In 1919 a local woodcarver decided to give color and life to his local cemetery in Sapanta by creating a new type of 'tombstone'. Not a stone exactly, but rather a wooden cross that would stand over each grave and tell a story or share a short anecdote from the person's life. Some old and worn, some new with paint still glossy, some with pictures and words carved on both front and back, but all beauitful, colorful and full of humor, adding joy to a place usually associated with sorrow and earning the cemetery its name, the Merry Cemetery.
We couldn't help but notice that every woman pictured in her epitaph was either cooking, sewing or looking after the children. The men were cutting off pigs' heads, one was getting into a car accident, and most were pictured in their trade -- a pharmacist pouring medicine, a barber cutting hair and a shepard looking over his flock.
The Cemetery was filled with flowers, colors, pictures and children giggling at every picture. It was a place to come to smile, remember and realize what life is all about and that in the end things are truly simple, not complicated as they may seem.
After looking at every cross and taking way too many pictures we walked down the road looking for a place to set up our tent.
As we came to a little dirt road and passed some locals in their yard, we ducked low, tried to look as inconspicuous as possible and headed for the hills beyond their farm.
Too late, they had spotted us. An older woman started to yell at us. We immediately thought, Oh no, we're in trouble again. Let's find another place. The entire family approached us and asked us what we were doing.
We stood there silent for a while and decided just to tell the truth.
Um, well, we are looking for a place to sleep, we said under our breath. The family smiled, replying, well don't go there, The Ukraine is right over there, 200 meters away. The border police will get you at night if you camp there! Come into our garden, you will be safer here.
Guidebooks always mention that you can ask locals to sleep on their land but when it comes right down to it, it's just too embarasssing with the language barrier and all the campsites and hotels around for tourists.
However, this family was more than happy to take us in and made sure to come over to our tent frequently to give us warm milk, chocolate cake or just to remind us, anything you want, please ask, anything at all, you are our guests.
We slept well that night and left early the next morning. Maciej was dying to just walk into The Ukraine or at least to get caught by the border police. The fact that those Cossacks were just meters away got his Polish blood boiling. Luckily we didn't have enough time for any more adventures and began the long walk for the bus stop. Within minutes two farmers rolling by in the back of their horsecart invited us to hop in. Sitting in the hay, we enjoyed the ride with the sunrise ahead and sound of hooves underneath.
It's true what they say. It's easy to get away from it all in Romania. Much of the country is caught in the ways of the past -- a simple life, a horse and cart, a smile on the face and a good heart, always ready to lend a helping hand.