Guest Post – A Transylvanian Vision Quest

Hiking in Transylvania

Well, I’m due to nip off to the Peak District for a few days filming shortly and when I get back I’ll be busy editing some short videos – so, things may be a bit quite from me on here for a while.

In the meantime, cast your eyes over this guest post from a fellow outdoors blogger from Romania – it’s a damn fine read and reveals further how as people of the world we may differ by language or even cultural aspects (as you’ll see) – but more often than not we are the one and same.

Sure, it may be controversial to some and there are aspects I don’t agree with – but Andras shows how other cultures and peoples can perceive the natural world and interact with it differently than ourselves here in the UK….


Transylvanian Carpathian Vision Quest

Andras Kocsik

Since I was a kid I have been interested in tribal cultures. As I grew up and I learned more and more about their certain customs, I gradually became interested in Shamanism also. 


I read about the 4-day (or more)-vision quests that several cultures used as the best form  to initiate  adolescents into adulthood. During my cultural anthropological studies I also came across the wide use of consciousness altering mushrooms in these quests. The initiate would go up the mountain (like Moses, or Zoroaster, or the Indian yogi when they want to “talk to god”) and fast for certain days, then they’d take the mushrooms. The experience they had would change their whole perception of what they had previously thought about the whole of existence.
            
I had hiked in the Carpathians before, led hikes in the Appalachians for campers, had been in close to death situations a few times, but I had never been up the mountain by myself. I was 32 when I thought the time had come to go on a vision quest myself. Before I left, a friend of mine had given me a small Psylocibin Cubensis mushroom that I planned to take after having hiked and fasted for at least 3 days. My destination was Mt. Paring in the S. Carpathians in Romania. I had grown up in this country as a member of the Hungarian minority during the Ceausescu regime, but after the “revolution” of ’89 I moved across the border to Hungary.
            
I left Szeged (Hungary) on a sunny June morning. I took the early bus that would take me across the border, to Arad (Romania), where I was born. There were no trains towards the mountains until afternoon so I decided to hitch-hike. This is a very common way of getting around in Romania. You are expected to pitch in for gas but you get a ride fairly easily. In about 5 mins a Mercedes with German license plates stopped. 

The Romanian driver had been living in Germany for 20 years. He was a really well-travelled, intelligent guy. We had a really nice talk about the places we had been to in the world and time passed like the wind as we were both admiring the beauty of the Maros river valley, and the mountains running into it. He dropped me off in Deva, an ugly industrial town, from where I was lucky to catch a slow train to the foot of Mt Paring.

I got off in Petrosani, a dark mining town with some one-time nice, now run-down monarchic buildings in the centre. I walked across the town and after asking for directions I started hiking on a dirt road that led me closer to the mountain, which stood in the vicinity. At the edge of the town I passed some beautiful wooden houses made in the old style, without having used any nails. The sun was slowly going down, so I walked as fast as I could because I wanted to spend the night somewhere on the the way up to the  main ridge. I started to get into the land of the mighty pine giants. 

Hiking on the ridges
What ozone-filled aroma gets imbued into our cells by walking among them. I was getting higher and higher as the sun was slowly painting the sky in the colours of its good-bye: myriads of red hues were dancing behind me as I was quickly making progress on the fairly steep slope. I might have taken a ski lift to the main ridge but I had decided to work my way up bathing in my own sweat, burning down those accumulated poisons from the system.
            
Finally, as the sky was turning dark purple due to the disappearance of the sun, I pitched my tent under a solitary pine tree. The view of the mountains with their night gown auras dancing in the indigo light of the sky was really rewarding. I put on all my clothes because I knew it was going to get pretty cold as soon as darkness fell. I ate a little of the trail-mix I had put together at home and after having admired the closeness of the stars for some time I slipped into my sleeping bag for a wonderful sleep. There’s nothing like sleeping on a bed of pine needles: nice and soft, no bumps, great insulation and the freshness of the air!
            
Next day I woke just after the sun had risen behind the mountain. Sheets of orange light were flooding the area as I packed my stuff and continued my way towards the 2519 metres Paringu Mare peak.
            
The mountain slows you down physically and mentally. It makes you be conscious about literally every slow step you take. I was putting one foot in front of the other for at least 3 hours when I started to feel close to the main ridge. I had long left the forest zone and was walking on the wonderful Persian carpet made of grasses, mosses, lichens. I was approaching the ski resort. 

Being summer there were not many people around. The whole place looked like it was left there from the 80’s. I checked a painted map on the wall, I made a small copy of it on a piece of paper and I started hiking into the wild. I usually don’t carry a detailed map of the area where I go. I have a large scale Transylvania map with a rough shape of the mountains and that has always been enough. I enjoy the excitement of not being always completely sure about where I am. 

I like to just look into the distance and see where I would like to go. Sometimes of course this is impossible due to the weather. But I also enjoy hiking in complete fog, even if it lasts for a couple of days. I like the silence and the true solitude of the atmosphere; like being in white darkness, you don’t see anything and nothing is moving.  When I take people along I, of course use maps,too, if the area is new to me.
            
The path started zigzagging up the rocky mountain. Up here there is very little vegetation. But this is also the home of the Gentian, the queen of mountain flowers, and many other yellow, purple and white ones. 

Many of the Carpathian mountains are like gigantic meadows at 2000 metres altitude, but some are really rugged and wild and it is really hard to find a place where one can put up a tent, except if you go down to one of the small lakes a few hundred metres lower. Sometimes the ridge becomes so narrow that only one person can fit on it. I decided to spend the night on the ridge since I had found a place where some shepherds had built a small shelter kinda wall and there was just enough space for my tent.

Shepherd Huts
The shepherds come up with their flocks in late June when the new grass starts to spring. They stay in small huts that stay abandoned after they go down to their villages with the animals in October.  My camping place was fairly close to the main peak so I got to admire the sunset from one of the tops of Romania. The weather was really clear so I could see hundreds of kilometres of the Carpathians in both directions.
            
When you go up the mountain you physically go into beauty. There is beauty all around you and you are inside it. It’s not like a gallery, or museum, or cinema where you are merely an outsider, a spectator of someone else’s work. On the mountain you feel that you are part of what you are seeing, hearing, touching, the basic elements: pure air, stream water that needs no filtering, the rocks, the fire you make and the vast spaces with light-shows that will keep your beauty-sensors at a pretty high level. 

And it all changes in front of your eyes (not like a Picasso). The different lights one experiences from dawn till sunset have a wonderful healing effect on mind and body. After all we humans have spent much more time of our existence close to nature than isolated from it by concrete and steel. Nature is our natural environment, where one gets reconnected to something we can’t even grasp with our intellect, but our whole being senses it and gets recharged.
             
When the sun disappeared completely the wind stopped to blow too, and I was able to get sucked into the cosmos lying on my back  in my sleeping bag. No light pollution whatsoever up here. I fell asleep under the stars but later on I woke up and crawled into my tent because the dew had settled on my sleeping bag. I slept like a baby again and woke up a bit earlier than the sun. I got out of the tent in the early morning crispy weather to see a strange greenish light above the jagged teeth of the mountains East of me. This light started to slowly turn into violet, then all the shades of orange, as the orange itself gradually rolled up between two peeks.
            
My plan was to pack up, hike a few hours on the ridge, then go down  to a lake, pitch the tent and start the encounter with the mushroom. It was a gorgeous morning: nice and warm with barely any clouds in the sky. The view was spectacular: I was hiking mainly on rocks right on top of the main crest. I could see the snaking of the Carpathians in both ways. They seemed so close and far away at the same time. Time and space get a different meaning while one is hiking, especially in higher mountains. It seems like you will never get to that point you see in the distance, but as the minutes pass you are amazed by the progress you have made, although it all seems to happen very slowly, especially uphill.
           
            
After hiking all morning without eating I saw a small beautiful  transparent lake at the bottom of the next rocky valley a couple of hundreds of meters below me. I saw some nice green lawn-looking area on one of its sides. The rest was all huge rocks so it was unfit for camping. It seemed like a perfect place for the site of the vision quest: it seemed sheltered, there was water, plus some small pines on the lower side where the lake turned into a stream.


As I got into the saddle from where there was a path down to the lake a mysterious cloud started to roll in from the valley on my right side. It was like milk rolling up the side of the mountain. I had to run to reach the path before it would disappear in the fog. I reached it just before the whiteness rolled in and obscured the radiant sunshine. I barely walked five minutes when the fog slowly started thinning, and as I was gazing into this mist the shape of a grey horse started to emerge. 

I wasn’t sure whether it was only some rocks and the play of the fog and the strange lights, or it was real. Then all of a sudden the white mist disappeared and I found myself surrounded by at least thirty horses of all the possible colour combinations. They all stood staring at me in silence. They looked very clean and healthy. One of them walked close to me. I was just standing and admiring them. They looked like the horses of gods in the sky. This white one came up to me and touched my forehead with its own forehead, and we just stood like that for a few seconds, then it walked away. I have never sat on a horse in my life but I have always felt some closeness with horses. This was a very strange moment.
            
I sat down. The sky was completely blue. It seemed like I would be able to get to the lake within half an hour. I knew the mushroom would need at least an hour to start kicking in, so I thought: why wait until I get there and set up the tent when I can eat it now and by the time it starts to have its effect I’d be all camped. The encounter with the horse seemed like a good omen for taking the fungus up there among the horses. 

The Hungarians were nomads and the white horse was the ceremonial, and sacrificial animal. So I kissed the little shroom, which was less than a gram, so I didn’t expect much from it, and chewed it up with a little water. After swallowing the bitter-sweet ball I started descending to the lake. 

Within about ten minutes I started to feel the first wave of the effect of the mushroom. In the same instant a huge thunder roared from the direction of the peek above me, like god was saying:”Beware!” 

When I looked back I saw gigantic black clouds rolling in from the other side of the ridge. “Oh, no, this is not good.” I thought.  I started to quicken my steps towards the lake. Heavy drops of rain started to bombard me. I new I had to concentrate. The mushroom was pulling me stronger and stronger. The thunder was roaring without stopping. I saw the first lightning strike a rock about a hundred meters from me. I was running by this time in pouring down rain and semi darkness balancing on rocks and boulders. I felt like I was more agile than any time before. 

When I finally reached the lake I had to sadly realize that what I had seen as a nice lawn from above was really a boggy, soggy, wet, long grassed area where it was impossible to put up a tent. I started to fear for my life. I saw lightning bolts flashing all around me and the sound of the detonations were like the whole mountain was about to break off.
            
My heart was racing like madness but I told myself to focus, focus, focus, or else I might very easily die. I was more than sorry I had taken the mushroom before I made sure that everything was OK and settled in camp. Finally I found a small grassy area where I could pitch the tent in the storm. I had only slept one night in this tent before and I had never tested it in rainy weather( I’d bought it from TESCO dirt cheap). 

I put up the tent in huge wind, I got inside and I started to get really scared. I changed my clothes, I was dry, but the mushroom was pulling me into a bad, scary trip. So this is what they call a “bad trip”, I thought. The storm just started to get stronger and stronger. My ears hurt from the loudness of the thunder, although I had plugged them in with my fingers. I felt the electricity all around me. I felt like I was right in the middle of a war between gods and demons with bolts coming down incessantly like arrows around me. Now it all made sense why I had seen those crosses in certain places of the Carpathians. Most people who die up there do so not because they fall from a cliff, but because they get struck by lightning, or get hypothermia.
             
I started to almost panic from all the craziness going on around and inside me when I finally took a deep breath and decided to step back a bit and analyse my situation as clear-headedly as I could. I realised that the only reason I am afraid is because all our lives we hear it from parents and others to not like the rain, to go inside because we might get wet, or the lightning will strike us. 

But what are the chances that one gets struck? Very little usually.  Even if the rain and wind destroy my tent I can always walk down into any valley within three hours where I can find shelter and people. “So, calm down!”, I kept telling myself. “There is only danger in your mind. There is no real danger. What more, you should feel privileged to have the opportunity to experience such a tempest from within, from where it is all made. How many people get to experience this mighty power first handedly? There is no danger whatsoever. Make peace with yourself. If you have to die now be prepared but do not fear, because there will be no pain if the lightning hits you, you’ll just get instantly sucked into the light.”
             
It is not like I am crazy and I want to die, but somehow this last thought of “what has to come will come”, it is all out of my control now, and there is no reason to preoccupy myself about something that in reality has only a very slight chance to happen, did make me calm down immensely. I slowly felt the tension leaving my muscles and great peace descended onto my mind. The fear turned into joy. The incessant thunder now seemed more like a Beethoven symphony ( he did write a pretty hard core piece entitled The Tempest in his 6th symphony, I think). At this point I smoked a pinch of herb and felt even more at peace, and also how the mushroom got a new Pegasus to take me into the internal cosmos. I felt like the entity of the fungus took control over my body and mind and it was going to teach me some lessons.
            
I was kneeling in my sleeping bag, I plugged my ears with my index fingers, I covered my eyes with my palms, my forehead touching the ground. Complete darkness with barely any sounds from the storm. The fungus made me do very slow and deep yoga type of breathing. 

I never thought I was capable of such stuff. My breathing slowed down considerably. When I would exhale completely, I’d leave my body vacuum packed from inside for what seemed like a very long time and it seemed like I’d have to remind myself to breathe in. I started to hear the inner sounds of the body. It’s amazing how many rhythms,drums, organs, voices can be heard if our ears are shut for the external vibrations and opened for the inside music. 

I felt like I had to sing a mantra-like song that just came to my mind in that instant. When I was singing it, it seemed very familiar, and I knew that this was my song, my key to the “other  side”. I kept on singing this short song slightly differently every time. I felt my whole body vibrating from the song. I was only focusing on the song. My forehead was touching the ground so the blood had been flooding my brain for some time. This is the typical praying “posture” in all religions (probably not by accident). My breathing became barely palpable, and my mind seemed to be very sharp and focused. A pleasant warmth started to spread from my lower back up the two sides of my spine. For a moment I felt overheated. No thought entered my mind. It seemed like everything stopped to exist individually and the whole of my inner screen turned into a radiant light of happiness to the extent I had never felt before in my life. 

It was the bliss of feeling unity with all existence. And this is not some New Age blah blah light talk. This was an amazing experience. When I came back from this “place” it felt like I was falling back through layers until I became aware of where I was again.
             
It seemed like I had just come back from a very distant world I happened to make a worm-hole-like connection with. As I was listening it seemed like the storm had quieted down, too. I must have been inside at least for half an hour. I wanted to check the situation outside. I was lying on my belly and slowly unzipped the tent. My mind had been so much used to focusing that as soon as my eyes fell on the wet blades of grass I automatically started to look a bit cross-eyed, like when you look into a 3D picture from close. 

Slowly the green colour disappeared and all I saw was red, yellow and blue little spirals moving up and down inside each blade and each pearl of rain drop on them. It was like looking at the force of light directly , without experiencing its colour. Wow, this was really weird, and fascinating at the same time. I tried this focusing on my hands, too. I gazed at my hands from close by until again I only saw these energy spirals instead of my fingers and palm. It was like in the last episode of the Matrix, when Neo is blind but can still “see” the energy of the objects.
By this time the rain had almost stopped, so I got out of the tent to keep on experimenting with this new-found vision. I sat on a huge rock overlooking the lake. Some fog was still floating in the air. Everything was still drippy. I started to focus onto the ridge of my nose having the sight of the lake and the cliffs behind it. The “natural” colours slowly disappeared again and I only saw the lake and the whole mountain as vibrating, tricolour, incessantly moving spirals. I could see the wind this way as it swept down on the side of the mountain, hit the surface of the lake causing some ripples, and slid on; all as a living force, like the grass or my hand. 

I wanted to go further, so I kept on focusing onto the tip of my nose  when I had been in the spiral dimension for some time, and lo, after some time the colours disappeared and it all became white and peaceful. I felt a smile crawl onto my face. My first thought was that this is the way they portray the smile of the Buddha, too: half open eyes focusing, accompanied by the smile. All the saints and gods are portrayed like this in the East. As I was experiencing this bliss in the whiteness, although my eyes were half open, a small radiant light appeared in the upper part of this space. 

My focus was automatically drawn towards it but a strange feeling of discomfort whispered to me not to let my mind be lured into it. I had no courage to venture any further in these newly found unmapped internal territories. Nonetheless I felt like a miracle happened to me. It was the first time I experienced existence in a very different way. My mind was getting really tired from all this focusing. I did not feel drunk, or dizzy, or any of this. On the contrary; I felt I was more clear-headed than any time in my life before. 

A shepherd takes a break
I felt I could put my intellectual powers to work a hundred times better than before. It was a wonderful experience and now I think the electricity in the air might have had a lot to do with the depth of this experience. I had taken mushrooms several times before since I used to live in Costa Rica, where they grew all around the country in cow pies, but I had never had any such strong experiences  even with much larger quantities.
            
I started to feel hungry after all this mental and physical effort, plus the fast. I took out the trail-mix: several types of nuts, dried fruits, and M&Ms drops (’cause they don’t melt in the heat). Great taste, great energy. It all tasted like gourmand food. I was savouring every little bite like I had just come back from a very strenuous journey and I had been going without food for days.
            
After I had eaten  I plugged my ears with some trance music and I danced on huge boulders for about an hour. By this time the sun was about to set, so I slowly crawled into my tent and thought about my strange experiences until I fell asleep exhausted.
            
The next morning I slept in and I didn’t bother to get out of the cosiness of the warm sleeping bag until the heat of the sun got almost unbearable in the “hot house”. I packed up my stuff and started hiking down along the spring that was flowing out of the lake. The flora was turning very lush along the running water. Huge elephant ear-like leaves, tall grasses, multi coloured flowers decorated the banks of the stream. As I descended I passed through the layers of trees backwards as I had done on the way  up a couple of days earlier.
             
I wanted to spend one last night in the forest, so I decided to set camp in a beautiful little clearing next to the spring. I made a fire that had a smoke like incense, since it was completely made of pine branches. 

Romania is an ideal place for wild campers because you can practically camp anywhere you want and burn as much wood as you wish.
            
I usually take along a roll of tinfoil. I always use it double folded. I chop up some potatoes, onions, garlic, some bacon, salt, pepper, curry, or masala (whatever spices you like), I make a nice shiny ball, wrap it up 3-4 times in extra foil. I make a dough with some flour, salt and some water, and I use tinfoil as a frying pan to make the flat breads (chapati). I make the fire in a V shape. This way you can feed the fire on its two sides and you can pull enough embers from them to the middle part, your fire place. The ball needs to be turned each 10 nins. If you have a good fire your delicious food is ready within half an hour. When I hike with my friends we always make feasts. Cooking together on an open fire and eating it together is a wonderful thing, and it may be one of the best “team-building” exercises.
            
The forest was calm in the night. I slept like a log on pine needles again. In the morning I thanked the spirit of the place for the hospitality and I packed up to start hiking out of the woods. After walking on a forestry road for about two hours I got a ride with a logging truck to Petrosani, and then I came home.
            
I was very happy to have experienced what I did, although I had no idea what I experienced. A month after this I went to India for half a year. There I sat in a 10 day Vipassana meditation during which I experienced similar things and then in that moment it all became much clearer. But that’s another story…
            
If you would like to come along any hikes in the S Carpathians, you can contact me via:

Happy trails! 

András
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4 Comments Add yours

  1. Moonlight Shadow says:

    Bloody hell, that's some trip, pun intended!

    Fascinating read, the Shamanic aspect is something I'm interested in, it ties with my own vision of the outdoors (although I'm straigh-edged about it, I either manage my trance-like state on my own or I don't, no artificial help…) and how, in the right circumstances, interacting with the Divine is almost a step away.

    Great stuff, thanks for sharing. And the area seems a great place for hiking/wildcamping. I'll take plenty of garlic though… 😉

    Y

    Like

  2. Wow, what a post! I'm dreaming of flying to Romania and hiking in Transylvania too since I was a kid. I live on the West Coast, US, though and didn't make it as far as Romania. I read a lot about it, and what attracted me most as a child (well, less now that I'm older and wiser) is that Romania has more wolves than the whole of Europe. Is that correct? Thank you so much for this delightful, interesting post. It was so moving for me to read it.

    Like

  3. terrybnd says:

    @Moonlightshadow – Yep, it's a good read, eh?

    @Winter hydration pack – Thanks for visiting 🙂 I don't know about the stat about wolves in Romania but it's definitely a country steeped in ancient lore – it clearly had a major influence on the great Bram Stoker.

    Like

  4. moses says:

    András, what a great story, well told! It brought back a lot of great memories of our camping trip there in the Carpathians with your bro, and our other adventures around Transylvania surrounded by surreal beauty.

    When I think back to the part where we were walking up that long rope to get up to the summit of the mountain it seems really distant now – like we really did that? Wow. Too bad we didn't have some shrooms back then. (I remember the disappointment of trying to smoke wild hemp from the Hungarian forest, just got a headache from it!)

    Somewhere in my stuff back in Oregon I have a few photos of that camping trip that I'll have to dig for next time I'm home. Thanks for the memories!

    Mo

    Like

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