The Moţi Country: Clay, Wood and Hay

Old Motzi house in Rîmeţ villageDeep in the heart of the Apuseni Mountains, guarded by valleys and forests, the Moţi Country is revealed. With their funny looking houses, old habits and tradition, inhabitants here are believed to be the direct descendents of the Dacians. Woodcutters, hunters and farmers still live in the highest permanent settlements in Romania, spreading across hills sometimes over 1400m, having to deal with hot summers and cold winters. If you get far enough you’ll see that their life hasn’t changed much in the past centuries.

There are many winding roads that can take us inside the mountains. We chose the one that passes through the Monastery Gorges, a great opportunity for mixing climbing in Rîmeţ with some interesting hikes.

 The Rîmeţ Gorges

It’s already morning. There’s a cool draft on the valley. Dew under our feet. The sun is trying to make its way through the branches. We prepare our backpacks. This is how an unforgettable one day trip began. After passing by the Rîmeţ Chalet and the many vacation houses on the narrow valley we stop at a parking space. This is where the road ends. A path entersThe Rîmeţ Gorges the woods. We are soon facing the river. The slopes are getting closer and closer together until… there is no more path. We are entering the Rîmeţ Gorges. Some iron steps are mounted in the rocky river bank and they help us to move on above the water. We get on the ground again. But in front of us…no more steps. Just some ripped out old cables. And the water seems deep. Well, it’s summer, the day is long, so what else is there to do? So we get in. The water soon reaches our bellies. We slowly try to advance and get out of this pool. But there are more to come. So in the end we managed to cross the gorges, from one “lake” into the other, got soaking wet and enjoyed every moment of it.

There is another possibility to get on the other side of the gorges. Before reaching the iron steps, you must be on the lookout for a signpost on the other side of the river. This is where you must cross the water. Immediately you begin to go up on the rocks. There are cables to help you out. After some giant steps we quickly gain altitude, the scenery opens up and we find ourselves above the gorges, listening to the water roar in the distance. The path is narrow. We carefully traverse the steep slopes. We stop at the many belle-view points. After almost an hour of gazing mouth open all around us, we begin to descend until we are reunited with the other route coming from the gorges.

 The Cheia deserted hamlet

Old Motzi house in Cheia hamletEither way you chose to go, it is surely a challenge worth taking. You’ll find yourself entering another world, a lost, abandoned one. The river is now quiet and much smaller. The forest is interrupted by meadows. Here and there, some kind of old, moss covered hay stacks rise behind bushes. What are they? The valley opens and we can see clearly now. They’re houses. These are the traditional homes of the Moţi. Wood beams covered in clay, with small windows and a very tall hay roof. This is how they have been built since medieval times and almost to this day. We arrived in the Cheia hamlet. The houses are empty, ruined. The doors are either open or missing so we do not hesitate to enter and explore. It is a real live ethnographic museum. In what seems to be the center, there is a church with a very small graveyard. Most funeral stones are covered in weed. The newest stand out. These were probably the last inhabitants. The villagers were hunters. They lived completely isolated. It is one hour at best to get back to the Monastery Gorges, but neither the river, nor the path are how you would prefer to travel with provisions. The closest village is an hour and a half ascent through the woods. Therefore, the young decided to leave, while the elder died here, in their houses, along with the village.

Crossing wooden bridges, visiting houses, barns, imagining life here. The last house in the hamlet comes as a surprise. We smell smoke. We take a better look and see an old lady moving on the porch. Our eyes meet and we all look at each other, until she retires inside. Is she the only one still living here? All alone?

 The Brădeşti villageBrădeşti village

We don’t want to go back yet. So we continue on a marked route. We go up. More meadows and woods. After a while we hear some chickens. Under the path, on the bottom of the valley there’s a house. And an old lady is coming out. She begins to climb the slope toward the path, having some luggage on her hunched back. She is probably on her way to the village. We go on in the shade of the forest. Then again under the sun beams. Houses appear. We reached the small village of Brădeşti. Some men are cutting the grass on the pastures. We ask for directions. We get to the center. We find a store and have some cold refreshments. Many other touristic routes pass by here. So many famous attractions. A dirt road connects several other settlements, all over 1000 m.

 Rîmeţ and Valea Uzei villages

Old Motzi house in Valea Uzei villageWe are above the valley. We try to spot Cheia hamlet, but it’s no use. It’s so well hidden that you wouldn’t believe that there’s anything down there. There are hay roof houses everywhere. Most are isolated. We can see other hamlets in the distance. We enter Rîmeţ village with its scattered houses. We are now above the Monastery Gorges and we can actually make out the rocky towers. As we look down, we can see the church tower from the next village rising over the trees. We leave the dirt road and find a way behind some houses. The settlement has quite a strange position. All houses are built on a steep slope. There’s barely any flat ground. The church itself is squeezed between houses and there’s only enough space in the yard to get to the entrance. There’s a continuous fuzz here, everyone is working, in the garden, on the pastures, in the woods. There is no car access to Valea Uzei village. Only paths and some very bad dirt roads, only suitable for carts and donkeys.

The way gets steeper. After passing by some more old houses, still amused by their resemblance to a hay stack, we find ourselves behind the Rîmeţ Chalet. We’re already back? After a refreshing visit to the bar, we must go get our car. It was the perfect opportunity to think about what we have just seen. Time slipped by. It is only now that we realized how pleasant it was on the paths and in the water. And how people used to live in such isolation, with barely any connection to the world outside their valley, making their own rules, living by what nature provides, born and died in the same old clay, wood  and hay house, just as their parents before them…

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