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You’re very lucky!

Brașov, 16.06.2023

It is 4:51 pm and I am one minute late when I get the call: Apparently, Greg is already waiting for me where we're supposed to meet. While I'm getting into the car, a part of the door handle is already falling off from the car's inside and tumbles onto the street. Somehow, that meets my expectations a little more than his excessive punctuality. Greg is a Romanian guide for bear watching, and when he's not guiding people like me all across the woods, he works as a ranger in the forest. At least that's what I understood while we're leaving Brașov in a rather fast pace.

Along the road, we overtake one of the trains heading to Bucharest, while the deeply green forests rise up on either side. Just before we take a turn from the main road, my cell phone starts ringing: Extreme warning, it says on the screen. Bears have been spotted nearby. Perfect!

During the drive, Greg gives me some behavioral and safety advice: Don't run, don't panic. A bear - with more than 50 km/h - would be faster anyway. I see, panic is completely inappropriate.

„But what would you do if we had a critical situation with a bear?“ I ask.

„I have a special treatment for the bear,“ he says (at least that's what I think he said). „But if you’re scared, we cannot go out.“

Still in the course of turning, while convincing him, that I'm not scared but careful, they stand right in front of us on the meadow: A female bear with three little cubs.

We stay there for quite a while. Every time when another car passes, we pretend to check something, so that nobody else stops for the bears and scares them away. For about 20 minutes we get to watch the fluffy family eating and the little ones climbing before they get back into the woods.

Afterwards, we also head into the forest. Wind is picking up and while putting on my sweater, I wonder why, for this particular day, I chose my Irish wool sweater. May have been a good idea to not smell like sheep when following bears. Well.

By now, I also know what Greg considers his "special treatment": he permanently carries a bright red protection spray and a firecracker in his pocket. I am sure that neither of us wants it to be used.

For almost half an hour we sneak wordlessly through this beautiful forest of the Carpathians. Every few yards Greg stops to show me bear piles, paw prints, and claw marks that I would otherwise have blindly walked past. Finally, a clearing opens up in front of us, where we spend the next hour watching four different bears come and go, sit, eat and sniff. "You're very lucky," Greg says. Seeing so many bears - and especially cubs - doesn't seem to happen that often.

I try to photograph the whole thing in the best possible way. Back in the day, when I was younger, I wanted to become a bear photographer for National Geographic, guess I am getting closer to that. Unfortunately, my lens only has a focal length of 105mm and although I try to come close, the results are not quite suitable for NG just yet. Apart from that I have the best time in my hideout behind the tree. To be able to observe these fascinating animals in the wild makes me really happy and once again overly grateful.

Slowly when dusk comes up, we head back. In the light of dawn, the dark blue hills of the surrounding mountains can be seen through the treetops. This country really impresses me.


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