Răzvan Onu – The Story of a Storyteller

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Răzvan has climbed before, yet nothing compares to climbing this peak, he says. “You go from hot to cold – a cold so piercing and so numbing – I could literally feel the sweat freezing on my eyelashes. There are people on the route, some of them are turning back, and some of them are barely moving forward. All you want is just to sit down and rest. But as you climb, you find your rhythm, that rhythm that keeps you on going until you finally have a taste of freedom – you’re there, on Kilimanjaro, the highest African peak and nothing can equal the satisfaction and the sense of fulfilment you feel in that moment.”

The story, told so lively and so passionate, was Răzvan Onu’s, a 29 year old Harghita born traveler with a wanderer’s heart and an explorer’s lust for discovery, who had only recently returned from Africa. He seemed to be telling the story with his entire body – all from the passion of his gaze to the joyousness of his smile to the firmness of his hand gestures was describing the fulfilment he felt 5896 meters above sea level. “The moment the sun comes up in that paralyzing coldness, it warms up your heart and the serene beauty surrounding you makes everything else irrelevant. A sense of gratefulness overpowers all of your other emotions and all of it, the months of physical training, the struggles of climbing, the cold, the pain, in that moment, they’re all worth it.”

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Kilimanjaro, while indeed a unique experience, was not Răzvan’s only one. “I feel this constant urge to do something new, something different, something no one has ever done before.” Perhaps it was precisely this urge that has lead his steps to the Amazonian jungles, where he spent around a week with the locals and blended in to the extent that in just a matter of days he was already fishing piranhas and carving tools and little weapons out of their sharp teeth. Also, it was the same abiding desire that paved his way to Tanzania, where he helped build a library from scratch for the poor Tanzanian children and to Ghana, where he fought against children’s exploitation in labor. The very same urge made him swim with turtles in Hawaii and dive in Greece’s legendary water caves. Again, the same ambition guided his path to meditation classes in Thailand and speleology conferences in France. All of these are bucket-list worthy checks.

But not in Răzvan’s case. “I don’t have a bucket list. My journeys – they’re not a record. Each travel, each adventure is more than a number or a check off a list – it’s a step in the direction of self-discovery.” His peregrinations made it clear to him how much he despises routine and how much he worships the powerful connections he can make with interesting people. “I remember just landing on the airport from Thailand and checking out bus schedules when I hear behind me a guy insistently trying to catch my attention. “Hey, friend, do you want to share a taxi?” I told him I’d be going by bus. “Even greater, we’ll save money.” We went together and as none of us had specific plans we ended up exploring the islands together, sharing a hotel room, everything. One year after, I decided to visit Scotland (where he was from) and he instantly offered to host me, and show me around his country. He genuinely wanted me to enjoy the beauty of Scotland through him. This is the power of human bonds.”

As he uncovered, self-discovery is not only possible through the discovery of others, but also by exploring places. He mentioned trekking Annapurna and the experience was nothing short of impressive. The Annapurna circuit in Nepal is considered one of the best 10 trekking routes in the world. All in all, the hike lasted for 23 days. The adventure in itself was dangerous, the possibility of avalanches was never out of the table, and food was scarce. The entire thing felt like a marathon: waking up at 7, there was a targeted number of kilometers that had to be crossed each day and they (Răzvan and the four other members of the team) wouldn’t let themselves rest until that number was met. Not only did the hike teach him discipline, it also taught him appreciation for things people take for granted. “Do you ever think about how underestimated showers are? There is the electric shower, the “before 5 p.m. shower” where you wash up with water that’s warm from the sun, and lastly, there is the “bottle shower”. You’re given a single bottle of water and you have to make do. That’s how you realize how valuable water truly is.” Despite the difficulties, Răzvan claims he would relive the experience in a heartbeat. “Hiking the Annapurna circuit was definitely a challenge, so, I guess it’s a good thing I like challenges.”, he giggled.

Trekking the dangerous Annapurna wasn’t the only thing the young adventurer finds challenging. According to him simply enjoying the moment is also harder than it sounds for it’s not that easy to leave all earthly worries behind. What’s even harder for him is taming his desire to take pictures whenever he finds himself in magnificent places. “I’m learning how to actually be in the moment. I’m fighting my instincts whenever I see a picture opportunity and I just stay there lost in the moment, mesmerized. Only after have I gotten a feeling of the place do I take that picture.”

The fact that travelling changes people is a commonly accepted belief. It helped Răzvan grow into a much more appreciative, more open-minded, more mindful and self-aware person. According to his grandfather, it also increased his sense of responsibility. Grandpa says Africa changed Răzvan and turned him into a better man. And the difference is in the little things: every time he would wash his hands he would turn the water on, then off, he would apply soap on his hands and then turn the water back on. No waste. The hardships people endure there left a powerful mark on his grandson, who, 1 liter of water at a time, helps make the world a better place.

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Răzvan’s set of skills is rather impressive: he is a mount climber, a hiker, a certified diver, a cave explorer, a parachute jumper, and the list just keeps on growing. With this amount of time put into acquiring new skills (and exercising them) you might find yourselves thinking Răzvan does nothing else apart from his travels and adventures. Well, that’s actually as far from the truth as it gets. At his 29 he has already graduated 2 universities, has 3 different masters under his belt and is currently in the process of acquiring a Ph.D. degree. So next time you say you don’t have time to travel, think back on Răzvan’s example and see that it is possible.

I went in the coffee shop where Răzvan Onu and I agreed to meet for an interview with a million thoughts rushing through my head. How will he be? Who am I about to meet in there? An adventurer? A wanderer? An explorer? A traveler? Synonyms as these words may be, they still hold incredibly different meanings. I went out after 2 hours of stories, laughter, inspiration pleased to having met and listened to the embodiment of all of the above, Răzvan the storyteller.

Photos: Răzvan Onu’s personal archive

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