It’s funny how man tends to find shelter in the remotest of places and roughest conditions while he is by definition a social being that yearns to interact and live in a community. What is it that makes people move as far away from civilization as possible, despite the conveniences of the city? Are they hiding from someone? Not likely. Something tells me they did not come here just for the view. After all, big decisions are made with a plan and these people have managed to find all the resources they need to survive in the strangest of places. There are so many questions left unanswered. And still, you can’t help but wonder… Curiosity drew us nearer and we set off toward two isolated hamlets that are still inhabited today. There are no roads to connect them to the rest of the world, only a few long and steep paths. The fastest access is made by climbing a series of wooden stairs mounted on the impenetrable cliffs beneath. Hoping to find what makes these hamlets so special, we got directions toward the ladder to the skies, our very own version of Jack and the Beanstalk.
We left our car near the road on the Cerna Valley, about 18 km upstream from Băile Herculane thermal spa resort. We crossed the river on a wooden footbridge that was dangling from every joint. Then, we began walking through blooming orchards, twisting and turning on the narrow path. Slowly but surely, we were getting closer to a fortress of cliffs. The soft terrain was turning into an imposing rocky slope. From a distance, it didn’t seem like there would be any access toward the top. And yet, there was a way up. Three wooden stairs open a gateway through the cliffs, the fastest route for the people above the valley to reach the main road below. Jack threw the beans to the ground and the beanstalk grew and grew over the clouds deep into the skies. This time, the beanstalk was already here, in the form of a series of old wooden ladders.
We trusted our lives to these three, almost vertical, thin and feeble handmade ladders which were literally propped by the cliff, anchored by a few brittle pieces of wire. Without any second thoughts, we accepted the challenge. Just like Jack climbed the beanstalk, we climbed up the wooden stairs without any clue of what was at the other end. We were already above the orchards and the narrow Cerna Valley was looking straight at us from all directions. There was no hurry so we took our time to admire the spectacular view that was opening up before us.
At the end of the stairs, the rough terrain immediately vanished behind us, making way for welcoming pastures and shady forests. Still struggling to catch a glimpse of what lies ahead, time slowed down. Finally, we saw the first houses in the distance and reached an open plateau, a world within a world, so well hidden it could have fooled anyone reaching the discouraging ladders. Jack found another world at the end of his beanstalk and so did we at the end of the wooden stairs. Surrounded by mountains, the Cerna Valley disappeared beneath us, leaving only its high ridges still in sight. A 360 degrees panoramic view pulled us to stay here a little while longer.
The frail wooden ladders trick you into believing that the people in the Scărișoara and Ineleț hamlets live a rough life, filled with gaps and needs they cannot satisfy, having to go through fire and water just to make supplies. But the rich plateau that opens up above the valley offers everything they need in order to make the best of the place they chose to live in, close to the skies, away from the world. We saw cows, herds of sheep and horses. They grow potatoes, tomatoes, beans, and just about any vegetable that can adapt to the soil and conditions. Every house has a large orchard that gives shade during hot summer days and apples, plums, cherries, pears, and walnuts throughout the season. Things are not nearly as bad as they seem. All households have their own fountain and electricity. There’s a church built from tin plates, as they were easier to carry, and even a tiny school with a couple of small chambers that serve the people in Scărișoara and Ineleț hamlets.
We have come to depend on society and all the facilities it has to offer. But what is civilization? Nauseous fumes, loud music from your neighbor, deforestation, garbage, and roaring streets. There must be more than this. Perhaps some people need to get away in search of something better. Or maybe it is only fate. Regardless of the reasons why they are living here, up on their isolated plateau, these people don’t need much. And I seriously doubt they miss the constant fuss of the city and nerve-racking traffic jams. Life is peaceful here, time slows down, no car can reach these places, the air is as pure as it can possibly get and the view…well, I wouldn’t mind spending a few weeks here, at the other end of the ladder to the skies, another version of Jack and the Beanstalk.