Training local guides in the Southern Carpathians, Romania

April 29, 2014

Romania, the name of this country has always had a mythical sound in my ears. I had wanted to visit Romania and the Carpathians for many years, I so didn’t have to think too long about going there when I was asked to.

Training local guides in Armenis, Southern Carpathians rewilding area
Training local guides in Armenis, Southern Carpathians rewilding area

I have been somewhat spoiled, doing guiding as well as teaching guiding courses during many years in Canada, the Netherlands, France and Germany. When I came in contact with Rewilding Europe, I felt that I ought to expand my horizons and explore the beauty also of other wilderness areas, particularly in Europe.

This happened through Rewilding Europe’s Enterprise team, and together we started planning for an Interpretive Guide training course to be held in the Southern Carpathians rewilding area in Romania by Voshaar Outdoor and Education (www.voshaaroutdoor.com). See also: http://internationalwildernessguide.com/

I asked one of our best guides, Machiel Appel, to join me, and we drove 1,740 kilometers through the Netherlands, Germany, Austria, and Hungary to our destination in Romania’s Southern Carpathian Mountains.

Our first impressions were of picturesque villages with white storks nesting in almost every one of them! The first areas we passed were flat like the Netherlands, but after Timisoara we began to see the Carpathian Mountain chain rise at the horizon. Arriving in Armenis, we got introduced to Petru, the Mayor. He drove us in his 4×4 to a site in the little hamlet of Plopu where Rewilding Europe is going to release a first herd of bison in May. Since I speak French and know most of the animal species in Latin we could ‘talk’ about what animals are wild and roaming the area (the Romanian language resembles French and Latin). Red deer, roe deer, wild boar, brown bear, wolf and lynx are a few of the animals around…sounded like fun! The arrival of bison in May will make this place even more interesting for the nature lovers. While driving to the area we mentioned subjects that guides could talk about during the drive to the bison release area. Dippers that live close to streams, other interesting birds like black woodpecker, but also mosses, lichens and fungi like the Tinder fungus.

When we arrived at the reserve, the local Rewilding Europe and WWF team members were working on the bison acclimatisation area fence, together with Joep van de Vlasakker, my good friend and co-designer for this course. The bison will be staying in that 15 hectare fenced area to adjust to their new environment and will then be released to roam free during autumn.

During the guiding course we mostly talked about interpretation techniques and group management. Local knowledge is one of the ‘key skills’ for a successful guide, but also knowledge about what the visitors might not know, so we showed the participants some of the flora and fauna and landscape stories which may look obvious and normal for the locals, might really be very interesting and new for tourists. The sentence ‘You know much more than you think’ was often repeated. We discussed edible mushrooms and plants, medicinal plants, local stories and legends, since they are important and fun items to talk about during tours. This was a bit of an ‘eye-opener’ for several participants. We also demonstrated other ‘key skills’ like lighting up a fire and making improvised stretchers from poles, a tarp and/or jackets.

During the last night we stayed with the whole team at ‘Casa de sub turn’ where we had a great meal (again) and some drinks. There was lots of talking about all the opportunities in Romania for the guiding business and the important role for the locals (and benefits for the local community) from such business (and translating jokes from Dutch into English and Romanian and vice versa). I really think this whole initiative can be a great success and I am very happy that I was able to contribute at least a small part to it.

I look forward to continuing our work with Rewilding Europe, hopefully together with a new European guiding initiative that we are establishing, the Wilderness Guides Association – www.wildernessguidesassociation.com

Thank you Local Team for a great experience and your warm Welcome!
We will be back for sure!
‘Noroc’ (Cheers!)

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