After about three days meandering around Transylvania, trying to avoid more tacky Dracula-themed tourist shit than any self-respecting tourist should be forced to avoid (although yes, I did indeed purchase the above… but it’s adorable!), it occured to us that our hostel offered something much more amazing sounding. You know how you roll into hostels all over the world, and there’s invariably a notice board with stupid signs for “amazing” deals, used / abused camping gear, and package excursions that surely would show you amazing sights un-dreamed-of by any previous traveler while never EVER ripping you off? And it doesn’t matter if you’re in Abu Dhabi or Paris or Idaho, everything up there always sucks? Well, the Rolling Stone Hostel in Brasov, Romania, is the glaring exception. (This hostel is fabulous, btw, fairlyy adorable, fairly fun, and really fucking cheap. Also it’s purple: http://www.rollingstone.ro/). They offer the regular Dracula Tourism crap, yeah, but they also have an add for their famous Transylvanian Bear-Watching Night, which clearly could not be passed up. And that’s basically how I found myself in a stranger’s car with a couple crazy Romanians and my perfect travelling buddy (I love you, Chris!), drunk on crappy Romanian beer, faced with the choice of getting: a) pepper-sprayed in the face or b) mauled by a Carpathian brown bear.
Apparently Brasov has a bear problem. Not that they’re out like, eating people or anything, they just hang out at the garbage dumps. Every evening a bit after dusk they come down from the mountains for a nightly snack, that’s all. It sounds like the municipality has tried everything, from enclosing the dumps in bear-proof cages to tranquilizing and transporting the bears across the country. These bears just won’t be stopped, they want their nightly garbage run! Which would be fine, given enough clean-up crews, except for those dang tourists. Bear-spotlight-ing is now a favorite passtime of drunk backpackers and package tours, and some people, ah-hem, not to mention any names, find it cool to hop out of their cars and get a bit more up close and personal. The bears do not like this and tend to maul the pesky interlopers. Actually, I don’t think it bothers them much; the males get up to about 400 pounds, and I can’t image it would take much more than a swipe to remove any unwanted visitors.
Despite the unfortunate (or fortunate, as I would consider it) bear issue, Brasov is a lovely place. It looks kinda like Disneyland without the fake shit. Or the kids. Actually, not so much like Disneyland as one of those brochures for an adorable cobblestoned corner of Europe with quaint cafes and walking streets and picturesque castles and colorful locals and delicious foods that someone thoughtfully butchered / picked just for your arrival. Except when you get to Brasov, it’s actually still true. Highly recommended.
In any case, I’ve only seen a couple bears, and never in a city, so we piled into our hostel desk-chick’s boyfriend’s car, and took off for the dump. This involved a lot of beer drinking, driving madly around tortuous city back streets, and rushing from dump to dump so as not to miss the bear appearance. Bears are not dumb, it turns out, and they’ve timed their feeding to avoid city bear patrols (no comments here on the relative intelligence of Romanian vs. Bear, clearly), changing their feeding time monthly as the patrols try desperately to keep up. Bears are still winning, as of last summer. The rest of our hostel guests had jammed in a giant van and we had the car just to us four (side note- it is always wise to be nice to your hostel desk-chick. Who got the best bear-view and the car with beer in it? Me, that’s who), which turned out quite lucky when we spotted the first bears. Momma bears! And baby bears! I had solemnly vowed NOT to exit the car, as I don’t particularly want to die by bear, but I swear I was funning down that streeet, camera forgotten, scream-whispering like a snot-faced kid at Disneyland before that bear had dismantled even its first garbage can. They’re just so dang cute! And cuddly! And Oh Shit, is that the bear patrol coming?? Back to the car! But now I’m starting to sneeze? Why am I sneezing, I never sneeze? Oh jesus fuck, is that a cloud of bear mace following us into the car??
And now, I’d like to take this opportunity to inform the good people of the Brasov police squads of one little fact:
Actually, Sirs, your bears don’t give a flying fuck about bear mace. Also you have very bad aim. Please, in future, try to at least squirt towards the dump instead of straight at us Backpacking Bear-Stalkers? Pretty please?
As we all three started to hack up various internal organs (yes, three. Hostel Desk-Chick’s Brilliant BF was in no way dumb enough to exit the safety of his nice warm car just to eat eaten by a big dumb bear), the bears seemed to spook and take off up the hill. While most people would take that as a sign that they should leave well enough alone and get the fuck back to their beers, we disagreed. And we’re back careening and varooming around the cobblestone streets, mentally GPS’ing the quickest route to the next most probable bear stop in town…
It’s ok though, I didn’t get eaten by a bear. In fact, I lived to find that between the two of us, we had managed to inhale about 8,375 gallons of pepper spray but take only about, say, four whole pictures of blurry brown shadows. In celebration of the former fact, we ended the night just about as you’d imagine, with your forever-disaster-prone heroine doing Jaeger test-tubes and absinthe shots with some Romanian death-metal fan who’d once been to Lubbock for a month to work on a pig farm?? True story, I swear to Texas.
2 thoughts on “Nina’s Travel Rule #21: When in Transylvania, Try Not to Get Pepper-Sprayed On a Bear-Hunt”
No idea if my comment comes too late (your article being from 2012), but I was in Brasov last week and encountered a momma bear and her cub in the forest during my first hike ever on the Romanian Carpathians. Beautiful and not as scary as I thought it would be, but that might be due to the fact that momma bear opted for retreat instead of war, in which case I would probably not be here to tell it. Your story was very compelling, I had no idea there would be such damp-tours available in Brasov. I would say that with current bear numbers one does not need to roam stinky wastelands at night and can instead head for the mountains where chances of encounters are very high.
Awww that’s awesome! I’m glad the bears are still there, as they did appear to be winning the human war (and no idea if hostels are still running bear tours, european hostelling is so different to when I was there…)!