So now I was in the Iron Gates National park. I didn’t end up leaving the hotel until around 12. After a fat breakfast at the hotel I put down about 80Km or so that day. The temperature felt like it had really ramped up another order of magnitude after a fairly overcast weekend in Belgrade. Lots of derelict industrial factories and pipeplines dotted the landscape. Perfect for a bit of urban exploring so long as you watch out for stray dogs. It all reminded me of a MadMax or Terminator 4 post-apocalyptic waste land.
At one point I saw a man pulling a metal trailer about 30metres ahead of me. Suddenly a dog springs out of the bushes on my right-hand side and snarls aggressively. It then darts to the other side of the road round the back of me, and then puts its head down to run back in for another attack. I look back in front of me and suddenly the man and trailer are just 2-3 metres in front! I was rolling at over 25kph so there was no way I could stop in time. I yelled and slammed on the brakes but of course went smashing into the back of his trailer. The back wheel came off the ground and a couple of panniers fell off but otherwise no one was hurt. Lots of apologies and handshakes later, he asked me for some dosh. I obliged. It’s not something I’m gonna make a habit of doing but I had just smashed into his trailer of leaves and logs and he was clearly very poor. I reckon him and the dog had a Charlie Chaplin style and the Kid style scam on the go. The dog forces people to crash into his trailer, and he then rakes in the bucks from the damages…
I camped that night on the banks of the Danube near Plasevita. I really wanted to just sleep under the stars but fears of snakes made me put up the tent. A full moon (the previous night wasn’t quite full it turned out although it did look it) with a lunar eclipse popped up over the gorge side. Super werewolves were having a feeding frenzy all over Romania. Twice that night I was woken up by plastic bottles clonking against the rocks banks and had to get up and out of my tent to fish them out.
The next day I was itching to get going for this was the European part of the trip I had been looking forward to the most. The Danube Gorge is described by many as the most beautiful gorge in Europe. For me it turned out to be the most beautiful and spectacular place I have ever been to…
In the morning I went to check out some caves. I asked locals where they were but they had no idea. A sign on the side of the road indicating a nature trail finally revealed the caves’ whereabouts.
The same sign also said that there were snakes, but also scorpions now in the mix too. I locked Olga to a tree, found myself a good walking stick, sprayed on some Max strength Wilkos Jungle Formula insect repellent, grabbed my headtorch, packed an apple and Mars into my bag, pulled my socks up high, and got to it. The grass into the woods was very high and each step was executed with snake induced trepidation. I used a photo I took of the route to try to navigate to the caves. I couldn’t find them for love nor money and had just about given up hope when I came across this. How I missed it I do not know.
So I slowly made my way in. Spiders twice as big as the ones you see in UK caves guarded the entrance. Instantly the cave started to fork in different directions. The early ones led to dead-ends. I changed my handgrip on the stick from a walking style to an Escrima style just in case this cave was home to a pack of wolves. The cave wasn’t so much a cave but more of mine, although no idea what type of stone they were mining. It reminded me a lot of Box mines out near Monkton Farleigh for those who have been there. Relatively easy to get lost if you venture too far .The temperature in the cave was significantly cooler than the pumping temperatures outside. My headtorch was running low and there was a fine mist which seemed to be reflecting the light so I couldn’t see much more than 15metres ahead of me. I wasn’t particularly in the mood for setting up signs indicating which fork I had taken, and doubtful that I would find some Indiana Jones style gold figurine, after about 120 metres I felt like I had had my fill. No issues finding the exit thankfully.
I thought the other cave was in all likelihood much the same as the first one, and I had an entire gorge to cycle and explore so I made my way back to Olga. She was waiting patiently the whole time.
The rest of the gorge blew me away. Giant cliff faces with peaks reaching as high as 766metres reminded me of scenes out of Peter Jackson’s King Kong. I saw what looked like prime BASE jumping spots. As I rolled round one corner I knew I would be greeted by someone I’ve been looking at for months. Enter the statue of King Decebalus – the tallest rock sculpture in Europe. Epic.
It’s always a strange feeling when you’ve been looking at something /someone for a long time and finally you are actually there/meet them. A strange sense of Déjà vu perhaps. I chilled out on the river banks and embraced the moment. From afar the statue looks perfect, but from this closer perspective I could in fact see that this Dacian King had undergone a little rhinoplasty, and hair replacement therapy for his whopping tache. It was a real pleasure to come face to face with this big guy after so many months planning…
There is a lot of property development along the side of this gorge. Indeed I am sure it would make a good place to invest. It was strange seeing the juxtaposition of horse-drawn carts and Audis parked up outside 3/4 star hotels with solar panels and private boats moored on the river front. After a steep descent into Orsova the valley widened and became a lot less gorge like.
About 10k downstream the Iron Gates mammoth dam lived up to its reputation as the largest hydroelectric plant in Europe.