A boon for bears in Ro­ma­nia

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Travel & Indulgence - SU­SAN PACKER AS­COT VALE, VIC­TO­RIA

“Why are you here?” Ed­die the waiter was gen­uinely per­plexed. Af­ter an ex­hil­a­rat­ing and some­times hair-rais­ing day’s drive, zig-zag­ging up and over the south­ern Carpathian Moun­tains on Ro­ma­nia’s Transalpina high­way, which con­nects No­vaci and Sebes, my hus­band and I had stopped for the night in the alpine ski vil­lage of Ranca.

Be­ing sum­mer, the place was de­serted. Ed­die had also checked us into the ho­tel on ar­rival and would prob­a­bly clean our gue­stroom when we de­parted.

“We are here to see your bears,” we told him. One of the few ben­e­fits from Ni­co­lae Ceaus­escu’s bru­tal dic­ta­tor­ship in Ro­ma­nia (he was ex­e­cuted on Christ­mas Day, 1989) is that it has one of the last com­plete for­est ecosys­tems in Europe, in­clud­ing healthy pop­u­la­tions of bears, wolves and lynxes. Un­der Ceaus­escu, it was illegal for Ro­ma­ni­ans to own guns — no doubt to stop them from re­volt­ing against the gov­ern­ment.

Con­se­quently, the top-level car­ni­vores were not hunted to near ex­tinc­tion, as they have been through­out the rest of Europe.

With an undis­turbed ecosys­tem, vis­it­ing Ro­ma­nia’s forests and na­tional parks is like step­ping cen­turies back in time.

“But you’ve come here from Aus­tralia. We all want to go to Aus­tralia,” per­sisted Ed­die.

It be­came clear very quickly that Queens­land’s trop­i­cal beaches were his idea of heaven. Be­ing the only din­ers in the res­tau­rant, we in­vited him to join us for a glass of wine. Us­ing an app that trans­lated his words into English and ours into Ro­ma­nian, he de­clined the of­fer and told us that al­co­hol was not his friend.

And did we see bears? Oh yes, in­deed. On a day’s walk in the for­est near the Tran­syl­va­nian town of Zarnesti, with a won­der­ful lo­cal guide, Dan Marin, we spot­ted bear and lynx tracks in the dirt and bear mark­ings on trees.

At the nearby Libearty Bear Sanc­tu­ary, we saw many re­ha­bil­i­tated bears emerge through the oak and hazel trees to take a morn­ing dip in a lake and bask in the sun­shine.

The 70ha wood­land sanc­tu­ary is no zoo. It plays an ac­tive and in­spir­ing role in rais­ing aware­ness of the im­por­tance of pro­tect­ing Ro­ma­nia’s rich nat­u­ral en­vi­ron­ment. It is a les­son that many gov­ern­ments could well em­u­late.

Send your 400-word con­tri­bu­tion to Fol­low the Reader: travel@theaus­tralian.com.au. Colum­nists re­ceive a Cather­ine Manuell lap­top com­pen­dium suit­able to hold a por­ta­ble com­puter or tablet plus mo­bile phone, A4 pa­per­work and ac­ces­sories. Avail­able in a range of prints. $89.95. More: cather­ine­manuellde­sign.com.

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