Strange days in Bulgaria, 2008


Day 1, 15 September

My father, who happens to live in Bulgaria, dropped me at the ski station of Borovec. I followed a steep car track and turned left over a path through mountain spruce. It was already dark when I pitched my tent at a level area, not far from the peaks of the Deno and Musala mountains. Between the little trees I was somewhat protected from the strong wind that came from the east.

Forest in the rain

Day 2, 16 September

A path went up to the Musala (2925 m), the highest point of the Rila Mountains. The clear blue lakes (of which I later heard they were quite famous) were clearly visible. I went down to the south and up again to the east to walk over a ridge, to descended into a grassy valley. Meanwhile it had started to rain.

Freckles on the slope

Day 3, 17 September

It was still raining in the morning and because of the mist it was hard to keep track of the path. I decided to go down a desolate and swampy valley which led to a gravel road. The rain intensified and when I looked back, the mountain ridge where I came from was covered with snow. The sun broke through and I managed to find a path through a beautiful forest at the southern slopes of the mountain. The track disappeared and not much later I was lost. With an umbrella in one hand I tried to do shortcuts in the wet forest. At the end of the day I choose to go down a steep path and reached a nice and grassy valley to pitch the tent. Still I had no clue where I was. I seriously played with the thought to bring a GPS on my next trip.

Day 4, 18 September

A little house and the shape of a road made me locate my position on the map. I walked down a gravel road that became more and more civilized. The road went to the town of Cerna Mesta, which had a railway station. From there it took three hours to reach a station called Ostrets. It was so little that a German speaking passenger advised me to ask the driver to stop at this place. I went out and walked several kilometers towards the Bakonija hills. My goal was to cross the Batiowitsja ridge (1988 m), 40 kilometers to the southeast.

Woods on the southern flanks

Day 5, 19 September

Official, marked paths in Bulgaria are an illusion. And because there are more paths than mentioned by the map, it is almost impossible to find the right track without GPS. But isn’t that part of the adventure? I surely believe so. I went off track a very steep hill, and down again through a dry riverbed surrounded by thorny roses which I had to cut with the machete, a knife you can use for almost everything: it’s also a saw, an axe, a hammer for tent pegs, a knife and an emergency mirror. It is also something that people can get really scared of. When I finally reached the valley, I hit a busy car track still holding the knife in my hand. I took a minute to realize why the car drivers that passed by looked so scary, hitting the gas pedal like crazy. The rest of the day I walked over a well paved road to the south, to a place called Dalgiya Most just before dark. From here a path would lead to the Batiowitsja.

Day 6, 20 September

I walked over a gravel road until four in the afternoon. At the top of the hill I went off track through a beautiful forest with large pine trees covered with moss. I walked along a little village. A scooter passed by with a man and woman at the back who carried an enormous scythe. They greeted kindly, probably surprised to see a tourist over here. Walking for several kilometers more to the east I went into a nature reserve and pitched the tent near a beautiful stream. Somehow I imaged this place to be inhabited by bears.

Day 7, 21 September

The next morning I walked along the little Suchi Dol River in a beautiful forest. But to my great discontent I discovered that the river had suddenly vanished, probably for hydroelectric use. On my way to the town of Beglika I cached two big trout in a little lake. Not much later I reached the Golyam Beglik Lake, an artificial lake with steep walls, not really interesting from a natural point of view. I therefore decided to leave the lake behind. At a nearby road I met two Bulgarian scholars that could speak English and invited me for diner in an excellent restaurant, easing my hunger with a splendid view over the lake of Bospat.

From here I would take a bus to the Rodopi Mountains, but the last bus went away an hour ago. So I decided to hitchhike to Teshel Lake, where the driver delivered me at the only hotel. Walking along the window at one of the rooms, two people were sitting on the bed. It looked as if they were in trouble. They looked at me and the backpack with big eyes and I decided to not stay here for the night. I left the driver, who was already speaking with the reception, very puzzled.

I walked out of sight to the large dam at the edge of Teshel Lake. I was about to prepare for cooking dinner when I realized that my campsite on the slope of the dam was too visible from cars at the nearby road. I decided to go back to the hotel to call a taxi to the city of Devin, 50 kilometers to the east. From Devin I would walk into the valley and find my idyllic campsite in the valley along the river. The project found little enthusiasm at the friendly Bulgarians who were drinking beer at a large table. After a drive along the high chalk walls of the Rodopi Mountains, the taxi dropped me on the vibrant central square of Devin. I walked away from the crowded bars and restaurants into the dark valley. After a six kilometers walk I still had not found a camping place.

In the pitch dark I arrived at a square. Several cars were parked on the other side. Sounds of music came from further into the valley. I crossed the square and walked over a freshly asphalted bridge. Higher up to the left there was a big house. Light poured from the large windows. A road ended before a fence, but a small path continued along the river. The path became narrower, and disappeared without trace after I had crossed a little field. I pushed the twigs away from my eyes, and realized the sounds of music had become louder.

…. strange, I’ have seen this face before….

A blue light was shining wildly on the roof of the forest. Not much later I passed two glass buildings along the river, a lighted terrace, swimming pool, without a single visitor.

….drinking rum and cocaaa co – la ….

Maybe the path went higher up the valley, which was likely if the riverside would become really steep. There could even be large rocks to use as a campsite, so I went up the hill to the left.

…. working for the Yankee dollaa-haa…

After a climb of about 50 meters I looked back. There were three men standing on the terrace outside the building looking in my direction. The headlamp! I switched it off, moved a little distance and sat down. Here I was on a holiday, uncertain, scarred, sweating, crawling over a steep hill trough damp forest. And they, probably at work, in the centre of convenience. I was tired and became a little desperate.

My eyes had become somewhat adjusted to the dark. Because a further climb seemed to be fruitless I went downhill. I discovered a large concrete tube that made a good path for a little while along the river. The valley bent to the left. The sound of the river had become loud, rushing along the big rocks and trees that stood courageously in the riverbed. Trunks of piled up dead wood reminded of the fury of the river in springtime. Amidst the big rocks I was lucky to find a place for the tent.

I listened to trace the sounds of the bar. But the more intense I listened, the more my ears seemed to compose their own music from the innumerable sounds of the river. I unpacked my gear and looked around at the nearby slope. The light of my headlamp reflected in the eyes of a cat. The animal jumped in my direction and landed with a heavy ‘puff’. A Lynx! My hart jumped. My silly vocal imitation of a cat and a dog had probably triggered the animal. I traced my knife and produced a human voice to show I was no cat or dog, but the animal had already disappeared. It was a sign of the wilderness I had been searching for so eagerly. All in all it had been a strange day.

Day 8, 22 September

A good day for washing clothes and doing little to nothing, in the sunshine.

Day 9, 23 September

A cold drizzle came from the sky. In a narrow part of the gorge I spotted a large yellow – black Salamandra salamandra. I stopped counting when number 20 crossed my path. A little abandoned house and then the path became hardly visible. Climbing a rock I almost slid into a deep clear pond. During lunch a nasty taste slipped into my mouth when I licked my fingers, which made me believe the skin of the salamander is poisoned. No wonder why they step around so fearless. In the evening I managed to catch some crabs in the river. Even cooked they didn’t taste very well.

Salamandra salamandra

Day 10, 24 September

A beautiful walk through the valley, from one side of the river to the other, trying to find the right track. The path was mainly used by animals, although the previous day a twisted branch reminded of a human being. The diverse and difficult terrain made it very hard to estimate the daily progress. To trace my position on the map – which was far from accurate – I decided to walk up the walls several times to see … well, you never know. At the end of the afternoon I reached the top of a ridge from where a house could be clearly seen in the valley. I went down, passed the house and continued my way. I found a beautiful level forest with high trees and pitched the tent. Not much food supplies where left. I had some spaghetti straws and a little peace of Danish blue for dinner.

Forest at the edge of the gorge

Bell shaped mirror

Day 11, 25 September

I spent the whole morning walking downstream a little river, of which I believed it was tributary to the Devin river I had followed. I expected to reach the Devin at any moment…

View into the gorge

…until I saw the bell shaped hole in the rock I had captured the day before, at about three o’clock. I had been walking downstream the river Devin for half a day! My sense of orientation had been playing serious tricks on me. I hasted back to the house, where I noticed smoke came from the chimney. Two Bulgarian guys who had been fishing at the river, were sitting near the wood burning – stove doing … very little. They were friendly guys although conversation didn’t really work out. After an hour I understood that they would be leaving the house soon to walk to a nearby town called Brezovo, but when?  Today? Tomorrow? When they packed their stuff I understood that they went right now, and I walked with them through the rain, through hills and forests with an incredible pace. At six in the evening we reached the town were they brought me to a hotel. The next day I took the bus and then a train to Sofia. Looking back I can say it was a trip with some bizarre edges.

Map of the walking route. Click to enlarge.