THE VARIED MOUNTAINS. White cliffs shimmer in the northern reaches: ivory precipices, abyssal valleys. You will find no water there, no human dwelling, no mountain paths. Cliffs and plains, that is all. In the west, a memorial cross stands in the grass. Black hailstorms and blacker mists swallow ridgetop sheep tracks, but there is no getting lost here. Mountains stretch into the distance on all sides. After a cold night, the snow on distant the Borascu plain glistens strangely. Three days of arduous wandering. Bear droppings amid uprooted trees in Yellow Valley. The only way forward: through brook and waterfall. Hard going. Copses of plants, shoulder high, soaked in rain. Nights spent beneath igneous cliffs where water trickles, drop by drop. It takes patience to fill your cup. Windy nights among damp meadow flowers. Nights when eyes of dogs glow red in the darkness. They circle round you, silently, ever closer. Sleep is restless. You sleep beneath huge trees at the upper edge of the forest. At the mouths of gloomy valleys, puddled in yesterday’s snow, feral dogs tear at sheep carcasses. Desolation. A shepherd carries a cold handful of cornmeal pudding, his day’s rations. Huts here are built of thin stone slabs that have clawed their way to Earth’s surface and now lie strewn about throughout the range. Build a stony hermitage on the shores Gugu Lake, playing to the clouds your fluted song. Tibetan song of solitude.

Below the mountains flows Cerna River, once Wallachia’s utmost boundary, today still magnificent countryside. No roads lead to its source, only donkey trails. Wild old women twist sheep wool into thread. Spindles whirl between fingers, bean blossoms bloom red. An abyss of time. A few wooden, black, dwarfish dwellings whelming in manure. Beechwood fires. A river gushing from a cliff beneath windthrown trees, a wooden corn mill grinding away, clunk, creak, squeak. Stop the river, and the mill stops too. Shops and electricity are a long way off. Nothing but flat valleys, untended wetlands, and white gorges. From here the track rises to the boundary of the Godeanu, Retezat, and Vîlcan mountains.