From day one the words were whispered through the training site halls. Those volunteers who had been here some time, who had traveled the country, who knew most of the other volunteers, were uttering the phrase. It could have either been the making of plans or the envious gossip but for a trainee just entering the country the words "Vama Veche" held a mystery and excitement in those first weeks of summer 2009. The mystery remained as so until last weekends long awaited jaunt to the seaside.
Over the past three years I've heard many mixed feelings about the beach-town Vama Veche but the opinions started flying from the very first week in the country when some group 25 volunteers were planning a repeat trip to the southern most village in Romania. "O Vama's crazy" they would say as I began asking about it. "What happens in Vama stays in Vama," they said as they continued to tell me their stories that probably should have been forgotten on their long road out of the sea-side village. Either way I had to find out more and after asking several people about it I continued to receive conflicting reports: "It's a rocker beach", "It's a hippie beach", "It's a nudist beach"; "It's too commercial now", "It's not commercial yet"; "you must go there", "you don't want to go there". It wasn't until recently that I realized the main deference between those reports that I was hearing: 100% of the positive opinions about vama veche came from people who had been there while nearly 100% of the not so positive comments were spoken by people who had only heard about the beach town. Those that had the experience were promoting it while those that hadn't had the experience somehow had it in their heads that its not a good place to go.
Situated at the south-eastern corner of Romania, Vama Veche is a small Black Sea beach village bordering Bulgaria. Its location on the border saved it from the communist sea-side resort developments of Ceausescu's time that its planet named neighbors to the north went through (Neptune, Venus, Jupiter, Saturn). As the village gained notoriety throughout the 90's, partially for its nude beach, a campaign arose to keep it as it is. The Save Vama Veche campaign addressed tourist developments seen in the late 90s-early 2000's by hosting a protest concert, Stufstock, in 2003. The campaign has proved effective as local laws were passed halting any new major developments including the repairing of roads, and to this day Vama Veche remains free of large resort-style hotels blocking the view of the sea from the fields beyond the town.
Vama was all that I was hoping for and more. Its a true beach town with its vendors lined up pushing a bunch of all the same, walk-in fast food joints on the main strip, beach-side bars of all sorts, and beach chairs lined up at certain parts. The couple of the things that set it apart from typical beach towns are the reasons why people go to Vama. These include the lack of high-rise hotels, the numerous tents situated on the sand, the naked people down at the end, and the wide variety of people roaming up and down the main strip. Vama isn't a place for rockers like some say it is, its a place for anybody. At Vama you'll find rockers, nudists, normal families, people relaxing, people partying, music festival goers, early-risers, and all-night partiers. We found a nice spot to lay the tent, way up at the northern corner of the beach just beyond the nudists section. It was there where we could get just a bit of privacy. It was far enough from the town that we didn't hear any of the noisy beach-side bars when we were trying to sleep but it was still a pleasantly short walk in to the sandier part of the beach, restaurants, and the music festival. It was there that we made our home for a couple of nice cool nights on the seaside.
A festival is what we were after but it was only a small part of what we got there. Music is a great reason to get down to Vama as there are all kinds of music festivals there throughout the summer. We managed to catch the Jazz festival. Though I have seen jazz from time to time I have never been to a jazz festival. We saw some really great acts but the ones that impressed me the most were the Romanian acts that closed out the nights. The Romanian music wasn't so much jazz as it was jam. The sounds of the rapid pounding tambal mixed with the legendary drums of Ovidiu Liviu Tandarica to produce some "wake-up" music as it followed some soothing jazz that nearly put me out. Despite the great music my old age got the better of me and I decided to call it a night at 2ish rather than to stay for the entire show. Walking past the tent we passed "The Stuff" a club on the sand pumping out loud music and good times for some. As for me the loud music fainted as I slowly approached the tent and my bed for the evening.
The days were spent on the beach in all meaning of the phrase. Laying out, reading, swimming through waves and against currents, and of course putting down some cold refreshing beers were all main activities of the day. I remembered when I was little and I went to the beach with my family. Knowing that it would be the only couple of days that year that I would see the ocean, I took in all of the wonderful sights, sounds, and especially feelings of the beach. Feeling the wind against your bare chest, the sand through your tows, and the waves crash into you. The waves of the Atlantic always seemed much larger than these at the Black Sea. Is it the difference in size of the body of water or the person standing in it? Just like those times when I was at the beach as a kid I had to leave eventually even though I didn't want to.
The trip back to Bucharest was a tough one. Sunday evening is not a good time to leave the beach mainly because it is the time that everyone wants to leave the beach. After spending a couple of hours on a hot mini-bus in traffic we switched to a hot, overcrowded train to add another 3 hours to our trip. Factoring in the travel time there and back I wouldn't go to Vama without staying at least two nights, which makes it necessary to take off either a Monday or a Friday. I wonder if I'll be able to get back down there one more time before I leave Romania.