Saturday, 29 August 2015

Back to basics

We arrived in a village called Rasca, with two large rucksacks - a hangover from student days when back packing was the only way to get about. They were full of medicines, underwear, just-in-case dresses, three books perchance I should suddenly increase my reading speed, clothes for all weathers, sun creams, wires and gadgets. The children had two mini rucksacks full of things to do, pens and the like - all ready for our great Romanian donkey trek.

I thought I had packed light but after deciding that two donkeys between eight people was more than adequate, we halved our loads. And then realising that most of the space in the donkeys panniers would be needed for food and water - I halved it again.

Eight people's stuff for 9 days

We took two pairs of pants each, two pairs of walking socks, a couple of tee shirts, one pair of shorts, a long sleeved top and absolutely nothing to play with. We travelled lighter than I ever had before and washed our pants in the shower nightly, we washed our socks and didn't bother with the shorts and tee shirts. It was liberating and I felt completely free.

We survived on very little and managed. The children played in puddles and ponds, ran in grass meadows and made nature art, they went to bed early with stories from our imaginations. Everything felt just a little bit more alive - magical almost.

To come home and see all the unnecessary clutter in the house has caused manic clearance and recycling. Just owning what you need gives the mind so much space - I intend to halve our possessions - and then halve them again. And if I'm feeling really brave, halve them just once more.

Saturday, 15 August 2015

The epic Romanian donkey trek

The searing sun would find its way through the intricate lace curtains of our hosts family home, waking us all. Time to get up, put fresh pants and walking socks on, heavy boots and nine-day-old shorts. I would sort the donkeys, putting a concoction of potions around their eyes to keep the flies and other insects away - my soft Englishness taking great care with this process, using all our own repellents to help the donkeys face the day. Breakfast would be one of cold meats of unidentifiable origin, lumps of pork fat, white cheeses and jams made from the prolific bilberries and raspberries which grew wild in the countryside. We would smile and joke with our hosts, not a word of language between us, saying our goodbyes as the Romanian mamas hugged the children to their aprons and great maternal bosoms.

A day of walking with donkeys. Through pine forests and open plains, up hills and around mountains, across grazing land ferociously protected by mountain dogs, over streams and past ponds, down deep riveted sheep tracks and stoically along brand new EU funded roads.

We kept walking, with donkeys carrying our needs, their loads lightening as we drank the litres of water necessary to combat the 35 degree heat. The children were incredible in their resilience, playing word games, marvelling at insects and fire-bellied toads, taking it in turn to lead the donkeys and never complaining. Sharing precious Haribo sweets brought from home, one at a time knowing the sugariness had to last until the next break, until we finally arrived at our new family for the night.

It was difficult, it felt heroic, the walks were up to 20km a day, the heat was almost unbearable, the maps were wrong, the instructions a disaster, it felt like the last great adventure to be had on this earth and we all accomplished it together. Flopping down with weariness each night, smiling and remembering the days gems, bellies full of fried meats and gherkins - the satisfaction provided us all with a calm so rarely found in our culture.

I could have just kept walking, forever.

Sunday, 2 August 2015

Not our finest moment

"Horses are great levellers!" the owner of Fletch said, Fletch being the huge, great chestnut horse I ride.

I'm not entirely sure why Fletch thought he had to level me, I certainly hadn't got too big for my boots or cocky about my riding, I still respected this massive ginger beast and was looking forward to a day out competing. This was my third, but biggest and boldest, One Day Event I ever had the courage to enter. Yes I had nerves jangling away inside, but the amount of time I had prepared for this, I felt I was ready.

We had spent hours hacking up and down hills to get Fletch fit, I had cantered around the fields practising my forward seat and I had spent a small fortune on lessons and schooling sessions on cross country courses. I love and cherish this horse, happy to pick up his poo and groom him until he gleams and polish his tack until it shines. And then he dumps me into a fence in the warm up arena in front of everyone yesterday. In front of him, in front of the kids, in front of my friends and their children!

And then he did it again in the show jumping phase of the competition. Elimination and the walk of shame from the arena. I hung my head low, my ego (not that there is much of it) and body bruised.

But across country he was a demon. Flying everything in our way, galloping between fences and me whooping, having a thoroughly good time.

That's horses for you, and if I choose a sport where most of my luck depends on a half a tonne of animal - then I have to expect a few steps backwards, a few crash landings and mortifying moments. But it's all worth it to gallop home safe, flying the final fences enjoying every minute of the ride.