Craig Boddington and I flew to Romania a few years ago to hunt Carpathian Chamois. No, wait, Boddington hunted chamois. I went to follow him and a parade of drunk Gypsies up the craggy side of a death-defying mountain so I could videotape a TV show about hunting Carpathian Chamois. That’s right…
Long story short, we arrived at our hotel in the ski town of Poiana, Brasov at around two in the morning, I think we slept for two hours, then poured espresso into our empty guts before meeting our real live band of Gypsies in a dark opening in the forest at the base of a mountain.
We head up the mountain in dark dark darkness. I’m loaded onto a Gypsy’s horse with enough bells, yarn and streamers on it to make a carousel horse feel underdressed. The horse is a dwarf. I try to grab the reins and a 13-year-old in sneakers snatches them from my hands. I’m sad to suffer the indignity of not being allowed to drive, but happy I have a driver with more blood than booze in his veins. You’ll see him in the following video.
Up the mountain we go. A quarter of the way up there is enough light to make out an old house. Half way up we stop to eat breakfast and leave the horses. The most interesting part of breakfast was cubes of hog fat that we heated on sticks over the fire like marshmallows. Imagine bacon cubed and without the pesky meat. I ate plenty and was glad I did, it turned out to be diesel fuel for humans.
Now we walk. Up. I wear some high budge turbo boots and am fully dialed in on gear. I’m suffering. Each time I look up, I see I’m following this kid in his sneakers and cotton socks with no gloves. I also see the Gypsies knocking back the Romani Rotgut like Gatorade. My favorite Gypsy uniform includes a black derby and a disco vest that reads “Top Expert”. It made me laugh. I ended up buying it from him.
We hike across the face of the mountain looking for goats. It scared the little Conrad inside me. Granite and grasses at 45-degree angles and covered in slushy snow make me cry. I did my job, which is usually to discard my will to live and follow. One of the worst parts of my job is I can never videotape the very worst parts of our climbs because I’m too busy hanging on for dear life!
You can see here that Craig shoots the chamois at a hell of an angle. What you can’t see is I’m about to plummet to my death. We’re laying on a steep, wet, grassy cliff. It is very sketchy. I’m holding the camera with my right hand, and braking my body with my left. Honestly, I felt my body shift at one moment and I knew that one false move and I’m a rookie stuntman failure.
Goat down and Craig begins to follow the 13 year-old and a twenty something into the grassy abyss. I tell him he’s on his own and head back the sane person’s route. The kids bring the goat off the mountain.
While we tape this hero sequence for the end of the episode, some hikers videotape us. Then they post it on YouTube and falsely claim we shot the goat in a park where hunting is not allowed. I know nothing of this, but this is where the trouble for me starts.
A day later, breakfast is tense as the guides wonder why I posted shots of us with the goat on YouTube. A head honcho Romanian fish cop contacted our two very high-strung Turkish guides. The hiker’s YouTube video has the second in command of their wildlife department in a bit of a fury. We (meaning mainly me) are brought in for questioning. Honcho offers us 9 AM cocktails. I don’t drink so he’s insulted from the get go.
I have no laptop and no idea what he’s talking about. Apparently in the strange little world we were navigating, post-Cold War Eastern Europe, YouTube is downright mystical and American camera monkeys are pathological liars (I’m not denying either). Honcho continues to ask me why I did it? I continue to tell him, not only would it be impossible for me to do it without a computer, it would make no sense.
We are told to remain in the area until he completes his investigation. I must admit to my own mystification. We returned to our humble hut so I could think up some better answers while I swam in the Lake Eerie sized pool and gorged on Romanian delicacies (not a euphemism). I bought a souvenir, climbed a safer mountain and took in some history. Eventually Honcho must have consulted some Romanian YouTube oracle like his grandkids and decided I really hadn’t tried to sabotage my career by posting bad info. He then green lighted our brown bear hunt and gave me the stink eye when I again declined breakfast hooch.
On a side note, people sometimes ask me about what it’s like roughing it in the field. I’m the senior hunting camera monkey for PHTV. My default setting is “cherry pick” so this hotel is just about up to my standards. George W. Bush and Tony Blair stayed here once for a summit. Anyhow, the story goes that Blair was cranky because Bush got a better room on a higher floor. Ha Ha! Really? That’s what you get for lining up in the town square with red coats on dummy. Our guerilla war faring ancestors paid for that suite Blair, recognize. Anyhow, point being, I don’t camp out much anymore for work.