Amanda Steggell and Hans-Jørgen Wallin Weihe travelled by plane from Oslo, while I travelled from Berlin to Vienna. We all took a bus from Vienna to Brno. From Brno we travelled with another bus for twelve hours during the night through Hungary and Romania to Sfinta Elena by the River Danube in the most southwestern region of Romania on the border of Serbia. This region is called Banat.
Banat is like an island/pond of Czech culture in Romania, which again is an island/pond of Latin culture in the general Slavic culture of the Balcanic region. I am a bit sceptical to any identity or autonomy based on claiming rights and ownership to a piece of land, no matter which culture developed or arrived there first. It is this kind of territorial behaviour that, next to religion and economic interests in the exploiting of riches of the land, has been the cause of so many wars in this region. However, the Czech minority is minor compared to that of the Hungarian minority in Transylvania, not to mention the minority of Roma people living all over Romania. These minorities have all been existing in Romania for centuries.
The long trip could have been shortened by a day if we had flown directly to Bucharest and then caught a train to Banat. If we had chosen this route we wouldn’t have got the same sense of distance and time (travel time). Somehow this pilgrimage seemed like the right way to arrive in this forgotten place where time has stood still since 1830. We were traveling together with our tour guide Pavel Klvac and 20 Czech tourists from Brno and the little village of Drnovice, some 80km westwards from Brno. We were not the only artists in the group. There was a delegation of painters with their canvases and easels coming to Banat to eternalize the picturesque landscapes of grass covered hills. – We came there to walk through them. On the first full day of our trip we were going to hike from one village further up the Danube Valley and back to Sfinta Elena.
Amanda, Hans-Jørgen and I decided to leave the group and head off on our own. We had only a rough map of the area, some apples and some water. It started to rain and we got lost almost immediately. We couldn’t agree if we wanted to return to the starting point or to continue to search our way back home using the map and the compass on our iPhones. Amanda suggested to ask directions from the first person we would meet.
We continued walking and met upon a farm at the edge of the forest. The first ones to greet us was a pack of dogs that were very aggressive. The farmer calmed them down and smiled friendly to us. His family, hiding in the doorway behind him seemed less open. Since I lived in Bucharest for five years and speak Romanian, I functioned as a translator. The farmer pointed out the right direction and told us that it would take two and a half hours to reach Sfinta Elena by foot. Our spirits lifted after we had been given the right directions, and we were appreciating the unique beauty of the wild Romanian forest, which reminded us of something out of a Grimm brothers fairy tale.
After another one and half hour walk along a stream we meet a construction worker who offered us a ride in his car down to the Danube river. We declined his offer, and instead asked him for direction. He pointed it out and said that Sfinta Elena would be about two and a half hours away. The sense of distance and time seemed a bit random in these parts of the world, so we didn’t let our good mood get affected by this. We just kept walking. This time through the thick forest on an old timber road.
After a while the road ended in the middle of nowhere. We tried several different routes, but ended up taking another more recently built and very steep uphill timber road. At the top of this hill there was another farm. No dogs were greeting us, so we thought that the farm was abandoned. When we got closer an old lady, with several dogs around her that were completely silent, greeted us. She asked us if there were more to our company, but I replied that we were on our way to Sfinta Elena, and that ‘no’, we were the only ones. She pointed out the direction and told us it would take us another two and a half hours to get there. Later we were told that there are witches still living in this area.
We met a man that looked like a monster accompanied by his beautiful daughter, an old man eating his dinner who shouted to us from his balcony and then, a woman who spoke a bit of English. She told us that her daughter was an English Professor. Everyone told us that Sfinta Elena was two and a half hours away. When we finally walked up the last timber road to the top of the last forest hill and could see the windmills surrounding Sfinta Elena, we nearly cried in relief. It was still a bit to go, but at least we knew we were going to make it back that evening. We continued walking among the windmills and the flower fields until the sun set. We had been on this hike for 12 hours.
Much in the same way ´If I were The Ocean´ (⇐ ) can be used as a map and a compass for the entire Amphibious Trilogies project, I think that our hike in the Banat region can be used as a map and compass to how the coming collaborations between Amanda, Hans-Jørgen and myself will be. Through collaboration, respect and trust we negotiated and navigated our way through the thick forest together, and individually we keep our mood and our strengths up so that we could continue the trip without interruption. We let go of individual needs in order to reach the overall goal. We all showed our best sides. It was great to experience this. (comic strip documentation ⇒)
The day after the long hike, Amanda and I decided to leave the group and stay in Sfinta Elena to rest and work. We walked back up on the hills where we had arrived the evening before and found a spot in the shadow of one of the windmills. There we practiced the dance of Tai Chi Tai Chi. I was wearing the GoPro-camera on my chest and documented the landscape with the movement of the dance just like I had done on the island of Fourni in Greece the year before. The recording looks very poetic with the sound of the windmills going whoop-whoop.
On the last day of our three-day stay we travelled with a boat to an island in the river Danube, which is a shared territory between Romania and Serbia. There we repeated the practice of the Tai Chi Tai Chi dance together with Hans-Jørgen. With a GoPro-camera attached to my chest I documented the frog pond that was there on the island, the boats passing on the Danube and the mountains on both sides of the river. If I remember correctly, the recordings became very picturesque with the sound of the frogs and the crickets in the background.