We are now back in Geneva, and updating the blog from CERN.
We left Galati early on Monday, and were crossing the Danube by ferry again at 7:30 a.m.. A kind woman (who spoke some French) on the ferry –she ran a pension in a village in the delta– told us that the vaporul (boat) down the main channel of the delta from Tulcea left at 1:00. We pedalled the 90 odd km across rolling terrain toward Tulcea. The silty plain was raised above the river, and was cut by gullies where birds nested in high banks. There was motorized traffic, but still horse-drawn vehicles too. To me, these horses seemed more proudly kept than those in the south. They were well-groomed and many wore red-tassels on their bridles. These villages seemed more prosperous, and children wore school uniforms. The girls had white blouses with royal blue pinafores over plaid dresses. The boys wore ties.
We kept an eye on our watches as we went. There was a chance we’d make Tulcea by 1:00. The smaller communities appeal to us more, we might have an opportunity for a natural history tour, and we would save ourselves a day if we could reach the boat in time. Chris passed me cookies and chocolate as we pedalled, so we didn’t need to stop. We rolled into Tulcea just before 1:00, but I was exhausted (still somewhat unwell) and we had no idea where the boat dock was, or exactly where we were headed.
The Danube Delta is a UNESCO world heritage biophere reserve, because of its diversity of species, and because of its importance to migration routes. After a bit of lunch, we found an information office that provided us with a list of names of naturalists who could provide tours. From a bookstore, we bought a detailed map showing the delta’s ecological zones and the intricate maze of channels and lakes. Buying a telephone card, we made our way through the list of contacts to reach Petre Vasiliu in Crisan (I need a different font to spell this properly). He could take us bird watching! He also told us that the fast boat would leave at 5:00, so we scrambled to get on a hydrofoil that carries about 50, our bikes strapped to a deck railing for a small extra charge. Most of the other passengers were Romanian sport fishermen heading to Sulina, a more major town in the Delta. We were met in Crisan by Petre.
We camped in Petre’s family’s garden, and ate supper at the local pub. On Tuesday morning, we set out with him in his narrow rowboat with tarred bottom that is typical Danube transportation. There was a quiet motor that Petre cut often so we could glide close to egrets, herons, coots and grebes with binoculars in hand. Liliana from Constanta came too, with an elegant scarf over her head. For a whole day, we worked through the maze of channels from lake to lake. At first, I tried to track our progress on the map, but soon gave up and just absorbed the sensations of our environment. A warm green light filtered through willows and reeds as we glided in narrow channels. The lapping of the waves made the reeds rustle. Petre pulled up water chestnuts for us to taste. Well-camouflaged frogs hid among floating plants, and we watched a snake swim. Blue tits and bearded tits gathered in the willows, and marsh harriers soared above. It was as fascinating as it was peaceful.
The delta isn’t wilderness; it’s been inhabited for ages. We visited an ethnic-Russian fishing community with traditionally-built reed houses. (The north channel of the delta forms the border with Ukraine) Commercial fishermen set up nets and traps, often where a channel enters a lake. The traditional traps consist of nets over a series of hoops, and we would see these drying on the banks. The central channel, with major straightening done over a century ago, has long been a major shipping route. Sport fishermen, mainly Romanian, come to camp on the banks of channels from where they cast or set up poles. They set up well-appointed campsites, wear camouflage pants and fishing vests, and invariably have a cooler of beer at their sides. They looked just like sport fishermen in British Columbia!
Unfortunately, my intestines were in decline again, and by that evening I had painful cramps and more of what I’d had on Sunday. I crawled into the tent and began to take the antibiotics prescribed by the travel clinic in Vancouver.