Căruța Travel Diary. Trip one. Oxentea

I cannot explain rationally why we picked Oxentea village as our first destination within the Căruța project. Maybe my last name – Axenti made me loyal to this village.

Text: Maria Axenti

Photos: Tanya Obuh

Oxentea is a small village at 55 km North-East from Chisinau. It lays modestly on the right bank of Nistru river. The legend mentioned on Wikipedia says a landlord named Axentie was the founder of the settlement. I like this version. According to some researches of the roots of my (Axenti) family, we have nothing in common with this village. I do not like this version. Nevertheless, there were some rational reasons for visiting Oxentea. Based on some recommendations I got and information I found on the internet an interesting trip might be organised. Therefore, we went to check it.

photo oxentea

We depart on Wednesday in the afternoon. Summer in Chisinau is worse than in Texas. Probably. It’s hot and humid but we are used to Moldovan summer that is unbearable for Americans, Swedes or Bulgarians. Travelling to the countryside is common almost for each of us. Ana, the driver, was born in a village at the south of Moldova. I was born in Chisinau but in childhood I spent summers at my grandparents were I was missing the city bathroom and enjoying fruits and freedom. Tanya, my friend and photographer and Dima, my husband that helps me with the trips, were born also in cities – Chisinau and Soroca. They don’t have grandparents in villages but ten years of hiking across Moldova made them familiar enough to the rural life.

“Go left until the cross-road. You’ll see a well, and turn right.”

Dumitru is giving us directions how to get to his house. At the gate, a man is waving. We arrive. I found about Dumitru, a woodcarver from a TV programme when I was looking for information about Oxentea. I needed a phone number to contact him and agree on a meeting. I even didn’t know his last name. “Dumitru Portarescu” told me a nice voice on the telephone. I called the village administration that gave me his home number. Obviously, he is well known in the village. Dumitru was on vacation in Romania and didn’t have plans to be back to Oxentea until September. That could ruin my plans to organise a trip there in August.

“Please come in! Dima will come in a minute,” told us Artur, Dumitru’s brother. Dima is the short form for Dumitru. We meet Dima. He came from his vacation from Romania. Especially for us. He is young, thin, with light brown hair, strong arms. In his room, Tanya is taking photos of icons, paintings, chairs, a table, two vases arranged in his room.

“I prefer working abroad. There people don’t lie, don’t cheat. I do not trust Moldovans. But, yes, I build my house in Oxentea. You know, here is home. I want to live here.”

Dima is only 20 years. He is intensely working in wood for the last five years. He has done in total around 3,000 pieces, small and big, alone and with help. Can you imagine the time this man was with the chisel in his hands? Most of his works were sold abroad were people pay five or even ten times more than here, in Moldova. At his 20 years, Dumitru knows much more about life than ordinary youngster of the same age: hard work and cheating, schemes and appreciation. Without an attitude of a big star, Dima is continuing to show us photos on this telephone, his works that today decorate some houses in France, Russia or US: landscapes, animals, flowers, tables, portraits, wood rocking chairs… dozens of beautiful things created out of a row piece of wood. With the money gained literally with his hands, Dumitru has a newly build house in Oxentea. Amazed by his talent and modesty we were listening to his calm voice and somehow forgot we still have to see other people in the village.

We thank Dima’s parents for sharing their dinner with us, totally unknown people, and continue our visit in the village. Dima has offered to be our guide. Our red little South-Korean car was definitely not made for the roads in Oxentea. We stopped in the centre of the village to see the Nistru River. Just nearby a huge villa with high walls is located. That’s the “dacha” of our ex-prime minister Vlad Filat. He was recently sentenced 9 years for corruption, but the villa and the yacht are still well kept. Some bare chested boys are playing on the good road in front of villa hitting with a ball by the high walls.

“These are the little houses to live, this is the pear, that is the fishing house”. Alexandr Maslikov, an ex-military is showing us his “reservation” – a big household just on the river. My colleague from work recommended this place as she comes here on vacation with her family for almost 10 years.

This place is like a jungle. No danger, but something new to discover just behind every tree. The real treasure of this vernacular household is the tiny Moldovan house.

“We bought this house,  –  Alexandr explains, – and we restored it according to old traditions and arranged a small museum. My wife painted the windows, the cupboards. We collected all these traditional objects from the people in the village.”

Dumitru is enthusiastic about bringing tourists here. He figured out how to use the place. “Here I can exhibit my works and do the masterclass, and right here guests will eat”. He makes some good points. Tanya is behind taking pictures of wine cups, bottles, vessels bearing dozen of stories that nobody will ever learn.

We must leave this place as we have to meet some more people and we don’t have much time. We have a break at the local shop as Dumitru treats us with a big glass of kvass (a traditional Slavic fermented beverage commonly made from black or regular rye bread). Two old women having rest on the bench near the shop think we are from TV.

We make some more rounds left and right, we see the two-story house Dumitru is building, we check the local beach were some ladies are swimming. After a hot working day, it’s a blessing to plunge into the fresh water. Moș Ilie, a 83 years old beekeeper looks very good for his age. He has a soviet order of high range “The hero of Socialistic work”. We are looking for beekeepers willing to receive tourists. Moș Ilie doesn’t keep bees for two years already but he recommends us to see Sergiu Botnari.

Two blond girls with big blue eyes, one would say are Swedes, but for sure not Moldovans, are at the gate of Sergiu Botnari. These are Sergiu’s daughters. His wife invited us in the courtyard. Sergiu is wearing a protective hat for bees, short pants and no gloves. He takes out a frame full of bees and honey corns. They seem interested to receive tourists, however his wife says Sergiu is not too talkative. Maybe… but we sit for more than one hour listening to this beekeeper how the bees collect pollen, how the queen appears in the hive, how the honey is taken out, how long a bee lives, what bees do in winter. I am listening and putting the thick yellow-brawny nectar on a fresh homemade bread – the most delicious combination I ever ate in my life.

At half past eleven at night we are back home. Axenti in Oxentea with tourists. I like this version.

Căruța Project is realised through the ActivEco Programme of EcoVisio Organisation. The project aims to discover rural Moldova and help artisans and entrepreneurs to promote their local business. Căruța – trips with fun and social impact!

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