Between preparations for Gustar, a Moldovan music festival, tutoring and work, last week was by far the busiest week I’ve had since coming to Moldova. The week involved three trips to Metro – a trip to secure camping supplies for myself and fellow volunteers who live in places without access to a Metro and two trips helping my site mate buy and transport supplies for his booth for the festival. My site mate and a couple other PCVs who had attended the festival last year saw a fundraising and promotion opportunity for a local charity, that works in Tuberculosis treatment, selling food and decided to organize a booth. They drafted an awesome menu, including brinzaburgers (cheese burgers), fried zucchini and fried mamaliga dogs (mamaliga is a traditional Moldovan dish, which is similar to corn bread, so think corn dogs but less greasy and more delicious).
The week also marked my first major project at work, working on the draft, which was due last Friday, for a large European Union grant to fund active aging programs in Moldova. This is the first grant that I have ever written and I’m proud of the work I’ve done on it so far, but needless to say by Friday night I was exhausted and ready for an early bedtime.
Saturday morning I was woken up by my phone buzzing at 7:45 and I instinctively reached over to the nightstand and answered. A fellow volunteer has just arrived at the train station in Balti and I quickly get dressed and head off to meet him. There’s just enough time before I have to be at the bus station to meet my site mates to get home again, gather my stuff and turn back around to catch a Chisinau bound bus that is willing to make a stop in Orhei.
After an hour ride via rutiera, that is surprisingly air conditioned, we arrive on the outskirts of Orhei. We manage to catch a bus into town and meet up with the other six volunteers who are already there and are headed to the festival. Gustar is being held in Orheiul Vechi, which is about a 30 minute drive from the city of Orhei. (Orhei Vechi, made Lonely Planet’s list this year of Top 10 Things to see in Eastern Europe.)
We debate a rutiera to Orhei Vechi, but decide to splurge on a cab (cost 160 lei for four of us so 40 lei or 3.50USD each). We have already accepted that this will be an expensive weekend; we’re all laden with camping gear, eager to get there, set-up our site and help our fellow volunteers with their booth. We arrived at the festival around noon, paid the 90 lei entry fee (about 8.50USD), set up our tent and then went to work at the booth.
I spent the majority of the day Saturday working at the booth, grilling or passing out samples in the crowd promoting the booth. I’m surprised by how international the festival is, by how much English is being spoken. There are people from everywhere in attendance, the members of the European Volunteer Service, so many PCVs, Germans, Ukrainians, Brits and of course so many Moldovans. In the late afternoon, I took a break from working the grill, to hike up into the caves that overlook the festival. It was an amazing view, but not a hike that should be safely done in flimsy sandals.
Around dinnertime I end my work time at the booth and head off to eat dinner, enjoy the music and some wine with my fellow volunteers. The stage was set up to allow the hill in front to act as stadium seating and the rock wall behind to provide a perfect natural amplifier, not to mention beautiful and majestic backdrop for the performers. The music was a mix of traditional Moldovan and Romanian songs, very polka-esc, some euro-tech mixed with Russian and Romanian hip-hop, some American music – all colorful, upbeat, rhythmic and danceable. I particularly loved that so many of the bands traditional, rock and otherwise that had violin players on stage – reminding me of newgrass festivals in Virginia.
Around midnight it began to sprinkle rain on and off, but that didn’t stop the celebrations from continuing late into the night. After the main stage closed, the campsites and festival area were still filled with people enjoying campfires, playing their own music, singing, dancing and of course drinking lots of homemade wine and cognac. At one point during the evening, when it started raining and I was freezing I couldn’t help but laugh, thinking how much in that moment I felt like a Peace Corps Volunteer in the way I had imagined it years ago, when I first heard of the Peace Corps.
The combination of cold and noise meant that no one got much if any sleep. I awoke around six and at first I thought maybe the cold had woken me – the inside walls of the tent were wet and my sleeping bag was a little more than damp. After a few moments I realized that there were two competing crowds of Moldovans still celebrating and one was calling my tent mate’s name. My two tent mates had befriended some Moldovans the night before and apparently they’d made quite the impression. There was no way I was going to be able to go back to sleep, especially since I had agreed to be up at 8:30a to help with the breakfast at the booth.
I gave myself something equivalent to a shower using wet wipes and changed, trying to at least make an attempt at presentability before emerging. Sunday morning went by in a haze of exhaustion, some food prep, laughter and a little before noon, me and several volunteers decided to try to make our way back to our respective sites. We walked up to the top of the hill outside the festival where half of our group caught a rutiera back to Chisinau. After calling a local cab company whose operator only spoke Russian and asking the Police officers about rutieras that ran to Orhei – we decided to try our luck at hitchhiking, there were after all five of us and one a volunteer who had been here a year. A young man driving a station wagon stopped almost immediately for us and he took all of us as far as the outskirts of Orhei. As were getting out, we tried to offer him money for the ride, but he refused to accept it and asked us if instead any of us had an American dollar he could have. Luckily, one of the girls happened to have one, which she happily gave to him. I was touched by his request and have decided to start carrying American dollars with me for just this purpose.
This was my first time hitchhiking, something I would never have considered doing back in the states. However, after hearing from so many PCVs, both male and female about the ease and normality hitchhiking in Moldova, since I wasn’t alone and likely embolden by lack of sleep and desire to get home- I decided to simply do it. Hitchhiking was surprisingly easy – similar to hailing a cab at home and cheaper than standard transportation, so I plan to do this again, although next time I will come equipped with a sign stating my intended destination.
When we reached Orhei, we realized we’d have to go to the main highway on the outskirts of town to catch a rutiera to Balti. When we got to highway, after seeing how full the rutieras going by were and now feeling confident in my hitchhiking abilities, I decided to try my hand at it again. Within 15 minutes we got yet another ride, this time all the way from Orhei to Balti, from a lovely couple who seemed genuinely interested in our stories, how we came to be in Moldova and what our impressions were of the country. This conversation, after a weekend of English and haze of exhaustion provided enough mental stimulation to keep me awake for the entire journey.
I arrived back in Balti and after re-capping the weekend with my site mates, I took a long bath, hung my tent and sleeping bag on the clothes line to dry and went to sleep. Overall I the music festival and camping was a success – a new experience, where I learned a lot about camping dos and don’ts, what to expect at a music festival, as well as more about how to travel and fundraising in Moldova.