After breakfast, we walked down to the harbor for our boat ride. It was a 5 minute walk.
10 of us boarded a speed boat while Dris, Patty and Guermo went in a smaller motor boat. We were to spend the whole day on the Danube delta, stopping at a coupe of islands.
The Danube Delta is one of the largest wetlands in the world and a UNESCO protected area of ecologically significant lagoons, channels and marshes. There are around 30 different ecosystems, putting is just behind the Galapagos and the Great Barrier Reef in terms of biodiversity. This delta is where the Danube empties into the Black Sea after journeying 2860 kilometers through 10 countries.
It was an overcast but nice day. We spent a bit over 2 hours taking various tributaries and enjoying the scenery. We saw a fair number of different birds--eagle, cormerant, egret, vulture, pelicans, swans and a bunch I don' know the names of.
Our first stop was at a fisherman's hut. He lives there for the summer months and then closes up for the winter. I think he's a friend of the boat drivers and we were the last visitors before he left for the year. He had a small garden plot of veggies as well as grape vines. He served us coffee and some homemade wine. Mainly, the stop was for us to see a traditional fisherman's hut and to have a break. He also had some magnets and postcards for sale. There was a pit toilet that I didn't check out! We stayed there for 30 minutes.
Then back to the Danube for another hour or so.
The next stop was Mila 23, the village has this name because the Sulina channel measured exactly 23 miles at this point(measured from the river’s mouth) following its old course, before the European Commission of the Danube straightened it over a century ago.
This fishing village is a community of Lipovans, a sect of Orthodox christians dedicated to keeping the old traditions alive. The village is world famous for the impressive number of international Olympic champions from there.
We took a walk through the small village, stopping at the Orthodox Old Rite church, St. John Chrysostom, where we saw a storks nest. Dris told us that because a stork in a village is good luck, people build stork towers with a nest frame to encourage the storks to build a nest.
We spent about 40 minutes of the island, where there was also a snack bar with a bathroom.
Back on the delta, we boated for another hour and half until we came to Le...
An island where we'd be having lunch and a tour.
We walked from the dock to the lunch site, an open, thatch-roofed hall that looks like is was set up for tourist lunches. Served family style, we first had a broth to make soup by adding boiled fish with cooked veggies from a platter. There were also plates of polenta and fresh veggies. I ate the polenta but Jef enjoyed all the rest.
Second course was a platter of fried fish with roasted potatoes in a mild red sauce. I tried the potatoes and had some more polenta. And the final course, dessert, was a platter of delicious doughnuts with powdered sugar. We had water to drink but also a bottle of schnapps went around!
After that filling lunch, we got on our "safari" truck. Our driver was Gabriel. Because this is a small island, fairly remote from conveniences, there are not a lot of cars there so roads are not a priority. What roads were there, were potholed gravel ones or dirt ruts. We had a long, 45 minute drive out to a forest where we would take a hike. Along the way, we saw a couple of the semi-wild horses on the island. The horses were from the old communist days when they were needed for farming but once tractors arrived, the horses were turned loose. The deal with the government was that they would pay each farmer (what is now) 100 Euros a year per horse if the farmer would then take care of feeding them in the winter. Now, if a horse is needed for wagon pulling or something, they catch one, use it for the summer and then turn it back out.
On the way to the forest, we passed a watch tower and Dris told us it was a nice, straight tower so it we saw anything different, we'd had too much schnapps. See the pictures but of course it was at a crazy angle!
So the forest we went to was a project of Elena Ceausescu, wife of Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu. Even tho she had only an elementary school education, she was granted an honorary fellowship to the British the Royal Institute of Chemistry (you can google how that happened!). She decided to try growing various trees like pine and oak in the salty sand of the island and surprisingly, they did grow. Because of the way the delta shifts and moves, the trees grow in strands separated by sand dunes. Gabriel is part of a group of islanders who take care of the forests but they don't harvest anything or clear away deadwood, just let the ecology take care of itself. Back in the communist days, scientists used to come study it but not any more. We entered the forest on a dirt path and after hiking 15 minutes came out of the forest to sand dunes. Quite a change!
After half an hour we went back to our safari bus and drove back to the village where we had a bathroom break and got back on our boats. It was now about 5 pm and it was a 3 hour trip back to Tulcea. Our boat driver was apparently very anxious to get back earlier so he put the pedal to the metal and we sped back, arriving in 2.5 hours. We beat Dris's boat back by half an hour so we had to wait for them anyway but we did see a beautiful sunset.
There was no organized dinner planned for tonight so everyone went their own way. We stopped at a market to get some snacks for the bus ride tomorrow and then to a sandwich place near our hotel.
Even tho we'd spent a lot of time sitting on the boat, we did a fair amount of walking too and by the time we got back to the hotel at 9:30, we were tired! Getting a little behind in the updates but I'll catch up!
Tomorrow we're on the road again in a private bus to Moldova.