How I Ended Up on a Water Buffalo Farm in Romania
This was not the magic I was looking for.
I had spent the day taking buses and ski lifts, trudging through knee-high snow (half-convinced I’d get lost forever in the unending whiteness of the mountainside) in search of the timeless, wild, romantic Transylvania of my bookish dreams… only to be met by Coca-Cola logos and a giant satellite dish when I finally found the cabin.
I had originally intended to spend my time in Romania volunteering in the countryside, but every farm I’d applied to had no work for me, or simply hadn’t responded. This cabin getaway was plan E or F in my search for some “Magic of Romania,” but it would have to do. I checked in and was shown to my room. Then, having freed myself of my heavy backpack, I went down to the dining room and tucked myself against an old radiator by one of the windows. I ordered a hot dinner and a glass of wine, then turned to watch the snow falling silently on the immense pines outside. As the feeling returned to my toes, so too returned my optimism. A sense of the peace I’d been searching for finally began to settle over me.
And that’s when the DJ started setting up.
The illusory rustic tranquility in which I’d wrapped myself morphed into a strobe-lit scene of four ten-year-olds, their parents, and a clique of assorted middle aged men dancing to Bon Jovi and the morbid ‘Hanging Tree’ song from The Hunger Games. The crowd was laughably small for the gawkish magnitude of the venue and volume, and the longer I stared at the revelry, the more I considered the possibility that I’d fallen gravely ill in my blizzard-braving and was trapped in a fever dream.
The illusory rustic tranquility in which I’d wrapped myself morphed into a strobe-lit scene of four ten-year-olds, their parents, and a clique of assorted middle aged men dancing to Bon Jovi and the morbid ‘Hanging Tree’ song from The Hunger Games.
Choosing to accept that this was indeed my reality, I occupied myself with guessing which child’s birthday it might be (or was this a usual Saturday night occurrence in isolated mountain cabins across Romania?) A member of the Middle Aged Men Clique approached and invited me to join their table, where illumination was quickly proffered — they were local business owners who had sponsored a youth ski competition that weekend. Because the blizzard had blown in, only the four children present had risked the journey up the mountain, and the competition had been called off.
“But we might as well enjoy the after party we paid for anyway.”
When asked how I’d ended up there, I briefly detailed my failing quest to connect with the raw, rural Romania, at which point one of the men spoke up, “Have you spoken to Krishan?” pointing at another of the men. “He runs a water buffalo farm a few hours away and takes foreign volunteers all the time.”
Only then did I recognize the man in question. I’d seen his Workaway profile countless times.
“I applied to work on your farm!” I told him.
He claimed that I had not. “I’ve been looking for volunteers. I would’ve seen if you had.”
“I could swear that I did.”
“But you didn’t.”
Had I really not? Had I really missed the “send” button on one of the dozen requests I’d typed up, and then instead met the owner at a laughable almost-party in a mountain cabin hours away?
“If you’re still interested in volunteering, I’m heading back there tomorrow. I can drive you and everything.”
This was not the magic I had been searching for, but it certainly was something.
I awoke to that text…and to a wall of snow surrounding the cabin. I had a few hours to get down the mountain, and we were snowed in.
The next day I awoke to an instruction from Krishan — who had left early to go into town — to meet him at the station at 3 if I still wanted to volunteer. I awoke to that text…and to a wall of snow surrounding the cabin. I had a few hours to get down the mountain, and we were snowed in.
But if the magic of Romania had gone so far as to lead me up this mountain to connect with this opportunity, it surely wouldn’t deny my following it. It was by this logic that I found myself speeding down Postavaru Mountain on the back of a snowmobile driven by last night’s DJ, weighed down with his turntables. And it was through this serendipity that I spent my final week in Romania deep in the Transylvanian countryside throwing hay, making fires to heat our water, and — why not? — helping care for 150 water buffalo.
The farm was blindingly beautiful, the setting not of some old Gothic book I had read, but rather a new, exciting tale that I found myself writing — my own. This new tale is more absurdist than dramatic, and quirky rather than romantic. And that’s what makes it so special. At the end of the day, travel is not about ticking boxes on lists or re-affirming our pre-existing ideas of what a place is like. It’s about living our stories, and letting our own narratives pull us along.
Photo credits for How I Ended Up on a Water Buffalo Farm in Romania by Unsplash.