October 27, 2007
My guide was taking me up the cable car in Busteni, Romania. Rickety, creaking and old, I feared for my life but, always up for an adventure, I climbed aboard. Excited for the view and the steep descent afterwards, I had my camera at the ready and my imagination in full tilt. With mist and drizzle all about us, I found it easy to believe how this country had become known as 'The Seed of Superstition'. Dracula was barely the beginning… I was waiting for great images of old Roma folklore to wander out of the woods to haunt all I knew to be real. I relished all of it!
Beginning under mist, fog and cold drizzle, we rose above the treeline to sunshine, sheer rockfaces and coarse tufts of grass, and finally to dazzling white snow matched only by the stark clarity of the deep blue sky. Breathtaking does not come close to the panorama my eyes were trying to guzzle in.
We wandered about the summit for awhile and then began our descent. Marked with ornate crosses here and there, the almost invisible trail was a pilgrimage to hikers who had previously fallen to their deaths. I was beginning to get just a wee bit nervous… we trudged through wet snow, held onto to thick rusty cables to aid our descent, and took the myriad of little waterfalls that splashed and played against the mountainside. I will never forget the endless sea of cloud I looked down upon that seemed to stretch on forever…
My muscles were screaming already but I persevered. Eventually the snowline ended and we reached bare rock and those wonderfully super-tough tufts of grass (GREAT handholds!). More crosses… more waterfalls… and finally we reached the clouds and wandered back down into the land of fantasy. Autumn leaves were glistening and damp, waterfalls emptied into quiet pools where — yet again– more crosses were staked into the earth.
I wouldn't have traded that day for anything. As my guide drove me back to Ploiesti, I sat quietly watching the wondrous scenery flash by.
At first I it didn't register what exactly it was I was watching.
A very young girl.
She was standing by the highway all alone, dressed in a mini-skirt, spiked boots, and a revealing top.
No… it couldn't be. Out here? There was no roadway leading off anywhere, no gas station, no restaurant, no particular establishment that would host something so obscene. Just acres of forest and mountains.
We drove on.
About a kilometre away was another girl.
And then another girl.
I looked at my guide. "Is that what I think it is?"
He didn't say a word but his eyes were so sad that he didn't need to. His curt nod affirmed his eyes.
It was exactly what I thought it was.
Little girls posted along the major highway through the Carpathian Mountains. Cars could stop off at planned points and access desired services. I knew without a doubt that despite the remote location and the lack of seeming establishments (gas stations, etc.), there were men and women in other cars somewhere in the woods, watching and waiting — watching their "merchandise" and waiting for their payments. My heart broke.
But it was not to end there.
As we came around a bend in the road, there sat a police car. Dare I ask?
"Why don't the police do anything?"
My guide was rather quiet. But finally he said: "What's there to do? They are paid to keep quiet or they make use of the service themselves. What is there to do?"
I was ready to march out there and take on all the hidden evils of the Carpathians myself. I was ready to grab every single girl I could see, wrap her up, and take her home. Children being forced to stand in the middle of nowhere for hours and hours was obscene! But standing alone in the freezing cold was the least of their worries…
Had I taken the girls I had seen, I would have doomed the ones I couldn't see. Helpless, we drove out of the mountains and I was safely dropped off at the Ploiesti train station. Bound for Bucharest, I sat there alone stunned and grieved.
Not a single one of them could have been more than 13 or 14…
I'd conquered a mountain that day. But had I known what the mountains were really hiding, I would have taken on a far different challenge.