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  • Writer's pictureRegina Bircher

Travels - Gerold

Danube Delta - Unadapted, wild wonder of nature and people

We hear a lot of negative things about Romania, the country, the people and the Danube Delta. Especially about the delta we hear statements like: There tourists are gutted. Stone age accommodation. Sanitary facilities a rare commodity etc. It is always amazing how people can quickly come up with many negative aspects of something. However, show a deficit of positive views. What we experienced and learned follows below and allows the reader to decide for himself whether he wants to travel there, as long as the Danube Delta still exists in its originality.

As on many other occasions, we wanted to find out for ourselves. Through the contact Catalin Muresan ( - For travelers who want to know the German speaking part of Romania "Transylvania" in its origins: History, People, Culture, Arts, Crafts) we were referred to Iliuta Goean ( organizer of excursions of fishing, photo, bird watching, nature etc.). The first contact was amazing with both people. We had trouble with “Hâusi" with the timing belt. In unison the tone was: service is chargeable - help cannot be charged. So it happened that we were guided before the visit to the Danube Delta in a garage in Tulcea, which would be simply untraceable as a local unfamiliar. The bring service to the port was of course given. This was all organized within a short time and even at local prices.

Four days (3 days sightseeing, 1 day arrival/return) Danube Delta with accommodation, excursions, guide, own boat and full board EURO 850 per person. At the beginning we were unsure if we should do this. Now after visiting and experiencing the Danube Delta we find the price more than justified.

As a passionate Africa traveler, I know the difficulties of securing accommodation and food somewhere in the pampas, far away from infrastructure. No matter which nature reserve is visited, everything has to be flown in, laboriously transported over the moguls or, as here in the delta, by boat. The resulting garbage is another logistical challenge to dispose of "properly". When something needs to be repaired, manual skills are required. No service technician is available within a reasonable period of time. Many things that we are used to and take for granted become a challenge here, including medical emergencies. Delta residents are correspondingly skilled and frugal.

The Danube Delta, its inhabitants and our tour operator - as we experienced it - stand out pleasantly, from safaris in Africa. The locals are involved and their skills are used. So a very original cuisine and accommodation is guaranteed. For wishes of allergy sufferers, vegans, etc., however, can not be addressed here. The dishes and their preparation are too archaic. The accommodations are simple and functional. Of course, there is mass processing for those who go to the delta for a day and check it off their list of "sights". But they miss out on everything the Delta has to offer. Those who can get up at 5:00 in the morning can get to remote sections, lakes and canals. At the same time, this leaves time for spontaneous encounters with fishermen and locals. For wildlife viewing, patience and even more time is needed. The reserved time for our visit turns out to be perfect in retrospect to get a small inkling. We consider the four days as an absolute minimum. By the way, the best time to visit is in winter when the trees are bare. No tourists and incredibly many birds and especially the red-breasted geese, which can be seen only at this time.

Our tour guide is a guide like I have rarely experienced. Many guides and organizations can take a leaf out of their book. Safaris in Africa are somehow like two worlds. The luxury or comfort of Europe combined with nature, wild animals and the conflict of interests of the indigenous peoples, like Himbas in Namibia or Massai in Kenya and Tanzania, is somehow surreal. The long experience and influence on the inhabitants and nature of tourism are obvious in Africa. For example, if you stop for a break at the official picnic area in Ngorongoro National Park, you have to be careful that the birds don't steal your lunch. Seriously the birds are so impudent that they literally fly attacks on the sandwiches. All the effects of misunderstood behavior, caused by feeding the wild animals.

In the Danube Delta we have seen this only in one place where three pelicans have domiciled as "house pelicans", so to say. They provide every tourist with a pelican picture. No wonder, if they get their daily ration of fish. It is easier and much more comfortable for them to get their food. As a day tourist I don't get how shy and cautious the pelicans are. We came in most cases at most 50-80 meters in their proximity. Except, if they steal to third or fourth in the dawn before sunrise in the group with the fishermen, the fish from the net. By the way, this was the best sunrise photo I managed to take. I often noticed this process. But all this is no wonder, their success rate in fishing is only about 20% and they need on average about 1.2 kilos of fish per day, which is about 10% of their own body weight. There is a lot of diligence and work behind it. I can apply the same behavior to myself as a human being. What are the effects of parents who take care of their children and spoil them? It's amazing what nature teaches me.

Before I forget, there are two species of pelicans that can be seen in the Delta: Pink Pelican (about 18’500 of them) and Dalmatian Pelican (about 650 of them). We could admire both species several times. The Dalmatian pelican, on the other hand, is mostly seen early in the morning in remote places that are inaccessible to most tourists during day trips.

Our guide has very detailed local knowledge and the photographer's point of view, no matter what location or technique was used to capture the image. No wonder, the BBC asked him when he would have three weeks to assist them with filming. His knowledge and expertise are priceless, especially in aerial photography, and an incredible simplification for me as a photographer to get unique shots. Just imagine how often and long someone must fly his drone to achieve the same.

Iliuta was able to understand the needs and requirements of a photographer or filmmaker because of lighting conditions and drama. Accordingly, he led us to places where there was a high probability of being able to experience what we wanted to capture in picture. He chooses the routes and tours with the eyes of a photographer, taking into account potential intersections of sun position, bird behavior, natural beauty, crowds, weather, water surface, etc..

This led to a mammoth program in one day. We wanted to go to the extreme tip of the Danube Delta where Ukraina borders on the Black Sea and witness the sunrise one more time in the morning. So the day started already at 4:30 am and the tour ended only at 7:30 pm, just before dinner. As an entrepreneur, these working hours are almost a matter of course, even in Switzerland. What kind of uproar would that cause among employees or with the union? But exactly this service orientation to the customer made incredible experiences possible. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.

In Hungary, in the Puszta we had met the German Outdoor Family Fleck. We met again by chance two days before the Delta visit at the mud volcanoes in Romania and found out that we are in the Danube Delta at the same time. Michael Fleck is traveling together with his wife Angela in the simplest way. In contrast, our solution with “Hâusi” is already very comfortable. Renault Espace, 5 beverage crates and a wooden plate are enough. Mat and sleeping bag on the wooden plate and underneath everything in bags or boxes. There, the entire photo equipment, the drone, clothes, shoes, cooking utensils, food box and kitchen place. I can't afford that, my ass. He hosts big shows where he shares his travel adventures with visitors using a 9-meter screen and a mix of images, film and entertainment. The photographer who seeks adventure in nature and has financed a family of 4 in the last 20 years. Respect. And we in the middle of it. His working time, when he goes on tour with his show, similar to that of Iliuta. But these aspects are often misunderstood and underestimated by outsiders.

Back to the Danube Delta and the dark side, which is officially - according to state statistics - visited by 3’000 visitors a year. The estimates of our tour guide were more like 100’000 people. Many providers operate black, i.e. without a permit or state fees. Fishing is a similar picture. Every fisherman would have to have a license and attach the yellow badge with number to the fish trap. We saw some fish traps without this number. Since the numbers are to be attached to the beginning or end of a fish trap, it is easy to check. The constructions of the fish traps were new and unusual for me. The efficiency, however, can hardly be topped. The more inconspicuously moored (sticks), the more likely the mark was missing. In addition, the Danube delta is overfished and large parts of the catch are shipped out of the delta. The number of hobby fishermen adds to this. Iliuta comments: The best thing would be to keep the catch in the delta and utilize it exclusively there to rebalance the fish population. This way, in return, more birds would be attracted by the diversity of fish. When boats cross the busy channels, the sinners are immediately recognizable, they enter or leave the delta on the wrong side. We are talking about boats filled with tourists. For safety reasons, passengers are not allowed to sit on the bow and yet we saw many. Who cares? If you want to enter the delta with your own boat, you can buy a yearly license for Euro 20. Anchoring is - still - possible in most places. So it happens that Romanians store their boats in the delta almost for free or go in week after week to fish. Therefore, go and have a look while the damage is still small. The protection of nature is very important, but those who violate it can usually do so

Where we ate, the food was all prepared on the fire in the simplest way and served on china. Plastic plates are not an option, although they do not have a dishwasher. In the kitchen, which was more board shack and shelter, there were 4 large tables in the middle of the room, 4 fire pits by the entrance on the right and 3 more tables on the left against the wall and One at the front. My estimate was between 100 and 150 people being fed. We were supposed to eat at 3:00pm and didn't show up until 4:15pm. The food nonetheless excellent. In no way overcooked or reheated to an undefinable color and mush. A masterstroke with this infrastructure and the chef like her staff laughing. All that mattered was to feed and satisfy us.

What did we eat? As a starter there was a fish soup with vegetables and the fish cooked in it separately, on a huge plate catfish, carp with potatoes. Everything in large pieces including the head. In addition, the white garlic paste, which reminded of mayonnaise, but in consistency, texture and taste a completely different experience. When everyone was already more or less full, more fish plates came with fried catfish and polenta. The garlic paste was topped up. Yes, the sauce was coveted, no matter the combination: soup, fish, polenta or potatoes. Galactic dining experience.

I will try the garlic recipe myself as soon as I have the means. The recipe as simple as ingenious. Much, very much and even more garlic puree, mix little vinegar, salt and pepper to it. Only then add the olive, canola, or sunflower oil. The day before, depending on the quantity, thicken a little water with cornstarch or potato starch until it has the consistency of a thick French salad dressing. This mixture must be cold when added. Whereas yesterday we got a similar garlic sauce to go with grilled fish, but very thin in consistency. There was only water added to the paste and it was even spicier than the chili sauce served with it. The garlic paste that we make in Switzerland with mayonnaise, yogurt or curd is for poolside swimmers and shade parkers. The Danube Delta version, on the other hand, is galactically tastier, healthier and much cheaper. This technique can be applied to much more when I think of the ready-made sauces and flavors bought for fondue chinois, etc.

We were late for dinner because we were delayed by the wild horses. Exactly in the Danube delta wild horses are on the move and these in the wild to experience a special experience. In addition, Michael has still made film recordings with the drone. Amazing what there is everything to see, if time is available. Two stallions fought over a mare. The one cheeky foal was rebuked by the mother. At the beginning the horses showed us all the butt. For it all, the more rewarded when we waited patiently for more than 45 minutes. How they - for some reason - galloped out of the dust was a sensational experience. Such moments compensate for the patience and perseverance in the heat and blazing sun.

The area where the wild horses stay is bordering on a natural phenomenon unlike any other. There are plants that need salt as food to grow and they get it from the desert sand. They are responsible that the wind does not make the area completely desert, by holding the sand together with their existence (roots). Between strips of forest are strips of sandy desert. The forest consists mostly of oaks with plate roots and their branches are partly twisted like corkscrews by the wind. Oaks usually have roots that go deep into the ground. The age has been scientifically determined with samples to be about 400 to 450 years. As we bumped across the field in the safari wagon, a tractor with more than 15 large round bales of hay spread out on two trailers approached us. The tractor was hardly recognizable before loud hay towers. We wanted to have a closer look and waited until the tractor could pass us. It stopped, the driver jumped off and drove about 100 meters towards us. What is going on now? The farmer thought we had a breakdown and wanted to help. Would not surprise me if he had taken us as a third trailer.

On the way to this magical place, we stopped at a fishing camp during a downpour. The setup simple as ingenious. There are two methods in Romania to cover houses with reeds the German and Russian way. Here we saw the Russian way with long reeds. By the way, the Danube Delta is the biggest producer of reeds in the world. The fisherman's house had a special stove. The fireplace was very deep, on it, for example, the caught scampi were cooked immediately in large quantities. We could taste it freshly caught in the evening, when we brought some beer and the rest of the Danube doughnuts to the fishermen. The gifts were the fee for our visit - no money. Back to the built-in stove. The smoke was diverted several times before it went outside in the stove pipe. On the raised part of the stove were two wooden pallets. On them the fisherman sleeps in winter. Heated bed, so to say. Now it was more another place to store daily things temporarily. In addition, a rack where the equipment and clothes were stored above and below slept in the coolest place. In addition, a stove with gas and a converter that converted the electricity produced by itself. A table, a kitchen buffet and two chairs the other furnishings. At the front door, the side walls were used as placeholders for tools such as brooms, saws, hatchets, hammers, hoses and so on.

The visit to a fishing couple at home that was divided in two - an extraordinary experience. A working place outside that is regularly flooded by the Danube. Therefore, little to no expensive items, except the fish traps and chickens to see. Best 60's music blared from the radio while he answered our questions. Vis à vis the apartment building, the garden looks like a jungle. The paths between the dense planting are barely visible. No wonder, this is all the vegetables they eat all year. The chickens provide eggs and meat. In addition, there is a lot of fish that they catch themselves. The wife still does not speak Romanian as this is the language of the Sinti i.e. Roma (views and attitudes of the locals are often not very politically correct as they use the unword Gypsy. The language resistance becomes more understandable about the suffering of the Lipovans). For us a luck, because Regina can use her knowledge of Russian for the first time on the trip. The two are Lipovans. These are old-believing, orthodox Christians from Russia. The Lipovans are a minority who were persecuted in the seventeenth century and were the first to settle the Danube Delta. Lipovans can still be found today in Romania, Ukraina and Moldova.

The couple has been married for 48 years and the man has rowed around the world at least once. His upper body makes every fitness maniac envious and that at over 70 years of age. A power pack beyond compare. All of his three children were able to study. One is in the USA and the other two children live next door. The two came back because they missed the Danube delta and the way of life and that although much is renounced. For us today, after the look behind the scenes, understandable. His quote brings it to the point. This is what he said when he learned what we are doing in Georgia: "People are looking for beautiful places and fish are looking for deep water".

You guessed it. So far, only few new insights and recipes of cuisine in the Delta have come up. Here are some of my favorites that I want to try. Knowledge I possess on the other hand so far so consistently used never seen in fish cuisine. No wonder, if you eat fish three times a day. Everything it takes salt, pepper, oil, tomatoes, hot peppers, zucchetti, onions, garlic, potatoes, herbs, flour, potato starch and all without spirits and brewed water. Never before I enjoyed such a consistent and archaic fish cuisine. I'll keep it short, because it would go beyond the size of the blog.

To try:

- Large pieces of fatty fish such as carp first deep fry - removes the water. Then cook in a homemade tomato sauce in the oven for about 1h. The removal of the water leads to the fact that the aroma of the sauce is virtually absorbed by the fish, i.e. transferred - the cracker.

- Fish sausage - first hang the fish in the smoke or indirectly without cooking - cold smoke. Then cut the fish into small pieces, mix with boiled potatoes - is the binder - vegetables, salt, pepper and a little oil. Fill this mass into skins quasi like a sausage spiral

- Add salted and air-dried fish to the unsalted water of boiled potatoes about halfway through the cooking time. Boil the potatoes of medium size, uncut. The potatoes and the water remove most of the salt from the dried fish.

Portuguese or Nordic stockfish I would still water or boil from the beginning and add the potatoes later

- First salt the filleted fish and dry it in the sun (oven max. 40-50 degrees approx. 4-8h). Now smoke the still semi-raw fish cold. The smoke must not exceed 40-50 degrees, so that the protein does not coagulate. Refrigerate

- Make a mixture with coarse pre-cooked polenta - you can also use a leftover polenta without cheese - with mashed fish (2-3 kinds), finely chopped vegetables, eggs and spices. Then coat them in coarse and raw polenta (breadcrumbs). Fry in oil and serve

- Mash fish eggs (trout, pike-perch...) with little cooked potatoes and mix. Add a little garlic sauce. Done. For breakfast as a spread - pure pleasure

Birds I could and wanted to photograph only a few. My equipment for this is simply unsuitable. I photographed sections of the delta to get an impression. In addition, there are bread-stealing chickens, swimming cows, water lilies, grass carpets that have the task to clean the water, huge trees overgrown by wild vines and forests. I don't know where to go on with over 30 different ecosystems in the delta. Make yourselves a picture. The Danube Delta and Romania in particular, are worth more than one trip. The people and the diverse natural resources are misunderstood and misrepresented. The reality is another than it the media and prejudices like a Fata Morgana. In addition, very inexpensive, if cities are avoided. In cities and tourist strongholds are often almost Swiss prices. Who pays attention to this has much less to do with the rogues of fraud and theft.

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