National Geographic : 1969 Jun
WITH THREE OTHER YOUNG AMERICANS, I jour neyed last summer to Rumania, the land of my fathers. As it happened, we were there at the very time Czechoslovakia was invaded by the Russians-and Rumanians were asking them selves whether their country was to be next. For two and a half months-before, during, and after this crisis we traveled through the Carpathian Mountains, which span the heart of the country. This story is mostly of our experiences in out of-the-way places, but also it is the story of a Communist nation struggling to build its own bridges between East and West. We planned to follow the Carpathians for 1,100 miles, from Moldavia on the Soviet border all the way to the Yugoslav frontier, where the Danube cuts through the mountains (map, below).* Our group of four included photographer Chris Knight-short, blond, energetic, and full of enthusiasm for spontaneous and lively conversations with farmers, students, and workers. Dick Durrance, also a skilled photographer, was just out of the Army after service in Viet Nam. Dick brought a knack for making friends without using a word of the local language. He also brought several well-guarded jars of his favorite food, peanut butter. The third man was Bill Wilson, our "bard in residence," whose guitar and harmonica were often to generate warm exchanges with people whose language we could not speak. I was the fourth. A graduate student at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy in Medford, Massachusetts, I planned to record our experiences-and learn more about my family's home land from them. Diplomat's Son Arrives-With a Backpack My father had been a diplomat in the service of the Royal Ruma nian Government that preceded the current Communist regime. He had left his country several months before King Michael's forced abdication in 1947, and he has never returned. I was the first of our immediate family to visit Rumania in 20 years-a naturalized Amer ican born in England, raised in Morocco, and able to speak but a few words of Rumanian. Since none of my companions could speak Rumanian either, we asked the National Tourist Office in Bucharest for a guide who could also serve as interpreter. Mugur Badea, a 25-year-old physics re searcher and university instructor, proved also to be a witty and diplomatic ally in dealing with cautious bureaucrats, factory direc tors, and train conductors. Before leaving Bucharest, we exchanged suits and ties for blue jeans, hiking boots, and backpacks that carried our camping gear and photographic equipment (upper right and page 836). Dick stowed his peanut butter in his pack. Chris added a pocket dictionary and conversation guide to his equipment, and Bill rigged his guitar with a rope sling. Mugur lovingly rolled up the new down-filled sleeping bag that we had ordered for him from Switzerland when we found that none was available in Bucharest. We were off to see the Car pathians, and in the process, much of Rumania. In area, Rumania is smaller than Oregon, yet it holds nearly ten times as many people-almost 20,000,000. As the country's name reminds us, the national language is of Latin origin, the result of nearly two centuries of Roman colonization. This has helped Ru mania build a cultural bridge over its Slavic neighbors to the *For vivid accounts of two previous trips of goodwill and adventure by the author and his friends, see "Down the Danube by Canoe," by William Slade Backer, in the July 1965 NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC, and "Kayak Odyssey: From the Inland Sea to Tokyo," by Dan Dimancescu, in the September 1967 issue. 812 Land of three parts:The principalities of Molda via and Walachia united in 1859 to form Rumania. Transylvania was added to the nation after the collapse of the Austro Hungarian Empire in World War I. Today a 22 year-old Communist re gime holds tight control internally, but Rumania nonetheless trades exten sively with the West.