THE ENDLESS MOUNTAINS. You walk. Days pass. Hiking westward from the waters of the murky Olt with its warm sands and driftwood. Long will it be before its waters join the clear, rushing Lotru, river of thieves. Above it, walls so steep trees grow perpendicularly outwards. A gypsy settlement beyond Tent Valley, like nothing you’ve ever seen: fires, ragged dogs, earthen huts, stench, mud, skirts of red. Above the village, motley, waterless meadows, gnarled beech thickets, moist and distant pine forests, lofty grassy summits. Long the climb to two-thousand-meter high Căpăţînii pastures, long the journey through them, grasslands interspersed with boulders and broken slopes. Painted crosses stand at sheep intersections amid mountain passes. Take all your provisions with you. You will bring home silver horseshoes. Cabins there are large and square, like the mighty fortresses of old. If you fear drinking from muddy watering holes, better stay away from Căpăţînii mountain ridges! Olt pass marks the end of this range, continuing westward and you’ll enter the Parîng Mountains.

To the southeast, a great limestone massif provides stunning views, but its jagged skyline provides only limited hiking. Abruptly, majestically, Vinturariţa stretches skyward, queen over south Carpathian gales. Riven cliffs. Fierce, wild dogs. From out of nowhere, a pack of beasts surrounds you. To reach the range’s eastern boundary, you must pass through Cheia gorge, the narrowest in all Carpathia, harrowing passage in a storm. Between white walls an arm span across, the deep, jade green Cheia River rushes out of the mountains. At its mouth, the most magnificent Carpathian wilderness. A pearly cliff basin amid massive perpendicular walls. On its floor, broken and deserted hunting cabins. Ibexes. Archangelica and heartleaf oxeye high above our heads, bitter scent. Silence, mint tea and fir-bough beds. Absolute solitude.

In forests beneath the Cheia’s mouth stands a solitary convent run about by stone walls. I knock at the door, four nuns open. White lilies, fiery poppies shine in the evening glow. A cell-bound supper of corn, painted icons. Blows on wood call to evening prayers. The scent of plants, silent weavers. Never have I felt such peace of heart, never have felt such shame for my black and lustful soul.