THE DESERTED MOUNTAINS. Vast, godforsaken plains – like inner Mongolia. A solitary horse. Not a single pilgrim for three days. Miserable huts amid pastures, shepherds on horseback riding like bandits, flying like the wind, soaring and playing their flutes as they ride wildly. Toward Şurean Lake they gallop, beneath a peak two kilometers high. Silent glacial lake, skirted by bogs and scrub pine, overlooked by cliff upon cliff.

Tarrying and doldrums beneath Lui Pătru, the highest summit. These deserted mountains belong to us. Sparks from a great fire fly heavenwards on a beautiful windless night.  Ascent the loftiest peak is murder. Four stages to the summit, from beneath you see but one.  Vainly you hope for the climb to end.

Black Mountain towers amidst the Şureans. Its scrub-pine forests draw the pilgrim’s eye like a magnet amid those grassy prairies. Give it wide berth though, little brother. Better to avoid a shortcut on hands and knees!

Beautiful the Şurean Mountains, the Sebeş Mountains, the Orăştie Mountains. Culminating in gleaming mica to the northwest, they pour down into a valley, streams of innumerable slopes and ridges. With a bit of luck, you’ll find the right one. Follow it to lush forests where a mighty fortress stands. Temples and walls overgrown like ancient Mayan structures in Yucatan jungles, the Dacian stronghold of Sarmizegetusa was conquered more than two thousand years ago. Breath of antiquity. All is deserted, pieces of statues litter the ground. A single path, steep and narrow, leads out of the valley below. Even the main valley proved impassable. Not until Grădiştea de Munte, amid still trackless countryside, do we encounter smoking charcoal kilns and barefoot children playing with speckled pigs. A boulder filled river valley, dust-covered wormwood, the smell of cows, the buzz of insects, a warm evening.