Terms like Chernobyl, Exxon Valdez, or Deepwater Horizon are known to all of us. We inevitably associate them with man-made environmental disasters. Many of us even know what we did that day. But what do you associate with Geamăna? Probably not much.
The cornerstone for the fate of Geamăna was laid behind the Iron Curtain in 1978 during the time when Romania was firmly in the Stalinist hands of dictator Nicolae Ceausescu. The decision was made that a valley in the Apuseni Mountains would become a settling basin for the largest copper mine in Romania. The fact that the small, beautiful village of Geamăna lay in the middle of this valley did not play a major role. It was decided that around 1,000 residents would be simply relocated. The resident families were rewarded for giving up their houses, only they were paid such poor square meter prices that they could only buy inferior land elsewhere, or had to go into debt to find something useful for themselves and their families.
I first became aware of it myself through a travel blog, and about a year later, I was traveling on a bumpy road towards the "toxic valley."
As we slowly got closer to my goal, the environment changed noticeably. Abandoned mine buildings and ingrown vehicles lined the path left and right. The civilization declined and I was slowly noticing that which always attracts me to such tragic places. An intense oppressive feeling which triggers an uneasiness. A depressive aura spreads and, paradoxically, I feel comfortable with it. Because it triggers the emotion necessary for my pictures in order to put myself fully in this environment.
We finally came near the shore and were able to take a first look at the "lake." I was frankly speechless. "What the hell is that?!"—It shot through my head and my friend also looked a bit disturbed. The surface seemed to be stone, crisscrossed with dozens of small water veins. If you approached the shore a bit, you saw that the "stone" was actually a muddy, slightly loamy porridge.
In the background, you could see the outlines of the huge copper mine that is responsible for this eerie landscape. The Roșia Poieni mine produces around 11,000 tons of copper annually. If you think about this amount more carefully, you can imagine how large is the amount of toxic chemicals that are separated from the copper ore by flotation. Meanwhile, the size of this collecting basin is 360 hectares.
We drove to another spot on the bank and did a few rounds with the drone over the area to get an overview.
The colors that the lake then reveals are downright bizarre. From blood red to rust-brown to azure blue, yellow, and gray. The consistency is also different. Sometimes algae, sometimes so rigid that you can actually walk a few meters on it. And the muddy poison soup keeps rising. Strictly speaking 90 (!) cm per year.
The last 11 families who still live on the edge of the lake will soon have to switch. From the former church of Geamana, which once stood on a small mountain above the lake, only the top of the tower now stands out and will probably be completely sunk in a maximum of 2-3 years.
We headed to the old cemetery of Vinta, and we believed that we were wrong because there should have also been a small church. But when we saw the first tombstones sticking out of the water, we knew that the location was right. But where was the church? Later we found out that the old church had already been removed, and the cemetery is now almost completely devoured by the (here algae green) water, with only 2-3 pairs of gravestones and crosses still protruding from the water. It seems that the dead are slowly buried a second time.
An unreal place. As if all life there just disappeared. No animals or fish. I didn't even notice mosquitoes, even though we stayed so close to the water all the time. The trees in the water were rather the opposite of what is called a 'flowering life.'
The End Of The World
Even if the current mine operator claims that the water is clean according to the given guide values, I can hardly believe it. How is that supposed to be the case with everything you perceive here? It is hardly conceivable that the groundwater of the people still living here will not be affected.
We Burn Bridges
In the afternoon, we reached the southern outskirts of Geamăna. There we came across an old lady who was busy feeding her animals. She looked very fragile on the one hand but was very brisk on the move and I admired her steadfastness. Life here is certainly hard and not fair, but she seemed to make the best of it. As I learned later in a documentary, this is one of the last houses of the former place where she has lived all her life. But it seems that she will soon have to leave the place where she grew up, where she buried her husband in 2012, and what she calls home.
When I looked at the pictures at home again, I reviewed my impressions and emotions, and also why I am always drawn to such tragic places. Above all, I became aware that in addition to the major tragedies on our planet, there were also many small and little-known catastrophes and how important it is to document them as long as this is still possible.
The Tide Is Coming And Will Take Everything From You
The culprits for this ecological fate can no longer be held accountable and the current mine operators are now responsible, but in the end, they also must somehow live with the circumstances that were once created. For the rest of the people, it is better to find a new home early than late. Their homes will disappear forever in the muddy masses, but certainly not from their hearts.