This article originally appeared on VICE Romania.
I first saw Vali Pană's photos on Facebook. They instantly caught my eye, because they showed me a Romania I never knew. Far from the gray socialist blocks that make up the cliché of an Eastern European dictatorship, his pictures depict young people having fun on mountains in remote places, where even the secret police couldn't find them.
Pană first took up hiking in the 1970s while serving in the Romanian military, after some of his colleagues convinced him to go explore the Carpathian Mountains. On his first trip, he got hung up on the majestic beauty of it all, but it didn't come without a price: "On the way back, I realized the soles of my feet were bleeding," he explains. "I had gone hiking in sneakers." As you can see in the pictures, people couldn't really afford or even find professional hiking gear back in that time. "We'd hitchhike, walk, cycle to villages and towns no one knew about. We'd pitch a tent somewhere high in the mountains and spend the night. We didn't really know our country yet. We were just discovering it."
Eventually, Pană started photographing the places he visited—sometimes alone, sometimes with friends. He says he regrets not having photographed more of the people he met along the way. Still, his photos give a good sense of what it meant to be young and feel free in Communist Romania.
Scroll down for more of Pană's photos.