The Mud Sucker Curse of Transylvania
By Kirsten Koza

A gypsy curse seems to follow a traveler over 12 years of adventure travel in Romania.

Cross at the top of a Romanian hill Picture by Christopher Campbell

“Yes, yes, take picture!”

It was 2016 and I’d just purchased a brass coffee set from the Roma girl’s father. These were true gypsy kings, living in tin-turreted mansions lining the Romanian highway.

Roma people didn’t normally want their photos taken. I obliged although members of my annual “Dracula Expedition” were rushing to get to the airport. I turned to follow Radu, our Transylvanian guide.

Gypsy family

“Money!” The Roma girl thrust her hand towards me.

I’d just paid a fortune to her dad. “No.”

“You give me money!”

I kept walking.

“For picture, you give me money!”

This girl wasn’t getting anything.

“You give me money!” The Roma girl spat curses at me. Oh, not this again.

Airport gypsies had done this to me back in 2004 when I first met Radu. Three gypsy men had grabbed my luggage cart at arrivals and had jumped inside an elevator. I pursued them and leapt inside too, relieved to feel my sister-in-law Helen follow. The doors closed without Radu. I’d been pressed chest-to-chest with a Roma man.

I’d had to pay off those gypsies at the airport. Radu had taken the stairs and was there when the elevator doors opened but said nothing. I pretended I only had twenty euros, but it was a ransom when converted to Canadian dollars. Those Roma had cursed me and everything went dangerously wrong after that.


“You are first in world! Have ham!” A white-haired man invited Helen, Radu and me inside a gleaming metal mountaintop chalet.

I leaned my bicycle beside the beast Helen had rented from Radu. They’d both outpaced me on our two-day ascent in the Bucegi Mountains.

Radu explained, “We’re the first people in the world with bikes to come up Cocora mountain, up from Hotel Pestera, up to Babele, and up to Heroes’ Cross on Caraiman Peak.”

“A world record!” The man repeated his congratulations.

I hadn’t wanted to be first in the world. I’d wanted to take the cable car to the summit, but it was broken.

“I am Ginel.” The white-haired man introduced himself with a vigorous handshake. “My wife Gina is in the kitchen. Come sign my book. First in world! Gina, bring them ham! Gina hasn’t been off the mountain in seven years. Gina!”

“Gina and Ginel?” I whispered to Helen.

“Ham?” She whispered back as Radu directed us to sit at a wooden table and then followed Ginel to admire photographs of Ginel’s dead dogs.

“Are you okay?” I asked Helen. “You’re pale.”

“I can’t eat ham. How’s your stomach?” she asked.

“Terrible, ever since Radu filled my bottle with the sheep-manure water. But I’ll eat ham.” I was jubilant to see her suffering.

“When we get to Sinaia, where our luggage is, I’ll give you some Cipro.” Helen had brought a suitcase of drugs.

Ginel shoved a green scrapbook at me to sign.

“Toilet?” I asked.

“No. Say where you are from and that you bicycle to see me. And put the date.” Ginel stabbed the page with his pen. “First in the world! Well maybe not you,” he said to me and then pointed to Helen, “because she was the first first.”

The Sphinx and Sphincters

After eating ham we limped over to the Romanian Sphinx, the reason we’d climbed the mountain. It was supposedly a naturally wind carved rock formation and on profile against the blue sky, it resembled the Egyptian Sphinx, except the Romanian Sphinx’s face was stupid looking. It was a simple happy face, two dots for eyes, a silly smile, and nobody could ever convince me that the wind did that. Radu was dismayed when we didn’t care to take pictures. Exasperated, he took our cameras and made us pose. Then he told me, although summer, Ginel’s toilet was still frozen solid in several meters of permafrost. But I could use the toilet a little farther down the mountain at Babele ski chalet.

Sphinx Rock

Helen and I trotted down to the cabina and up the steps into the washroom. I skidded to a halt. I looked at the white grate floor with strands of toilet paper and excrement dripping over the rungs. “I can’t use this.”

Helen was gagging.

I tiptoed like a ballet dancer. The squat toilet holes were cut into a cast iron floor which could obviously be hosed off but hadn’t been since Vlad the Impaler shoved stakes up villagers’ bums in the 15th century. People weren’t even defecating inside the stalls. It was everywhere.

A swarthy Romanian hiker entered. It was coed.

“I have to leave,” Helen retched.

We exploded out the door “I thought you were experienced travelers!” Radu said. “Why don’t you go behind the cable car building?”

I dragged Helen to stand guard. I had just pulled down my shorts when I heard a metallic twanging noise. Suddenly a gondola appeared over the cliff. I aborted mooning its occupants. “Helen!”

“I know. The cable car is working now that we’ve climbed the mountain.”

A woman in a lavender twinset stared down at me.

“Yeah, well, we got ham!” I yelled up at the woman.

The cable car stopped shy of its house and everyone stared. I rounded the corner of the building and stepped onto shards of broken glass. I crunched across the glinting daggers. I was still in view of the cable car full of gawkers. There was a network of cable cars crossing the ranges. That was how our luggage was supposed to have made the trip. It had sounded very James Bondish. I stepped into a nearby alcove. Now I was the one retching. There were puddles of diarrhea all around me. I sprinted away, scattering shit-stained glass. “Helen, it’s worse than the bathroom. I can hold it another day!”

Two days up took twenty minutes down—plus an hour and a half on pavement to get to our hotel. I’d brought my dual suspension bike from Canada. Helen had said it was okay for me to leave her behind on the rocky descent. I released my brakes. Radu and I overtook a “paper” car. He’d said that because cars were recent acquisitions to Romanians, they would drive them anywhere, even to the moon. He took the left and I took the right passing the papier-mâché vehicle. He’d told me the East German car was called the Trabant and was made from recycled materials, even cotton and resin. I said it should have been called the Piñata. He said his dad had one. I shut up.

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Read this article online at: The Mud Sucker Curse of Transylvania

Copyright (C) Perceptive Travel 2017. All rights reserved.

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Wake Up and Smell the Shit

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Lost in Moscow: A Brat in the USSR

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