In Romania the 1st of May is a big thing. Everybody is looking to get out of town, heading mostly to the seaside for the official first day of the summer season.
Although I enjoy the traditional parties, this year I chose to experience something different in any way I can think of: a 1st of May Dacian Camp. This meant 4 days of no electricity ergo no phone, a sun heated shower, fire cooked food and only outdoor activities. Looking a bit extreme in the beginning it was fascinating to observe how quickly people can adapt and switch from the daily high-tech lives to the old simple ways.
Who were the Dacians?
Before Romania, before the Romans, these territories belonged to tribes of blue-eyed, red-bearded warriors, the Dacians. Let me give you some details on who they were and what they mean to us.
Traditionally, they are presented as fierce barbarians who sacrificed the best among them to please their half-wolf, half-dragon god, Zalmoxis. The Dacians considered themselves immortal, life on Earth being just a prequel to their real life that began after death, next to their god.
They were trained in archery, spear throwing and direct combat. Their weapon of choice was the falx, a sharp, curved blade with a hook-like point. The technique was to clench the point in the enemy’s body and then pull hard thus causing massive wounds. This deadly weapon and the mastery of this technique were the reasons why the Romans had to harden their helmets when fighting against the Dacians.
Intriguing about their culture is that not only men were tough but women as well. Apparently women, especially the ones of high birth, had their bodies embellished with tattoos done with needles or hot iron. Pretty badass!
The hedonistic side of their life manifested itself through their love of wine. Wine was not consumed mixed with water like other, more peaceful populations, but pure. They thought wine brings them happiness and prosperity if they sprinkled it on their clothes. Burebista, one of their great rulers, ordered the tearing up of the grape vines as punishment and a way to calm his subjects. Fortunately, the tearing was not total as the records show and wine is to the present day our national beverage.
To have a more thorough image I must mention that according to archeological discoveries they were good craftsmen too. The patterns on the pottery and the finesse of the jewelry show that they had other pursuits atop war and wine. Their ability of processing gold can be witnessed in the exhibitions in different museums in the country, the biggest ones being at the National History Museum in Bucharest and the National Museum of History and Archeology in Constanta.
Unfortunately, the data is scarce and we do not have any writings left directly from the Dacians. However, we find their traces in the embroideries on our traditional clothes, the patterns on our pottery, the pagan holidays and rituals, the wine and the reddish beards of Romanian men.
These are just minimal details on the Dacians and their culture for their story is rich and should be heard from an expert.
Life at Camp
Danais, the Dacian camp is located in Dobruja, near the town of Cernavoda, in the village of Capidava, on the right bank of the Danube. Capidava is a millendary settlement as it was a Dacian fortress, then a Roman castrum, nowadays a small fishermen village.
Living like our ancestors meant getting our hands dirty first of all. Not with blood from the beginning but with clay. We were shown and taught how to make our own Dacian fruit bowls. The results were rather surprising: some sort of 9-legged miniature Jacuzzi, a medieval –like cup and a third that somehow resembled the fruit cup. And since we were all in touch with our inner warrior, a clay fight was inevitable. On the plus side, clay works miracles for the skin.
The rest of the day was peacefully divided between learning fighting techniques with the falx, trying on our Dacian clothes and shoes and my precious: archery. It had been years since I wanted to learn to shoot with a bow and arrow and I finally had my hands on one. After three days I had got a bloody blister on one of my fingers. I guess the gods were asking for their sacrifice.
The day ended with a camp fire, discussions on women emancipation and guitar music.
History fans would be thrilled with the activities on the camp: archeology workshop where we demo-ed a real archeology site and analyzed our findings, the tour of Capidava fortress guided by our host, the tribe leader who knows an impressive number of facts and stories about pretty much anything, plus a tour of other archeological sites in the area. It’s impossible not to be a mini guru on Dacians after this.
Further along our Dacian adventure we organized a photo shooting on the walls of Capidava dressed completely in Dacian attire. Us, Dacian women with bows and arrows defended the fortress against men in shields and swords. I can’t decide which is my favorite activity: the photo-shooting or the archery lesson.
The last Dacian workshop was smithery. We learned how to blow the furnace, glow the iron and finally hammer it until we produced the weapon. Much as it seemed an unattainable job we had two real Dacian men on the team that, with some help from us, completed the task beautifully. We even won the weaponry challenge.
Apart from the organized activities we had free time for relaxation so people went swimming or fishing in the Danube, playing different ball games, sun bathing, reading, braiding rope or just talking and laughing.
The accommodation is rustic for one goes there to experience life as it was 2000 years ago. You get to sleep in wooden cottages with no electricity so be prepared with flashlights and sleeping bags. There is drinkable water but the shower is solar meaning sun heated water. It might feel harsh but you get used to the cold water quite fast and its an opportunity to toughen up. Do shower during noon, though!
The food consists mainly of barbeques but we were served a typical Dacian lentil dish too and bread baked in a hearth furnace. We ate the bread while warm. My taste buds are still thankful for that feast. If you have special requirements about the food, do let people know from the start as they are nice and willing to accommodate anyone.
Back to Reality
After four days of living like a Dacian I had several conclusions to draw. First, electricity is overrated. I was using my phone as a mirror in the last day and I didn’t miss its buzzing at all. I could tell time according to the meals: if I had lunch it was afternoon, if not it was still morning. Second, we are capable to adapt more swiftly than we think. In the last evening, during the camp fire, one of the guys told me that he didn’t have high hopes when he came there but “Now, I feel I belong here.” This brings me to my third conclusion: nature beats everything. No facebook, movies or video games could ever match the fun people have under the open sky.
Truth be told, I went camping only once in my life when I was 12 so for me this was survival camp. I have to admit that I came there prepared to abandon ship sometime along the way. Never have I felt more empowered than during archery or smithery workshops or when teaming up with the girls against the biggest and most fearsome Dacian in the territory.
Returning to the daily reality after 4 days of being unplugged came down colder than the water in the solar shower.
To contact Danais Camp: http://www.danais.ro/