The Danube Delta
Badtz Maru in the Danube Delta
When the elections results were announced I was in a fishing village in the Danube Delta with no internet access. Fortunately, locals were aware of the results and were able to inform me of the results right away. Cheers for President Obama!
Anyways, I have been staying in Tulcea which is the gateway to the Danube Delta. There are not many roads throughout the Delta, in order to see it, it is necessary to take a boat. There are a number of fishing villages throughout it, some of which are dominated by a particular ethnic group such as Lipovans, Ukranians and more. Pensiunes are common throughout these villages offering tourists comfortable accommodations in the heart to the Delta. And daily ferries run from Tulcea along the main arms of the Delta (there are 3 total) stopping at the small villages along the way.
Tuesday I took a ferry from Tulcea to the village Crishan which is one of the several fishing villages in the Danube Delta. The ferry ride was a few hours long and just went down the Sulina branch of the Danube Delta, part of which had been constructed by humans to create a faster route for boat traffic. I was connected with a local who helped me to find a pension to stay at. There wasn’t much to do in the village itself. It is the off season for tourism, and most of the villages are a bit sleepy right now. There was one restaurant open though barely anyone was there. The next day I hooked up with 3 Austrian travelers who also wanted a tour of the Delta. We were given a boat tour by the manager of the pensiune.
Wow, is it also a beautiful landscape. All of these channels and lakes with beautiful vegetation and lots of birds including pelicans, swans, egrets, herons, cormorants, and more. And fishermen and fishing villages throughout it. It has this mystical feeling, like it is right out of a fairy tale. I took so many photos, but they don’t really even do it justice, it really has to be experienced.
It is tough to compare places in terms of sheer beauty, but the Danube Delta is definitely up there in terms of most beautiful places I have seen on this trip. In my opinion comparable to the Okavango Delta, though the two are beautiful in different ways. And while the Danube Delta may not have lions or elephants, it does have otters which are one of my favorite animals. Though sadly I did not see any otters.
In terms of sustainability and tourism, I have a few perspectives, based off the of interviews I have conducted with the locals. Environmentally, it is in decent shape. It has a fair amount of attention given to it for protection as it is a world heritage site, a Ramsar wetland, biosphere reserve, the second largest Delta in Europe and an essential stopover location for migratory birds. There are zoning classifications, and tourists are prohibited in certain areas with high protection status. A number of tourist routes have been designated by the biosphere reserve authority and permits are required for tourists entering the Delta. Unfortunately though, Romanians are amongst the least educated Europeans about littering and as a result tend to put garbage directly into the natural environment. Even on the ferry ride home, I saw a notable amount of locals throwing cigarette butts directly into the Danube River! Littering is one criticism that Romania has been given upon being granted EU membership though and efforts are being made to educate the locals and change these trends.
In regards to economic sustainability, ecotourism is essential in the Delta to sustain livelihoods. Fishing is declining as an economic activity and tour operations are being promoted to locals as an option. However, there are numerous challenges such as language barriers and general expenses of starting an operation. Many tours are run by foreigners including ‘boatels,’ floating hotels that travel through the channels. Some of these don’t offer any opportunities for locals economically. But it does seem like trends are changing and more locals are working in tourism.
And as far as social sustainability goes… Most of the locals seem ok with tourism as they understand the financial benefits. There are conflicts with the development of new pensiunes as many of them do not use the traditional architectural styles, specifically the reed roofs as shown in the photo below. As my own interest is in heritage tourism, I was on the look out for heritage tourism in the Delta, and really did not see any during my limited time here. Similar to the Okavango Delta, the mindset amongst tour operators and promoters is that tourists are only interested in ecotourism and perhaps have not really invested time in the development of heritage tourism attractions.
Anyways, got back to Tulcea yesterday. In follow up to my previous post about my roots quest for Jewish Romania, it turns out there are a few pieces of Jewish Tulcea that have been preserved: a synagogue and two Jewish cemeteries. I was able to locate all of these places, but could not go into any of them. The synagogue was closed. The first cemetery I stopped at had this old man gatekeeper who would not let me enter for reasons I do not understand. I tried explaining to him that I have Jewish Romanian ancestry and just wanted to see the cemetery and that I didn’t even need to take photos. But he only spoke Romanian and kept talking to me for about 10 minutes, even though it must have been obvious that I couldn’t understand him. So finally I had to give up. The second Jewish cemetery was adjacent to the main Tulcea cemetery, though it also had a gate around it with many barking dogs guarding it. No one was there to let me in, though I could still see some of it from outside.
Well tomorrow it is off to Transylvania to visit Orsi. Am excited to see an old friend and have an insider who can show me around.