Expedition Romanian Dragon took cadets from Wales into the heart of Romania. 3 groups enjoyed a 5 day trek in the stunning high Transylvanian Alps, and 2 days on an inspirational Roma community building project. Each group also managed to fit in a visit to Dracula’s castle, some medieval sword fighting, together with a remote spa treatment, thanks to some feet eating fish in a mountain lake.
The aim of the expedition was to develop the cadet’s self-reliance and also helping them to develop an appreciation of a different culture, whilst exploring Bucharest, working on the Betania Foundation Project and trekking in the Fagaras Mountains.
With bulging rucksacks the groups flew out to Bucharest airport stepping into temperatures which ranged from 34 to 42 degrees!
The expedition was organised to ensure that the cadets took part in every aspect of the journey, each day a leader was designated. All of the decisions in relation to cooking, feeding, shopping, transport and day to day challenges were handed to the cadets, with a few words of guidance provided by the adults to save disaster!
The cadets were given the opportunity to use their leadership skills, booking transport, finding the accommodation and leading the group around Bucharest. The cadets were shocked about the differences within the city. Some buildings were very well maintained with brilliant designs and the building next door would be run down with families squatting.
Betania Foundation Project
We moved from Bucharest by train East toward Brasov, where we were planning on meeting our in-country guide and ‘fixer’. The community project is run by the inspirational Auriel who manages the project with her husband and son. The groups introduced themselves and they gave us a chance to settle in before discussing the project. They explained about the history of the project and how they try to help to educate the children and teach them a good work ethic. The groups stayed in a hostel at the back of their house, which was at the base of Raznov Fort. A visit to the medieval fort gave the cadets the chance to use medieval weapons. The community project was (for all cadets and staff) a very humbling and emotional experience, and the part of the expedition that had most impact.
All cadets wished the community phase could have been longer, so they could have done more. Working alongside the community had a significant impact on all cadets, breaking down stereotypes, and giving a deeper understanding of community poverty. However the local children showed a remarkable resilience, sense of fun and affection towards the cadets. We were also impressed that such a small family charity project can have such an impact on the education and housing in a community. We continued the building work of previous groups, to complete the roof foundation and fence line of a block house extension to their wooden house. This involved a lot of cement mixing, pole painting, and being shot at with a water pistol that one of the cadets gave to the families’ young son (bad mistake!!).
After the Community project we were straight into the trekking phase in the Transylvanian Alps, starting at 700m after a very scary 4 hour taxi ride. We moved very slowly (due to the heat) up to our first camp at 2300m. This was a physical challenge for all of us, with our 5 days worth of food tucked away in our expedition rucksacks. As we moved ever higher through forest to alpine scenery, it did get cooler. After about 4 hours of sweaty effort, we reached our mountain hut and set up camp.
The groups set up base camps at Barcaciu Hut and trekked out from there each day. Information had been received that the water supply had dried up at some of the other huts due to the hot weather they had been having. On day one of the trek we walked to the Serbota waterfall and had a well deserved paddle in the lovely clear water. On the second day we trekked to Avrig Lake, on the way to the lake we came across some very difficult terrain. We decided to walk a different route back to the camp; some of the cadets bagged a peak on the way back. On the third day the cadets picked separate routes to walk. We experienced extremely hot weather up the mountain and a thunder and lightning storm. The hardest bit of the trek was the first day walking up to the camp site, as it was the longest and steepest part. The mountains had some of the best views we had ever seen and had some brilliant routes with some of the most beautiful waterfalls.
A mini heat wave to coincide with our mountain expedition was just one of the challenges, spending five days in the beautiful Fagaras Mountains, wild camping and scaling peaks twice the height of anything in the UK.
Before departing back to the UK, the groups also donated over £800 to Auriel’s charity to complete the roof of the house.
Overall this was a trip of a lifetime for adults and cadets. They were able to experience a collection of different activities and gained a wealth of new life skills. The expedition gave the cadets chance to explore other cultures that are more dated than their own, use their leadership skills and gain life skills. The trip was both physically and emotionally challenging, with the cadets deciding to get up at 5 am to beat the heat on a hard mountain day, or the realisation of the poverty while helping a Roma family extend their one room (4×4 m) wooden house, which housed 5 young children and their parents, with no running water or facilities.