I stare blankly, trying to hide my fear as the bus screams down a busy street on its way to downtown Bucharest. In front of me, a man and a woman are screaming at each other about who knows what, which then stirs up the whole bus into one big screaming mess. Outside are the skeletons of skyscrapers that once brought the city to life, now just a burden to everyone as there is not enough money to tear them down. Packs of “wild” dogs run freely down the streets of downtown Bucharest. When I asked the information lady at the airport which bus to take to the Gara De Nord(North Station) she got mad that I did not speak Romanian and told me to “get out!” So I decided to just jump on the first one that showed up. I realize now that this was extremely naïve of me and the fact that it was the right bus was probably the luckiest thing that has ever happened to me. I somehow arrived at the Gara De Nord, and started asking people how to buy a train ticket as the ticket machine is totally in Romanian. No one wanted to help, even an American that is living there so I walked up to the train going to Busteni and asked the conductor. He of coarse did not speak any English, but he motioned for me to get on. So I walked inside and sat down, thinking that it was all over. This would turn out to be completely false as the hardest was yet to come.
After a solid two hours on the train the conductor walked to me and said “ticket?” I reached into my bag, and grabbed $20(three times as much as the ticket cost) but he would not accept it. He told me I was to get off at the next stop. It was dark now, I was still 200 km from Busteni, and I had not slept in 40 hours. I was at the end. After a few moments of panic I got up, leaving my computer on my seat and walked to the conductor. We worked it out, but when I got back a girl I was sitting next to was holding my computer. She then handed me a note that said “NO LEAVE LAPTOP ON SEAT!! THE GYPSIES ARE WATCHING YOU” This of course made me feel extremely comfortable. Now I had a group of gypsies watching me, waiting for me to screw up so they could steel my stuff! I was paranoid as hell for the rest of the ride to Busteni, practically sitting on my bags.
I arrived in Busteni 5 hours later, and followed a map to my hotel. When I arrived she asked “Justin?” “Yes!” I replied in relief. “You must stay somewhere else tonight. We are full.” My heart sank and I raised my voice, saying “No! I have a reservation!” She refused to crack, and sent me out the door. Now, 48 hours without sleep and something like 18 hours with no food I wander around this small, strange mountain town in the middle of Romania. This is my first time being out of the country unless you count Cancun, Mexico or Canada. Both places when I was very young and with my parents or my friend’s parents. I laughed, trying to keep my spirits up. “Maybe 17 is too young to travel to a place like this by yourself” I thought. I found a large, old building with barred windows marked “The Alpinist Club”. The door was locked, so I rang to doorbell. A man greeted me at the door with a huge smile and said “You stay tonight?” I nodded and walked in. He grabbed my bags, and walked me upstairs to my room. I thanked him and laid down to sleep. No more than two minutes later my door opened and the man told me, in Romanian, to come eat! I told him no, but he walked over, grabbed my hand and pulled me up. He lead me to the kitchen where there were 4 men sitting at a table. I walked in and they all exclaimed “Buna!” which is hello on Romanian. “Buna!” I replied, and sat down. “American” I said, gesturing to myself. They all laughed, then handed me a tea cup filled with Romanian Whiskey. I smiled and drank it, trying not to offend them. I tried not to make a face, but it was so strong my eyes watered. They laughed and poured me another one. I drank it, but this time it made me gag. They laughed hysterically and handed me a bowl of soup. I ate it very quickly, and ate another, larger bowl after that. One of the men could speak a little English so he would translate as the others would say something to me. After the two cups of Whiskey they poured me a glass of beer, also homemade, and also very strong. After the beer came the wine, and within an hour we were all drunk, laughing and making fun of each other. It was wonderful. It felt so good to be carefree. I lay to sleep that night and didn’t wake for 14 hours.
In the five days since then I have been trying to learn more and more about this beautiful but poor place and have succeeded. I have made good friends with all of those men, and tonight I am heading back over there to have a ping pong tournament with them. I have also made good friends with the Waiter. He invited me to go to a bar with him last night which I of course said yes to, and he showed me how to “drink like a Romanian!” but I must say I did not drink much.
The drinking has been a lot of fun and bizarre because I can’t in the US, but the competition is in two days, so absolutely no more drinking for me. Besides being nervous, I am excited as hell! This is what I have dreamed of. This is me, finally being able to play with the big boys. It is here and it is now. I am feeling better than ever, and I am confident I will do well. I plan on doing nothing more than “just climbing”. Before I left the US, I e-mailed Will Gadd asking him for advice and he told me to “Just climb, the rest is noise.” I have remembered this, and will do just that on Thursday. 36 hours till I climb and counting. Bring it on!