Experiences in Bulgaria
It seems like it was only yesterday when Eva and I boarded the train to Sofia to begin our adventure. Was it not just last week when we got poles and shoes delivered at short notice?
No, that can’t be … otherwise I would not be here in Sofia again, and my muscles would not hurt that much. The display of my watch tells me that we have been here for over three weeks, in this wonderfully unpredictable country weeks… Our route planning system tells me that we have covered more than 600 km. In retrospect, we started quite dewy-eyed, the route in our heads, equipment on our back. We deliberately did not prepare ourselves to the smallest detail, we wanted to make our own experiences. And how that worked out…
Water as a rare resource
In front of us lies the Black Sea, the natural divide between Asia and Europe, and the only water in sight. Unfortunately, with too high salt content… this is not what we had in mind. To replenish our supplies, the first days we are dependent on other people.
The first one who helps us out is Vasil: The older harpoon diver spends the summer here in the caravan. He used to be an Olympic swimmer, today he plays cards with the lighthouse keeper and the soldiers of the Cape barracks. His story does not always sound happy, yet he seems relaxed and content to us.
An exhausting first day lies behind, a lonely house in front of us. It seems the owner is giving a party. Without further ado, Eva takes our empty containers and after a short chat she is allowed to refill them on the garden hose. Her knowledge of Russian is an advantage, but the languages seem as different as German to Dutch. “In two or three kilometers we find a source of water,” she tries to translate.
An hour later we have water … unfortunately only from above and in the form of hail. Shaking, we sit in the wet tent, cooking pot and bowls set outside to collect the valuable resource. Unfortunately, the showers are too strong, soaked earth ends up in the water. A jeep passes us the next morning, the driver looks at us grimly, but still helps out with his 10-liter canister.
After that, the path is lined at irregular intervals with drinking water wells … and we are happy about each one of them.
On the first day we walk in the sunshine. The sky darkens as I push the last peg in the ground. Inside the tent, the world seems to be going down. Marble-sized hailstones hit our temporary home. The loamy soil is softened, the pegs give way and the outer tarp sticks to the inner tent. With every gust of wind, we get a drizzle from. When the storm has moved on, I secure the tent with extra ropes … Lesson learned!
A week later I climb Botev Peak, the highest point in the Balkan Mountains at 2,376 meters. Just before I reach the plateau with the military station on the top, clouds are gathering together behind me. The visibility is down to a few meters, while on the other side I look for miles into the valley. I walk along the ridge. The storm is brewing on my left. A thin grumbling becomes a deep thunder, lightning illuminates the dark cloud wall. On my right side: bright blue sky. The storm overtakes me, and not a single raindrop got me.
Another week later, I lay in my tent, while Eva is resting her injured foot in Sofia. Suddenly it gets dark. I look out of my home and shudder: Not far from me, clouds are piling up, cold wind blows in my direction. The chaos begins. A few single drops hit the tent, lightning in the distance. A few seconds later, the ground is lined with hailstones. The thunder takes on the volume of cannon bangs, the earth wobbles with each shot. Every five seconds it is bright as day.. I am tired, can’t keep my eyes open. An hour later I wake up briefly: a final lightning, a last thunder rumble, and then, just silence. Peacefully I fall asleep.
People and culture
The waitress asks me if I would like a glass for my beer. I shake my head. She puts a glass in front of me… In Bulgaria, things are different – a nod means yes, a shake of your head no … Three weeks, but my head still does not understand that.
We reach the village Kozichine. The school building has collapsed, it hasn’t been used for years. Not a problem, there are no young people here anyways. The owners of the mill hotel tell us about their life and how they built everything themselves. Their children have moved away, are living in larger cities. “We are happy here, there is everything we need,” the older man tells us with bright eyes and an inner peace. Then he gives us a red wine, mixed with an overly sweet lemonade … I will need quite a while to get used to that.
At the Mazalat hut we meet Dimitar. The Bulgarian jeweler celebrates his bachelor party at 1,600 meters with two friends. He sought and processed the gold for the wedding rings himself. Without further ado, he invites us to his wedding, which takes place on Saturday. Two days later, we stand out like black sheep: between pretty dresses, jackets and suits with ties, we are there, dirty hiking pants, muddy boots … seldom I felt so out of place. The bride and many guests give us an irritated look, Dimitar smiles happily: “You have really come, I am glad!”. We are allocated a seat at the far end of the hall. A series of folk dances start, we join in on the second one. And with a blink of an eye, we are integrated: People drink, laugh and celebrate with us and we feel and as part of the family.
Hiking to raise funds for regional charity projects … an exciting new experience for me.
Deafening barking from over 1,500 dogs greets us as we enter the dog shelter in Sofia. Rosalin welcomes us. She works in the German Embassy, as well as a volunteer here. Lovingly she caresses Marvel, who is going to Germany after two years of living in the shelter and gets a new home on Friday. After that, she introduces us to Coliar: I’m close to tears when I see him hobbling. He was hit by a car, his hip is broken, the operation is expensive. I pet him and hope in silence that the brave barker will soon be able to walk again.
The empty rooms of the outbuilding of a school in Plovdiv look sad and deserted on me. Burned down three years ago, rebuilt last year. There was no money available for equipment. A direct contrast to the happy children laughter, which surrounds us from all sides. We talk with Zana, deputy head of the school for children with disabilities. “I hope to collect enough money soon to at least buy tables and chairs,” she explains with shining eyes and a warm voice.
We meet Katja and Charlotte in Veliko Tarnova in a pizzeria. There are five children’s centers here, a football tournament brings everyone together today. But first we can accompany the mobile service, which brings fun and variety in the everyday life of children with minor to severe disabilities several times a week. Katja takes care of the cohesion of the individual centers and overarching tasks, Charlotte lives in London and collects donations. I am fascinated by how lovingly and “normally” Eva and the two women deal with the children who are currently pressing their painted hands on the paper to form a sun with the prints – a meaningful symbol of the prevailing warmth here.