To Siem Reap, Part II: Tuk Tukking it

After an obscenely early morning and an unusual bus trip from Battambang, we were ready to crash for the night at 2 pm when we pulled into Siem Reap. The weather made that simple aspiration laughable, though, as we hauled our bags out of the bus and directly into a monster pre-monsoon rain storm.

Our plan had been to walk a kilometer through the back-alleys from the bus station to the Happy Guesthouse. But with this downpour, even our water-resistant gear bags would get soaked, so we reluctantly flagged the first tuk tuk we saw.

Tuk tuk rule #1:  Nail down the price first with the driver (in our case about $2 U.S.). Make sure he hears you and agrees, and then repeat it three or four times. This doesn’t guarantee you won’t be haggling at the drop-off – especially if you are in a tourist area (which Siem Reap surely is). But it at least reduces the chances.

Tuk tuk drivers in Cambodia aren’t generally a dishonest bunch – lying and cajoling goes against accepted cultural behavior – and they won’t get visibly disgusted or belligerent like moto taxis in Vietnam. But Cambodia is a poor country by most standards, and anyone would want to make an extra buck or two if they can.

We had just brought our bags into the covered carriage out of the rain and settled in for our ride when the downpour turned into a virtual waterfall. The noise of it became deafening. The driver, drowning on his motorbike seat, pulled over and cut the engine. He hopped off his bike. In a moment the flap of our vinyl carriage cover rolled up, and he joined us in our dry oasis.

“Need to wait out the bad storm,” he explained. “Can be dangerous.”

We accepted this logic. Spring squalls  (unlike the summer monsoons) didn’t last long anyway.

The driver was super friendly and he made what small talk he could. We covered where we lived – New York, ah! He had a cousin there (every last soul in Southeast Asia seemed to have a cousin there.) What did we do for Khmer New Year? The Siem Reap celebration he described with fireworks and music sparked a twinge of jealousy. Though we dug the water fights and festivities at Ek Phnom temple, Battambang city proper doesn’t do up Khmer New Year, as most people there live spread out through the river villages and many don’t have electricity.

An awkward silence prevailed as we ran out of things to say. The driver smiled broadly at us. The rain pounded outside. Warm water began to leak in through the plastic seams on the windows and plop onto our legs.

Finally he got down to it. If we so wished, he could be our dedicated tuk tuk driver in Siem Reap for just $15 a day. He would wait outside our guesthouse in the alley if we needed him, take us to Angkor Wat or Tonle Sap – the vast shallow lake several kilometers to the south where American planes once dropped millions of pounds of unspent ordinance returning from bombing missions in Laos – and just be generally on call for us whenever.

This is a common scheme in Siem Reap, and we saw many groups of sunburned, elephant-panted backpackers taking advantage of it. If you’re one to frequent Pub Streets, descend into incoherent drunkenness and lose your bearings – or like many visitors to Siem Reap, you remain buzzed all times of the day and don’t know where you are most of the time – it’s great, because your drivers waits around outside of guesthouses or bars, chatting to other drivers and listening to radios and making their locations very obvious so that even their drunkest customers can find them again when they need a ride back.

It seems frankly mind-numbing for the drivers, but the stability of a daily rate probably beats constantly chasing down single fares in the competitive tuk tuk world. Which is why our guy was so insistent that we avail ourselves of his services.

But we weren’t sure when we’d be visiting Angkor Wat, had no room in the budget for drunken escapades, and were renting bikes to get around. Our refusal engendered quite a bit more salesmanship from our driver, but we wouldn’t relent, so he gave us his card and told us to call him.

The rain let up and we were back on our way. We tipped him a dollar extra for heaving our heavy bags over the deep puddles in front of our guesthouse. As we walked into the courtyard toward our guesthouse reception we saw him strategically park his tuk tuk down the street so as to better keep an eye out for backpackers from the hostel entrances.

Stax waved, and he waved energetically back, smiling so widely his face must have ached afterward.

Continued in Pt 3…

 

To Siem Reap, Part I: A Very Long Ride

We said goodbye to Battambang at the crack of dawn. We had to catch a tuk tuk to the bus station and our reserved seats for Siem Reap. We bid adieu to our gracious host Jen and a couple of cooks that were up at this hour and hurried to make the departure time our booking company gave us.

It turns out we could have slept in. When the driver dropped us off at a station on the far side of town (a common spatial arrangement whereby the bus driver’s cousin’s tuk tuk service gets business hauling tourists downtown – which is ingenious) the sweating clerk already seemed harried. The temperature had already reached the mid-80s by 6:30 am, and the ticket station was just a metal desk outside.

He stared blankly at our printed schedule.  Then he simply shook his head. “No bus.”

We stared back. He pointed at a schedule scratched in chalk on a board above his desk. The board indicated the earliest Siem Reap bus at 10:45 – almost 4 hours.

As is sometimes the case when you book something over the phone in Cambodia without obtaining eye contact with an agent, the schedules quoted by the bus booking agency were off. So far off, they could have just as easily been created by consulting astrological charts as travel times.

The bus he’d pointed to didn’t have the same name as our company-issued ticket. Still we reckoned we’d see what happened, resolving to sit in the steadily climbing heat and dust and and hope for the best

Large families sat resigned and silent on the benches lined up across the lot, their luggage consisting of taped cardboard boxes and used rice bags, their children draped like so many garment bags over the laps of mothers and grandmothers. Stoic faces hinted that these benches had been their homes for some time.

A couple of scrawny chickens with matted feathers squawked and ran breakneck between the benches, zigzagging around skinny legs, chasing each other like schoolkids at recess.
Two masked trash collectors – tiny resilent-looking and silent women in at least their sixties – parked their pushcarts near the curb and began sweeping. Here in Battambang at least, collectors have no special equipment or trucks. They gather the trash with scraggly rake-thingies, bend down and pick it up -often bare-handed – and toss it in their pushcarts.

I watched them until everything grew bleary. I longed to lean back in the shade and get some shut-eye (like Stax was), but worry about missing whatever bus might suddenly arrive prevented sleep.

At around 9 am, a guy and a girl with faded little Canadian flags sewn to their packs arrived at the station and waited on a nearby bench. Girl: scrawny with the ubiquitous billowy elephant pants and Angkor Beer tank top. Guy: grubby polo, beer gut and full-on yak beard. These guys were Siem Reap-bound for sure. I kept a close, but carefully non-invasive, eye on their movements. If they perked up when a bus arrived, I perked up right along with them, half-reaching for my bag.

When a Siem Reap bus did eventually come at 9:30 – over an hour early- nobody even looked at our ticket. It soon became clear that things were…well, different….on this bus. For one thing, the balding and heavy-set driver was, from the moment we all sat down, engaged in an epic, totally one-sided rant that lasted for hours. As the bus banged out of the potholed lot, his sharp yelling reached everybody seated.

A  few locals glanced at each other, but no one seemed concerned.  They’d likely seen this before. They were familiar of course with traffic in Cambodia. If I had to drive a huge wide Korean-made bus everyday with motorbikes swarming and cutting me off on narrow lanes, constantly delayed by potholes and road repairs and flooding and the ubiquitous “tourist police” shaking me down for bribes, I’d be a basket case too.

The two young bus assistants, lanky and floppy haired and flip-flopped like all bus assistants, seemed deeply amused at the driver’s apoplexy. They kept covering their mouths to hide their laughter . He’d pause for a breath, and one of them would lean down and comment slyly to him, starting him off again.

I could have dismissed it all as harmless eccentricity if he didn’t also insist on using our bus to emphasize his points. He swung the steering wheel in wide turns; steel screeched against steel as he ground the clutch to the nub. The rear axle nearly bottomed out several times on potholes he hardly slowed for.

Long strings of syllables flew out. His hammy fists pounded on the dash to emphasize something or other I couldn’t hope to comprehend.

Eventually even the assistants grew bored of egging him on and sunk into their smartphones. That didn’t stop him. The ride to Siem Reap lasted over four hours, and he babbled on for a good three of those hours. If I had to guess, I’d say he was in the midst of a prolonged nervous breakdown. It was like being at a Trump rally, but the words made slightly more sense to me.

Of course, Stax slept peacefully and profoundly through all of this. Her head had hit the back of the seat and BAM! She was out. I was left awake to ponder how a person comes to the state in their lives to which this driver had come.

Notwithstanding the craziness, we eventually did arrive in Siem Reap safely. Any bus trip in Cambodia that ends with you in one piece, at your destination, and not on fire in any way, can be counted as a success (see an earlier post about the burned-out and still-smoking shell of a bus we passed on the way to Battambang).

TO BE CONTINUED…

VIDEO: Happy Dancing in Central Europe

Dearest Misadventurists,
This week, for your amusement (hopefully) we present a short video of the Misadventurists merrily dancing through Germany and the Czech Republic

It’s impossible (and quite pointless) to judge on something this inherently absurd, and even if someone does…well, as one (Taylor) Swiftian witticism points out, “haters gon’ hate, hate, hate, hate, hate..” So here it is!

The music is from WFMU’s Free Music Archive. It’s a stompin’ live track by a band called Big Mean Sound Machine, “Contraband”. Enjoy the stupidity (and the sweet moves!)

Oh yeah…and if you don’t mind, if you have a Google account, hit the big red Subscribe button on our YouTube channel to get updated on new videos right away…

“Annelizabeth” – the Final Kickstarter Song

Hello Misadventurists,

Our last song we’re presenting for Kickstarter backers is a very special one. An old family friend and former neighbor of Beej’s – who has known him since he was 2 years old –  learned about our project and decided to help back it. So we created this little ditty for her.

This time, Stax handled the song and melody writing, singing and lead guitar duties while Beej cowrote the lyrics, played backup guitar and produced. Some of the lyrics are about Maria Avenue (Beej’s early childhood street), others celebrate early 1980’s Hall and Oates singles, while still others deal very frankly with Corgi dogs and British royalty.

Probably the less explained the better. We don’t want to ruin the magic! (But just in case you want to analyze them for hidden Masonic codes or something, they are printed below the song for your perusal).

Enjoy!

ANNELIZABETH

AnnElizabeth
What’s been going on
Since the 20th Century
When we played out on your lawn

On Maria Avenue
In the sunny bygone days
Was it 1982?
It’s all lost in a haze

CHORUS
But the music still remains
Hall and Oates and Air Supply
They “Can’t Go for That”
And they’re “All Out of Love”
But they’ll never die

Queen Elizabeth
She’s never seen alone
loyal Corgis by her side
As she poses on her throne

She and you could be
Best Corgi pals forever
In the palace garden
You’d walk your dogs together

CHORUS 2
And all the paparazzi
Would follow you guys all around
And eventually
You’re Prince George’s new Godmother
And your face will grace the pound

Ann Elizabeth
Where can you be?
Are you teaching troubled kids
From the inner city?

Broadening their minds
With martial arts and poetry
But reading only poets
Whose names begin with “E”

Like Ena, Erin, Eben,
Those grandchildren machines
They’ve cranked out nearly seven
Almost a softball team

CHORUS 3

They’ll all play ball together
On Wrigley’s Field, no rain delays
Smiles on all their faces
Corgis stealing bases
On brand new sunny days….

“Branching Out” – The Second Kickstarter Song!

It’s time to debut the second of our three total Kickstarter songs = i.e. – songs that we created for Kickstarter supporters who backed us at the Musical Level!

This second song requires a bit of explaining. It’s a little bit of an inside joke. The lyrics are all from the perspective of Branch, a deputy on the hit Netflix series “Longmire”. This show just happens to be our Musical Level backer Maggie D’s favorite series. And her favorite character – this deputy – is rather ill-fated and bullheaded, hence the lyrics.

Here’s the song courtesy of our Soundcloud channel. Hope you all enjoy it!

LYRICS

I know a girl named Maggie D
I think about her all the time
Out on the range, things have gotten so strange
People playing with my mind

Maggie, I’ve got a secret
I’m missin’ your company
But I’ve gotta tryTo prove a dead man’s alive
And take down all my enemies

We’re from two different worlds,
You’re a New York girl
And I’m just a deputy
It’s a long long ride
To the Upper West Side
But it’d be nice to change my scenery

Maggie I’ve got a secret
That my piercing blue eyes can’t feign
See I’ve been slightly obsessed
And my health is a mess
And everyone thinks I’m insane

Now don’t be alarmed
Cause it’s nothing some charm
And my rugged good looks can’t solve
If the Cheyenne don’t arrest me, then my boss probly will,
He’s never trusted my chiseled jaw.

Maggie I’ve got a secret
I’m missin’ you so bad
But I’ve gotta jump on my horse,
And stay the course
And just have one little chat with my dad.

Well maybe it’s me, or the peyote
Or my Wranglers are on too tight
I’m a kidnapper of a White Warrior,
But Maggie, you’ve kidnapped my heart.

Well maybe it’s me, oir the peyote,
Or my Wranglers are on too tight.
But I’m a kidnapper of a White Warrior
And Maggie you’ve kidnapped my heart.

 

 

 

The First Kickstarter Song – “The Lucky Dog”

The background. There’s an epic dog down in San Diego named Scout. And he belongs to one of our Kickstarter supporters. And since this Kickstarter backer adopted Scout and doesn’t really know his back story, the Misadventurists did several seconds of Google searching before unceremoniously giving up and supplying their own back story for Scout – in song- out of the demented recesses of their imaginations.

Here’s the result! (Music by Stax and Beej, Lyric and Vocal by Beej, Keyboards and Vocal by Stax, Guitar/Drum by Beej)

The background. There’s an epic dog down in San Diego named Scout. And he belongs to one of our Kickstarter supporters. And since this Kickstarter backer adopted Scout and doesn’t really know his back story, the Misadventurists did several seconds of Google searching before unceremoniously giving up and supplying their own back story for Scout – in song- out of the demented recesses of their imaginations.

Here’s the result! (Music by Stax and Beej, Lyric and Vocal by Beej, Keyboards and Vocal by Stax, Guitar/Drum by Beej)

LYRICS:

He was born in Tennessee
Where a cold floor was his bed
So he set out on the road to Californy
A bandana round his neck

He met a family of circus folk
And he fell in with their crew
But he got a little tired of being ridden all the time
So he hopped a freight train into the blue

Ah-ooooooo! Eye-yi-yi-yi!
Ah-ooooooo! Eye-yi-yi-yi!
He hopped a freight train into the blue

In Hollywood he was a stunt dog
And it suited him just fine
Skydived through flaming hoops
Fought bears! And warned kids about crimes.

Ah-ooooooo! Eye-yi-yi-yi!
He warned kids about crimes.

Runnin’ toward danger
He never felt so free
That’s why the spirits named him the Lucky Dog
Brother Coyote
Says he’s burning through his lives
But still they name him The Lucky Dog

On a set he met a little cowdog
Name of Lindy-Lu LaRue
She could lasso real well, and she did so to his heart
But she was with a mutt named Blue

One night he and Lindy-Lu snuck out
Chasing rabbits in the canyons
Out of nowhere sprang a mangy lion
And there went his true companion

Ah-oooooooo! Eye-yi-yi-yi!
Ah-oooooooo! Eye-yi-yi-yi!
There went his true companion

So he quit the Hollywood life
And set a course for the Mexican border
He was waylaid by a bearded drifter in a Ranger
And developed a taste for peanut butter

Now you might think he’s a settled dog
With his city livin’ ways
But you’d be dead wrong, he’s not far gone
From his ramblin’ stunt dog days

Cause he still laughs at the sting of cactus needles
And charges headlong at speeding cars
He was almost eaten, but never beaten
By a pit-bull at the coffee bar

Ah-ooooooo! Eye-yi-yi-yi!
By a pitbull at the coffee bar

Runnin’ toward danger
He never felt so free
That’s why the spirits named him The Lucky Dog
Brother Coyote
Says he’s burning’ through his lives
But still they name him The Lucky Dog

Yes, still they name him The Lucky Dog
Still they name him, The Lucky Dog
Still they name him, The Lucky Dog

VIDEO: Tackling the Transfagarasan Highway: Transylvania, Romania

(This film is a complement to our last essay from the Transfagarasan Highway in Transylvania, a route made famous by the UK’s Top Gear. Stax shot the driving footage (GoPro Hero Black 3 and Canon 60D) and Beej shot much of the scenery with his trusty Lumix GH2. Edited by Stax, who found very cool music by Brooklyn/San Diego duo The Fucked Up Beat and Brooklyn/Los Angeles duo High Places (both used via the Free Music Archive fair use license and attributed accordingly). The video was fun to put together and made the (very) cold trip worth it. Watch below and if you like it, Subscribe to our Youtube channel to get all our new videos!

Taking on the Transfagarasan Highway: Transylvania, Romania

Story by BEEJ.
Photos by STAX.

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Dictator Nicolae Ceausescu pushed through construction of the Transfagarasan Highway in 1970.  By all accounts the construction was hellishly difficult and brutal. Legend said he was spooked by the Soviet invasion of the former Czechoslovakia and wanted to build a military route to head off any similar invasion by his “comrades” in Russia.

But more likely, Ceausescu wanted to add the conquering of an incredibly rugged mountain range in the independent region of Transylvania – an area often resistant to his 20-year autocracy – to his list of “achievements”.

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The country can point to the road as a success in at least one way: it brings thousands of motorheads from all around the world every year to Transilvania to race along the its wacky curves and hair-raising cliffside tunnels.

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The road calls adventure freaks like the Sirens called Odysseus (Stax and Beej would jointly be Odysseus in this scenario. And Carla and Megs, two adventurous Australian girls from the hostel in Sibiu, would be our trusty crewmates. Don’t worry, no one drowned. But at one point Beej did have be lashed to the hood.)

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This wasn ‘t the first time Megs and Carla tried to get away.
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They got pretty far, but we caught them every time.

We took a driving break for Megs and Carla to say hello to a wandering Romanian sheepdog on the side of the road, probably on a break from guarding his flock. These sheepdogs are massive and resemble small bears (I thought it was a Romanian brown bear from a distance).

 

Our ascent of the Fagaras pass ended at the summit of the road, Lake Balea (2046 meters or 6712 feet).

 

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Chilly Lake Balea

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At the lakeside we froze in high winds tinged with ice and just to warm our hands up,  scarfed down hot -off-the-fire balmos or mamaliga (not really sure which – there are tons of iterations of these traditional corn cakes in Romania).

The balmos were crazy filling – thick flame-roasted corn cakes, much like gooey polenta, with mountains of sour pasty sheep cheese pooled inside. The cheese was so strong, I could barely finish the thing.

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Roadside stands selling all things sheep-y across from Lake Balea

Along the way down we spied the towers of Poenari Citadel clinging to a rocky cliff high above the road. In this citadel in the 16th century, the real-life inspiration for Dracula (Prince Vlad Tepes, who ruled the South) actually lived for a time.

Now it’s a spectacularly crumbling ruin you can climb up to. Unfortunately due to time and being cold and one of our car-mates being sick with a migraine, we couldn’t hike to the top.  Next time, Vlad Dracul. Next time!

After a windy descent through autumn forests and across glacial streams, we reluctantly parted ways with the Transfagarasan Highway at the massive dam on Lake Vidraru – an appropriately scenic send-off to one of the most transcendent stretches of road I’ve ever driven.

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Beej investigates a waterfall by the side of the road.

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Lake Vidraru, where we parted ways with the Transfagarasan Highway.

 

 

 

 

Wedding Crashers, Part III: Maramures, Romania

Continued from Part II:

After we attended the practice wedding in Oncesti, we sat down over coffee with our unofficial fixer, Bud.

Bud told us there would be a traditional wedding in the village of Budesti the next weekend, and that he would even be bringing Japanese tourists there to catch the festivities. (Japanese tourism in this area is big.)

Back in Maramures
Bicycle against cemetery gate, Botiza, Maramures.

So, just days before our rental car was due in Cluj-Napoca, we found ourselves at an elementary school in Budesti that doubled as a cultural museum, searching for a woman named Maria, the principal there, who we’d been told could point us to possible translators. We battled through hordes of wild little Romanian kids to get to her office (the risks we take for this job, the derring-do!)

We ended up recording a long interview with Adrian, a teacher at the school, and his father, Petru.  Adrian explained a lot of the history and culture behind wedding traditions, while Petru shared tales of weddings 30 years before, during the communist era.

Problem is, nobody in Budesti seemed to know about any wedding happening that weekend. And we talked to A LOT of people from Budesti – teachers at the school, shop owners, church attendants, and the principal Maria herself.

Back in Maramures 2
Churchyard cemetery in Botiza, Maramures.

Nonetheless, with hope in our hearts and a Korean hostelmate, Hyoshin, in tow, we showed up last-ditch on the appointed morning and asked around all the churches. No wedding today.

We were a bit crushed, as was Hyoshin, who’d wanted to experience a wedding before she went off to Moldova.

We decided to salvage our last day in Budesti anyway and check out the interior of the1 6th century wooden church. The church attendant reconfirmed: no wedding. But,  there would be a large traditional wedding here in two weeks, she said. On Oct. 31- Halloween Night. (Side note: they don’t really celebrate Halloween here.)

Back in Maramures 3
Horse-drawn wagon with lumber from the mountains in Ieud, Maramures.

We vowed then and there to return to Budesti, connect with the family, and film this wedding. And now you can all see how best-laid plans can be quite mangled by the reality of documentary filmmaking.

We returned the car and wandered about Transylvania, having adventures both high and low, before bee-lining it back to Cluj Napoca to rent the same little bubbly Ford Ka we had rented before. As if the past two weeks had never happened, suddenly we were back in Maramures. Not such a bad place to be, really!

Back in Maramures 4
Falling down barn in Borsa, Maramures

Back in Maramures 5
Peaks above Borsa, Maramures.

All we knew was that the wedding would take place in the villages of Budesti and Mara. No one could tell us where in town the groom’s pre-wedding parties, processions and dances would happen.

But having experienced this before, we knew if we just walked around Budesti’s narrow lanes in the early afternoon and listened for the traditional fiddle and horn music, our ears would take us where we wanted to go. We reached the groom’s festivities just in time for his uncle to fill our hands with dumplings, cakes and shots of Horinca.

It was a crazy day that we’ll try to capture in Episode 2.

But for now, after several epic train and bus journeys and two flights; after witnessing historic protests of the good kind (in Romania) and the not-so-good kind (in Warsaw, Poland), and the filming of yet another wedding (this one just as a favor for our friends in County Donegal, Ireland), we find ourselves house-sitting and wrangling our footage together in a quiet (and ordered) corner of the Schwarzwald (Black Forest) in Germany.

Here there are no protests. Few distractions, in fact, besides watering our friends’ plants, making pumpkin bread from the pumpkins on the back porch, watching the early snow-showers fall outside – and of course, editing away hours on end for the first two episodes of “A Wedding of Cultures” (“AWOC” for short).

There will be much more soon! Watch for more video and blog updates!

Wedding Hunters!: From Wedding Hunt to Wedding Crash

Or, The Practice Wedding. Continued from the previous post!

by Stax. Photos by Stax.

Saturday arrived, so we gathered our gear – stripped down a little, as this would just be a practice run – and drove to Oncesti to have coffee with Bud at his guesthouse (Pensiunea Bud Mariana) before we crashed the wedding. As we drove into town, lines of cars on either side of the road and boisterous accordion music gave away the location, a small house near the top of the hill.

At Bud’s, we ask one more time: “Is it really okay if we crash the wedding?”

As every red-blooded American knows, weddings are for GUESTS via INVITATION ONLY.  You do not walk through someone’s backyard right behind their houses as a shortcut through the village (as people constantly do here) unless you want a visit from the cops, and you DO NOT crash weddings. Our American brains have difficulty comprehending that yes, it’s often perfectly all right for a foreigner to show up at the wedding of strangers in Maramures.

“Yes. Yes. Of course. It’s okay,” Bud reassures us. “People are very friendly here.”

Unfortunately Bud could not attend after all, so we’d be on our own for translators – hopefully there would be a teenager who wanted to practice their English there. We approached the wedding, striding purposefully toward the house to hide our anxiety. The sound of music and dancing grew louder. We were going to crash this wedding of complete strangers and worse, we were going to invade the proceedings with cameras and try to get some footage.

We stopped in front of the large wooden gate, next to a gaggle of young women who were dressed in a variety of very old and very new styles. Modern black dresses mixed with traditional sheepskin and woven wool vests over white puffy shirts, black and red skirts, tights and black furry boots. Some heads were bare, others covered in a colorful array of scarves.

The Women

Two older men in traditional garb stood, wobbling a bit with slight smiles on their faces, in front of the gate. One of the men brandished a giant bottle of tequila to pour shots for those just arriving.

“Is there a wedding happening? ” Ben asked one of the men n his inquisitive manner.

Before anyone could answer, a woman spied us from inside the gate. Her face lit up. She walked straight up to us and began to speak in rapid Spanish. From her gestures alone, we surmised her meaning: “Come inside, I’ll show you around!”

Her words hovered around my the language areas of my brain like hummingbirds, searching for flowers of meaning to pollenate. I struggled to snatch the different words. I hadn’t spoken Spanish since our trip to Spain and Morocco last year. My skills had been sitting in the dark and dusty parts of my brain and it was plainly obvious.

I tilted my head toward her and squinted my eyes a bit in concentration. With our powers combined, Beej and I deciphered that she was the sister of the groom and her name was Ileana. She grew up in Maramures, but she’d been living in Valencia, Spain, with two South American women – which is where she acquired the rapid-fire Spanish. While Ileana talked her father handed Beej the bottle of Tequila and urged both of us to take a deep swig. (Seriously, guys. Welcome to Romania.)

The groom’s father clutching his Tequila.

After the introductions, Ileana lead us past the revelers and into the house to show us the “traditional room” of the house. Many houses in the Maramures region have a room where they display large hand-crafted items – wool rugs, tapestries, and clothing – that the craftier women in the family hand-make. Ileana took down a particularly bright and colorful red vest and helped me put it on, gesturing for Beej to take a picture.

Dress
Not me, but another woman wearing the special wedding vest.

I took note of a row of heavy blankets and hanging from the wall, arranged similar the way that fancy wrapping papers or bolts of fabric are arranged horizontally in a store. Ileana grasped a part of one and rubbed the wool between her fingers. “Mi madre,” Ileana looked at us. “Mi madre hizo la manta.”

Her mother made this.

She pointed to my camera and mimed taking pictures. “Fotos.”

I held up my camera. “I can take photos?” I asked.

“Yes. Yes.” She nodded her head vigorously and waved her hand around the room. “Cualquier cosa.”

Anything. People started to fill the small room. One of them, a younger cousin in his 20’s from the area of Alba Iulia pretty far south of here, had very good English. So Ileana appointed him our minder during the rest of the groom’s party.

Blankets
I know. It’s a dark picture. Sorry, guys.

At one point we were seated at a table outside behind the courtyard beside the musicians, who were playing up a storm. An older woman, explained to be the groom’s mother, came by with plates and pointed at the meat and bread on the table. The older women in the family tend to do a lot of the planning and cooking around the weddings, we are to find out.

Horincă was poured, of course, along with big bowls of ciorbă, a creamy and sour soup well stocked with chunks of of sheep and cow stomach lining (tripe) that Americans don’t normally eat.

The Woman Who Gave us Food
The mother of the groom. She gave us stomach lining.

Through talking to the cousin, we find that he was as lost as we were about some of the customs here.

“I am from another village in a different region,” he told us. “If anyone dressed like these people in my town, we would think he was crazy!”

The groom’s pre-party was winding down. Let me explain: before the wedding ceremony, the bride and groom have separate pre-parties where they eat, drink, dance and take pictures with their respective families. It’s kind of like a pre-game of opposing football teams, except the different teams will get married instead of pounding each other into the ground.

The Groom
The groom in the traditional room. It’s his party and he’ll smile if he wants to.

After this event, we were told, the groom’s party would drive a huge procession of cars about 20km to meet up in the bride’s town, Sighetu Marmatiel, to join with the bride’s side.

Now, it didn’t seem to us the safest proposition to be involved in this train of cars after the amounts of horinca we’d seen some of the guests drink. But with luck, the entire groom’s family would make it in one piece.

But even after this, the night wouldn’t be over. After carousing some more in Sighetu, the complete wedding party would drive east to somewhere in the mountains near Viseu de Sus – over 50km the opposite direction – to marry.

Anyway, we were pretty sure this was the plan, but we didn’t have much time to confirm because soon everyone was on the move up the street in a large procession. They were only headed to their cars; but what a grand parade they were.

Musicians played near the front and set the beat, while at the head of the pack, a guy we later identified as the the groom’s best man twirled and tossed a big colorful flag into the air like a majorette of a marching band. Cars arriving in town had to weave around the huge procession to pass through. At one point, the crowd moved to the side as a mammoth tour bus edged past them. As he passed, the bus driver honked enthusiastically at the groom’s party below while all the passengers stood, waved and cheered.

Though we didn’t get a chance to follow the rest of the wedding that night – this was practice for the main event later in the month – we managed to get some photos of the party.

Parade Time

Walking Guests

Saxophone

Music time accordion to this guy. (Haha! Get it!)
Music time accordion to this guy. (Haha! Get it?)

Groomsmen

Stay tuned for Part Three!