Located in the Apuseni mountains, on the Padis plateau, Cetatile Ponorului is unanimously accepted as the most grandiose carstic formation in Romania. It is a very complex formation, consisting of 3 doline (funnel like formations), one huge underground cave, an underground river, 4 balconies, and incredibly wild views. Oh, did I mention the tallest cave entrance in Romania at 76 m high?
One thing that needs to be stated as soon as possible is that most of these beauties are not accessible to regular tourists, because of their danger:
The illegible part of this plaque says ‘do not attempt to go down in the cave unless you have the experience and equipment needed for crossing underground rivers’ . Since I did not even have an idea about what equipment that might be, I did not venture inside.
And it turned out to be a good idea later when I heard the story of an older couple about their crossing as they were young: there were 4 of them (2 couples), with little or no lights, and the got to a point where the men would lower the women in the water holding them by their hands, so they could reach with their feet in the cold dark water for the bottom. They did manage to get out after all but it was traumatic 🙂
This tell us an important lesson: when out in the nature, it is even more important to RTFM!
There are several ways to reach this complex, the one I followed was the only one available to me at the moment: by foot, trekking from Arieseni (more on that in a moment). One could go by car but that meant going up the road to Padis plateau BEFORE 07:00 in the morning, and waiting after 19:00 to go back down, because the road was closed during the day for repairs (yup, that’s tight the road is closed ALL DAY LONG and only open to tourists during the night!).
Getting there is an adventure in itself, although it’s a 15-20 minutes trek, it is very steep and it was slippery. There were natural steps made of trees’ roots and sharp, wet rocks:
The closer one gets to the place, the steeper it gets. The last part of the descend is on a cable:
At the moment I thought ‘wow, good thing they have this cable’ but I read later on that (not so) long time ago there were stairs ! And that the Romanian Speleology Federation has accessed European funds in order to take down the (old) stairs and replace them with the cable!
Thinking about it, I can imagine it as a measure of discouraging tourists to venture in the most dangerous area, but I can tell you it’s not working. As a matter of fact, I have seen one of the most reckless behaviors ever here: a couple of young parents, without proper trekking equipment AND WITH AN INFANT IN THEIR ARMS were descending through the steep forest. I told them they should go back because the cable descend was following but I am not sur they stopped. Lots of young people were around there in jeans and running shoes too…
So I think it was a better idea to have repaired the stairs:
The trek itself starting from Arieseni was easy, but annoying / with some ridiculous aspects:
1) we started from the mai road following the red triangle. The path to Cetatile Ponorului was marked with the red triangle on both our maps AND on the public map in the village. The first part were some 9 kilometers on a country road which we used the car for. Here is the first funny part: the red triangle went together with the yellow triangle for the first 7 kilometers, and it disappeared suddenly.
When I asked some locals they told me to follow the yellow triangle 2 more kilometers until I cross a bridge and leave the car there, (in the forest) ! It was not the only car there so I got more courage.
2) I re-found the red triangle where the locals said I’d find it, followed it on a steep path up to a plateau and that was it again – no more red triangle. Only a red stripe. On both our maps the red stripe was a 15 hour long path starting from somewhere else (!). After going in all directions for some hundreds of meters with no luck we decided to follow the red stripe to see where it leads, because it just could not be the same red stripe we had on the maps!
We got where we wanted to!!! On the road we observed that some retard has painted the red stripe over all the triangles without giving any notice anywhere !! That’s one for the “too bad it’s inhabited” category.
I close with a picture of the sky I found on the return trek:
If you like these photos, you could also be interested in seeing some more posts in the Beautiful Romania category. Also, this is a good reason to subscribe to the blog (via RSS or email) and to let all your friends know about it