Making the last day count

Written by Valts Rozentāls

The last full day has come, tomorrow morning we will leave Bögöz and return to Munich. Before we do – one last adventure. Together.

Wake up and go. We are in a bit of a hurry – not even breakfast! By spending one week on our little retreat in the middle of Romania, it is easy to forget the rest of the world. Easy to forget our daily life. This is a throwback – something like Covid-19 is still holding us in a grip. The difference we saw already on the first day as we brought some tests with us to test the local youth. None of them, this whole time, had done a single test. Just for some comparison – in Germany we tested ourselves almost every day or at least multiple times per week. Here… many of them saw a test for the first time and it was a completely unfamiliar event for them, with all the emotions that come with it.

So, we leave early to get tested and get a certificate for our flight. Without this piece of paper (or passport of immunization) we can’t cross the borders. All the struggles we go through to build friendships.

After we return and grab a quick breakfast – it is time to leave for our last adventure. We are going to the trail and caves of Almási Barlang. Interestingly, on Wiki you can find information only in Hungarian. There is no article either in English nor even Romanian. I also did not go hunting for further information. Maybe this is just one of those magical places you just get to meet in your life and get to keep fantasizing about till you visit it the second time.

The drive was quick – about an hour from Bögöz. This time we also got rewarded by amazingly beautiful sights and views. Pardon my writing skills as I cannot put into words how beautiful this part of the world is. We tried to capture those moments and the astonishing scenery in pictures for you all to see, and even those don’t do them justice. Sometimes it was breathtaking, and one could only ask oneself – how can something be so beautiful?

As we come closer to our destination, the bars on the phone grow smaller and smaller till all we had was “no signal”. Looking at that plaque of a bear and a snake on it, I could only remember my first aid course: “Remember, even if you are in the mountains and your smartphone shows no network connection – 112 should work for emergencies.” I better hope it does when the bear comes…

We begin the adventure by parking on the side of the parking lot that is a bit further away, which is basically a big piece of grass. Nearby is a fireplace, so the first thing we do is to get some fire going, so we can prepare food on the grill. Old school – get some wood to burn through and get coal this way. This is also the best way, our bus drivers once again showed that they are like Swiss pocket knives – pulling yet another trick out of their, seemingly never ending, arsenal. They quickly start a small fire and engage the youth to bring firewood, literally out of the woods nearby.

Some nice sausages, grilled cheese and potatoes; served on a piece of bread. There is something about being hungry and eating basic food outside out of raw fire. For myself it throws me back to times of my youth where we would do things like this all summer long. I am older now, but I see myself in the youth around me. It is important not to forget our days as little humans. We grew up, became all serious and forget the play. This reminds me of an interview with Giannis Antetokounmpo, where he spoke about tips Kobe Bryant gave him. One of them was – never forget how to be a kid. Kids are always learning, they want to know stuff, they ask questions. Kids can play with two stones, or with some sticks and their creativity makes it a magical world with all kinds of adventures. The youth always does some crazy stuff which sometimes turns into stupid stuff. Stupid to whom? Us? We were also young once, it’s just how it goes. We laugh it off now as adults, but I think we can all agree – we did some truly dumb things back in the days. Why should our kids not get a pass? Just because we managed to grow up? Passes – I love them. It might be that as a Coach I try to show them the ropes and everything, but they must also make their own mistakes. Even if that mistake is to hit a log with a stick.

We get our food and move on. It turns out to be a proper hike. It starts very easy and gets harder as you go further into the natural park. Nothing crazy, but the terrain is not a walk in the park – many stones and roots, you have to watch your step not to stumble. Our first stop is the bat cave, well at least part of it. Turns out that we can access only the shallow cave of the system. The deeper ones have been closed to preserve the bats living in them. Understandable. So, we take a little course in the accessible part and move on. What are the caves like? Well, mostly cold and wet.

Next up is my favorite part – a hike! This is a mix, as we were the last and at some point completely lost the rest of the group. This is also something one must learn travelling with a four-year-old. Some things can be done, but they take longer. Just like in the old saying – if you want to go fast, then go alone; if you want to go far, then go together. We were going together, and we were going slow. Part of the fault could be also found on the bridge system. I did not count them, but I think there were at least ten of them and they all had a weight restriction of 200kg. If you know me, you know I am a bit over a half of that. So, for our own safety – I would always wait for the others to get over. Where we would lose time, was if there were other groups already on the bridges going the opposite direction. It was just impossible to pass simultaneously, and we would just have to wait. This would allow for some brief conversations and recalling of memories of those who had already left their footprints on this path.

As one would assume the nature around this trail was just fabulous. What I find very interesting is the small river that went along the trail. You could not see through it at any point. The mineral concentration was just too  high in the water, and it was not clear at any point along the way. Either very red or very turbid. The further we went, the rockier the path got. Maybe we just started at the wrong point? The hike itself was about 45-50 minutes from start to finish, excluding the visit to the bat cave. Once we got through, the question was – do we walk back for 45 minutes to hop on the buses or do we wait for two hours and let the buses come pick us up. Additionally, we would save about 30 minutes of the drive home. Well, you can guess once which option was chosen by our democratic vote. Two hours of waiting. Oh my, not our plan at all, but you got to deal with it, don’t you? That’s how democracy works.

We proceeded to set up a temporary “camp” in the shadows of the trees as the sun was just crazy burning hot and we already had been in the sun the whole day. Card games, chit-chat and boredom. Best way to spend two hours. Some took the time to get some rest and snuck in some proper naps under the blue sky.

There were some horses nearby, as it turns out, they are watched by a man who lives in a simple hut, seemingly with no running water and kitchen just outside his small hut. Someone made contact with a foal, and it followed them back as the offer was some flowers and greens. Simple life. Though, somebody tried to feed it some Plantain, to which the Romanian youth responded with immediate objections. One could trust them, after all many of them have grown up near or on farms and had experience with the horses. Shortly after the foal decided to leave for good and went through the electrical fence (which turns out is not as electrical as one might think), it was time for the horses to get their dose of water at the river before they were put in a smaller grazing zone for the night. We could observe that horses were more civilized than some humans – they took turns at the river and did wait for the one horse before them to finish drinking before going in. Maybe they just had some privacy issues?

Two hours later the buses were finally here, and we could go to them – the parking spot was like 300-400 meters away. Even at a remote place like this – there were some small huts on our way and people just enjoying the summer days with some barbecue and drinks. Keeping it simple and enjoying it very much. Our bus drivers pulls yet another bonus point – they did not just hike back 45 minutes and drive with the buses around the mountains, they also picked up fresh drinking water on the way here! We could fill our flasks and satisfy our need for water as some of us had none left after the hike and all the waiting. Now it was time to get back to “Székelykapu Panzio”. This next part I had to reach out to Nadine, as somehow, I was already drifting between actions and missed some of it.

After a long exhausting hike, we are finally back at the pension. Thankfully, Irenke had already prepared us one of her delicious meals for dinner. To round up this unforgettable week a cozy movie night was planned under the stars. Additionally, prior to the movie, we had to go through a celebration round. We were finally going to find out who won the scavenger hunt we had on our second day as well as the results of the 1on1 contest which had been going on all week long.

Holding two plates of what seemed to be two delicious pieces of chocolate cake, Miri began the short award ceremony. Eager to know who the lucky ones are who are about to receive these mouth-watering pieces of chocolate cake – the youth can’t keep quiet. Finally, Miri announces the winners of the younger Group: Johannes, who had won in the final match against Leonhard; and the winner of the older Group: Marisa, who was able to attain this title by beating Ferenz in the final match. Very content with their accomplishment both champions walked to the front to accept their reward. Cheerful applause kills the silence surrounding us.

Another important announcement follows. The winner of the scavenger hunt. The race was tight. A box of small fruit tarts is in Miri’s hands waiting to be devoured by the winners. After building up some suspense Miri announces that two teams had achieved the same scores: her team and Levi’s. The deciding factor was that Levi’s team made it back to the pension earlier than Miri’s team thus making them the winners of the scavenger hunt. Once again, we applaud the winners while they walk to the front to claim their prize.

Smiles and laughter all around. Not only the winners are celebrating. Everyone is. We’re celebrating the end of an unforgettable week filled with new experiences, lifelong memories, and fun times.

All cuddled up, we are ready for the movie „Space Jam“ to begin. For those who are familiar with Basketball of 90’s Era – this is one of the classics, for those who are not… Well, watch it before you go on and watch the second part with Lebron! This one includes Jordan himself.

Hugs and love, it is time to depart from one another. Next day, the youth of Bögöz would return to their daily lives and we would return to ours. This is another law of the universe, everything that starts – must end, sooner or later. It is the acceptance and the friends we made along the way, the understanding that under the right conditions we have more similarities with one another than differences. And as hard as it comes – it is best seen in the eyes of people who say their goodbyes. We promise to come again, they promise to be waiting. Meanwhile – we must hold onto the memories we made, even if that’s only in our dreams.

“Uzvelciet baltu kreklu un rakstiet jaunībai. Viņa atnāk ar taureni bizē.

Viņa ir soprāns vidusskolas korī. Un viņai ir baltas kurpes.”

Imants Ziedonis

Lost in translation: “Put on a white shirt and write to the youth. She comes with a butterfly in her braid. She is the soprano in the high school choir. And she has white shoes.”

This is the last evening. After the youth of Bögöz went home – our youth wanted to spend the last night chatting and reliving everything. Us coaches, we have been there before, we know how thrilling the last night always is. However, packing the bags and cleaning everything up comes first! After that – they are free to do whatever they please. As the weather was not quite welcoming the past days, some of the players still want to get some game in with night basketball. Amazing activity, the night is welcoming and pitch dark – perfect circumstances for playing night basketball. For those of you wondering how this works: you put up lights around the square on the board and around the rings of the baskets, fluorescent sticks around the players’ necks, wrists and feet, and you get a special ball which is lit up. I am sure Sandy will add some nice photos to bring this amazing experience closer to you!

We max out at around 300-330, this day used up our reserves to the maximum and we are really done. Tomorrow we have to get up early, eat breakfast, do the last checks in the rooms and on the luggage. Our brains do not even register the moment before and after passing out. Legend says, some even did not go to sleep and pulled an all-nighter. Why wouldn’t they? The next morning, we would find them all together in the middle of the corridor of the first floor. Beautiful youth.