started hearing a dog barking. It was getting dark and I could only distinguish a silhouette running at me in the distance. I quickly stood up and ran upstairs, jumping the rail to get to the balcony. The dog saw he couldn’t reach me so it just stood there barking like crazy for a while until two old ladies approached, they saw there was someone on the balcony of the building, I lit my face with the screen and waved in a friendly way, they saw it was alright and scared the dog away. I kept chatting with a friend for a while until it got really dark and I began hearing sounds from inside the buildings, which was kind of creepy so I decided it was time to go. I got on the bike, rode till the house of my host’s friend and found out he was gone already. I thought it was time to go back home then, the only problem was that there is no public lighting anywhere along the road and no moon that night so I could basically see nothing farther than my front wheel. Carefully and slowly I wound up my way until luckily I found the house where I had to make a turn which was lit. Then I kept going and went up a long and annoying uphill which was really close to my host’s place but then at the end I saw two dogs not very far away, barking like crazy and chasing a car coming at me so I thought “Perfect!” and decided to go down the hill again for a while until they were gone. After some time I came up again to check if the dogs were gone, which they were and I could finally go back home.

On another day we stayed also until it got dark and when going back I couldn’t see anything again so I rode very close to my host’s bike trying to avoid any obstacles on the road and being happy every time a car passed, which happened very seldom, because it’s lights gave like a quick flash so I could see and remember part of the road ahead.

Collecting mushrooms and learning about the neighbours.

Several times my host told me we should go to the forest and find some mushrooms to eat. He said he didn’t know exactly which ones were edible and which were not, he just had some idea, but one of the neighbours was very good at identifying them so we could ask him afterwards.

Every time we went mushroom hunting we found quite a good amount of them, not knowing which ones were good so keeping them a bit separated according to their characteristics, later we would go to the neighbour, who was an old man with arthritis, which left his fingers all twisted. We would sit in the only room of his house, which was very humble and its roof was made of chipboard, he had only a bed, a few chairs, a table made of scrap materials, an old antenna TV, some pictures glued to the walls and a very basic stove. My host and he would talk for a long time and when the subject about the mushrooms came into play, he would tell me to show him the bag, we would take a bunch, look at them quickly and with an annoyed voice, grab a bunch of them and throw them to the floor. That way we knew those weren’t edible and basically ended up disposing of more than half of them.

Later on my host told me this guy was his friend from many years, quite older than him and he had a daughter who was married with kids living somewhere else in Romania. According to my host he said he told his friend once “I wanted to fuck your daughter sometime ago but I wasn’t too convinced cause she is fat” and his friend was OK with it, he didn’t care about what his daughter did. Also he told me that this guy was a genius, he had been a very good engineer even to the point that some companies disputed about having him on their team, later on he got tired of his profession and got into herbs and natural medicine which gave him a huge knowledge about plants and their properties, that’s why he knows exactly which mushrooms are good. Now he is retired of everything, tired about people and just wants to live his last days in his house, paying a visit every once in a while to the prostitutes at the next town or having friends bring him over some girls to have some fun.

A few times while we were walking through the neighbourhood towards the forest, we would see other neighbours doing their stuff at home or others would come and briefly say hi and exchange a few words with my host. One of them, who was mowing his loan, my host told me about him “that alcoholic bastard is all the time drunk, he used to beat his wife until one day he killed her, fucking bastard”. Another time we found a woman who greeted us and later my host told me “that girl is crazy, she has fucked the entire town, I haven’t done her because she’s fat and also an alcoholic, everyone in this place is an alcoholic, it’s a fucking misery”. I think it sounds accurate.

Visiting the friend at the thermal springs

My host had a life-long friend who had a lot of money and had lived in many different parts of the world. This time he was staying at a spa-hotel with thermal water springs where he was healing from a surgery he had because of breaking his leg while on a ship. He went there because according to my host, that place has some of the best places to heal in Europe and the thermal water springs have some special minerals that help a particular kind of lily to grow and makes them quite unique in the whole world “one of those things nobody knows about Romania” he said. My hosts friend used to work as an engineer just like him and they used to travel the world by ship. Later on this guy decided to study some kind of specialisation which my host declined because he was tired and about to retire. With these new skills he was able to get better jobs and a lot of money which he used to keep travelling in order to enjoy life, in this case, women. Once he was working on the cruise and his boss told him specifically “do not screw with the clients!” but he simply couldn’t resist to a flaming Brazilian beauty, which got him fired and enjoying a bit of Brazilian life, but that didn’t last very long. He continued searching for adventures in the sea and getting involved with numerous women, getting married a few times, which cost him a fortune, until he got into another job at a ship where he slipped down a ladder and broke his leg in several parts, requiring surgery and the rehab. While we were talking and having a walk together, my host and him kept calling each other an idiot, one because he never stops trying to be young and living the adventurer life, the other one because he is stuck in that town for retiring. In the end, I guess no matter what our story is, we will never stop regretting the things we gave up in the past and will never be happy with how we are living today.

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