aka The Romania Chronicles, Part 4…
I like a good conspiracy theory a little more than the average person but there are a few things I’ve seen recently that make me wonder if I’ve slipped into George Orwell’s original 1984 nightmare. One of these being “fake news” or, more specifically, the laid-back reaction to it. While there are people jumping up and down demanding that ads like “this housewife lost half her bodyweight by eating this weird fruit” be banned from all corners of the world, the moral panic has (as far as I’ve seen) been over the existence of “fake news” and not over the far more disturbing fact that people are believing it. Are we really that stupid? On the other hand, maybe we always have been. In 1957, the BBC ran an April Fools news broadcast featuring people harvesting spaghetti trees. Gullible people rang the show asking where they could buy their own tree!
When I was just a young sprout, I checked improbable sounding things on snopes.com. The website is a little dated and not as well-kept as it used to be but things were classified as true, false, unknown or “real image, false description”. Your third uncle’s best friend did not go to school with twins called Lemonjello and Oranjello. The Met Police have not issued a special phone number which activates a special automatic tracking service in the sky. There has never been a case of death-by-razor-blades-in-Halloween-sweets. Though Snopes appears to be on its way out, I learned to Google things, fact check and stare in disbelief if someone still got caught out by the Nigerian Prince scam.
But then I went to Hoia Baciu forest based solely on the pictures below.
It is known as Europe’s Bermuda Triangle and named after a shepherd who apparently went missing in there along with his flock of 200 sheep. Since then, the descriptions on paranormal websites have been extensive, exciting and disturbing; disappearances, strange illnesses and rashes, scorch marks on the trees, a huge circle within which nothing grows, lights about the forest at night- the list goes on.
I’ve said before that I prefer not to know exactly what I’m supposed to feel or see when I enter a location but it was impossible to separate this hype from the history, so I put my skeptic’s hat on and decided that if I at least got to see the circle, I’d have a story to tell. Well, that forest turned out to be pretty large but far less isolated than I had imagined. I’d been picturing a true fairytale pine forest- silence in the trees, a long walk, a place that could induce Blair Witch Project level isolation if my team and I got separated. Well, not quite. That meadow is a stone’s throw from a town and roads pass through at regular intervals- though that is not to say that bizarre things didn’t happen.
In absence of a true road (we’d got rather lost), we decided to off-road the remainder of the way, the first few metres escorted by some very dedicated guard dogs. About halfway to the place our satnav told us was the round meadow- the epicentre of the strange activity- our electronics went haywire. All of them. The jeep then began to make odd noises and rather than be stranded in the mud for however long, we parked up in the driest spot we could find and made our way to the circle on foot. As of yet, none of us knew how deep into the forest we were going to be and so we began walking backwards, photographing our surroundings as we went, in case we needed a landmark later on.
Our tired brains were a little more gullible than usual and we were having some storytelling fun making up urban legends throughout the journey that after a while we each admitted were false. There are no bears here. 17 tourists had not, in fact, gone missing. The local hospital did not, in fact, have a special code term for forest-induced hysterics. Agent Mulder did appear to have visited at one time though…
It was gloomy and grey as any summer in the UK could be and we kept getting the shivers before feeling muggy and humid. We looked up at the sky as often as an overzealous paranormal investigator expecting to be abducted although we didn’t expect to be anything other than drenched, no matter how much or little we ‘wanted to believe’.
The meadow was, as described, barren. Dead grass, no sign of the life that was around in the trees, the moss, the lichen and ferns still growing. It was a little disconcerting but could easily have been faked or ‘encouraged’ to remain in its state with the careful help of pruning and weedkiller. There are places on earth more natural and yet more bizarre looking*. Still, I set up to film- there were scorch marks on the trees. There were belongings hanging on branches waiting to be claimed or at least remarked on.
Jonathan decided that two sticks made a perfect hammock and was out of action while Nicola and Rebecca got ready to shoot- it was after all a pretty interesting place for taking photographs and Rebecca had brought some artefacts and personal items with her for shooting. As I wandered off into the trees (but not too far) looking for the bizarre shaped trees that google image searching Hoia Baciu gives you, I heard footsteps. A young man materialised out of the trees- he’d come on his birthday to find some twisted trees. Sadly, we had no cake to give him but he stayed to chat with us for a while (and teach me I wasn’t too far off with my pronunciation (HOYa BA-choo) before continuing his quest as I began to film.
In the 1960s, biologist Alexandru Sift conducted a series of experiments on magnetic phenomena in the forest… but as his notes were mysteriously ‘lost’ a few days after his death, I don’t trust the notes attributed to him online. I do find it interesting that he clearly thought this could be a reason for the oddness in the forest- and if, lets say, experiments happened nearby, would be a surprise if they had been covered up? As my team were busy with their own projects, I had the chance to sit and think.
There’s a fairly well-known theory concerning the Roswell Incident; while all of the emergency services and press flocked to the well-publicised Area 51 (which was, of course, roped off and shielded as much and as obviously as possible, ensuring the press stayed right where they were), there was a second crash site. While the attention was on Area 51, the true investigation, salvaging and clear-up could be done at the other site. Whatever your theory on The Roswell Incident (and there is no doubt something went on there); an experimental aircraft, chimps or other animals being used in tests, aliens landing, etc etc etc, the coverup theory would apply in any case. It’s bizarrely easy to ignore something when your attention is elsewhere. Take this video for example.
Every online article relating to Hoia Baciu Forest puts the paranormal activity and odd stories in the immediate vicinity of the circular meadow. But what if the meadow isn’t the location after all? What if we already passed the centre- the point where our electronics stopped working? My thoughts amid the relative quiet of the forest were disturbed firstly by a plane flying overhead, and then by another arrival. A second young man. “Excuse me? I’m looking for some interestingly shaped trees. Do you know anything about them?” I’m afraid not, fellow adventurer.
I should probably mention I did get a small rash that covered part of each arm. The bumps weren’t the red prominent horror show you’d see on a SyFy channel 3am special but they were present enough to make me stop and think again, just for a second, before we made our way out of the forest as the first drops of rain finally carried out their threat of falling. Back on the road, we asked around. Nobody had actually seen the trees- not in their entirety. There were one or two that passed as “oddly shaped” but nothing like the offerings from Google. We’d fallen for Fake News.
Now, these mutated trees almost certainly exist but they are not in Hoia Baciu forest- in such a relatively busy area, with so many people looking for them, there would be more photographs online. Co-ordinates at the very least. The barren circle photograph above- look at the miles of surrounding conifers! That place may well exist but not in the deciduous forest of Hoia Baciu.
It could be worse, of course. There are far more stupid things to fall for- endless quests to go on. At least a full sweep of the forest could have confirmed the existence of groves of deformed trees- or not. Aliens, life after death, government conspiracies- even the truth behind what went on at Roswell; the former are unlikely to be proven or disproven in my lifetime and the latter risks sending anyone down a very disturbing rabbit hole that’s still unlikely to give a satisfying answer. Maybe it’s more interesting thinking about what you want to believe- and why… 😉
The weirdest tree in Hoia Baciu
I’d run off on another bizarre quest any time, of course- I left with a story to tell you, even if it isn’t the story I expected! On another note, we did find other forms of life. I’d like you to meet Buna (‘hello’ in Romanian- because she was so friendly.) The attitude toward dogs in Romania is very different from over here- dogs aren’t generally pets in the country- they’re outdoor working animals at best, vermin at worst and one thing I couldn’t get used to was how many I saw dead from the road. We were concerned that Buna was a stray at first and as some of our team adopt their local strays she would have ended up on the adventure with us but she was too cuddly and well-fed not to be somebody’s. Aren’t her eyes beautiful? We love you, Buna!
When we arrived at our apartment that night after the vertigo-inducing adventure I’ll tell you about in my next (and penultimate) Romania blog, hysterical laughter had kicked in. I stole Rebecca’s hat and started filming a Blair Witch Project impression to send to my mum but lost it when she put a leaf on my head for authenticity…
Over to you- do you want to believe? 😉
NEXT BLOG: The Road To Nowhere, in which we nearly die on the world’s best road.
* This is one of many strange trees near Holkham Bay in Norfolk, England. I’ve seen these with my own eyes but Magpie Tommy provides better photos. 😛