Bulgaria, VI 2021
In June my friend, Ula, finally decided to visit me in Bulgaria. Over eight years of me living here – high time. The planning of the trip was quite straightforward:
We had a few details figured out, like a rough plan to meet in Plovdiv and head to Rhodopes first, then go through Pirin and Rila over the following ten days. But when we meet in Plovdiv and check the forecast for Rhodopes, the entire plan goes down the drain immediately, and we head towards Kostenets on the foot of Rila. No need to get drenched when you can not do that instead. We do a bit of repacking from a small backpack Ula carries, to a bigger one I lend her – important for carrying all the food we are planning to feast on (details later).
As we discuss the trip on the way, a vision of the whole route starts getting clear. We both are fans of wine (both in quality and quantity), so in our discussions, I start joking “you know, Melnik is known for good wine. Let’s grab a glass or two there”. It’s around 100km and two mountain ranges away from our starting point in Kostenets, but the goal seems appealing. Wine is always a good goal. And so, we set off to get a drink.
The first day passes on random grocery choices (my planning is taking holidays), and getting up to Gurgulitsa hut, to which surprisingly we hitch a hike in a car. Even more surprisingly, the drive lasts for around 500m after which the car breaks down, overheated on the steep slope. We take it as a commentary from the car on the weight of our asses, but no worries. The next ten days in the mountains should help (spoiler alert: they didn’t). The hut is closed – both in the late evening when we arrive, and on the following morning after we camp in the vicinity. Bulgaria indeed is chaos.
The next day we reach a shelter – the most amazing one I ever encountered in Bulgaria. It is a fully-equipped mountain house, fireplace, beds, and all that blues. Instead of moving further that day, we decide to spend the night in the house, just with a lightweight hike up to Belmeken peak to take a peek at the lake.
Coming down from the peak, we see the smoke coming from the chimney of the house. Ok, we will have a companion for the night, that’s cool. When we arrive at the house, we find a small cup of rakia left on the table, and the fire going in the fireplace – but the house is empty, and no one shows up for the following hours. It’s like someone seeing that there will be people staying here overnight, wanted to prepare the place and say “cheers” with the rakia… At least that’s the narrative I prefer to believe instead of being the one that is sleeping in Papa Bear’s bed, and taking Mama Bear’s rakia.
From this point, our culinary adventure really takes off. Vegetables are usually not the most weight-to-calory effective choice for mountains but having to share a potato, pepper, and aubergine dish at the end of a day’s worth hike is priceless. Our chaotic groceries pay off.
The next day is a traverse to Belmeken hut. A fight to the death with overgrown mountain pine covering the path ensues, making us take far more time and nerves to cross the distance. What keeps us going is the vision of hot soup when we reach the hut. Tired after the battle we reach it – to find it all open, but empty. No soup for us today.
We climb up, choosing of course a more challenging path with ropes instead of a calm traverse. When we reach a beautiful plateau overtaken by a winding river, it is time to relax. I guess my right ankle takes the opportunity to relax too seriously, and it is the first time during that trip I re-twist it renewing an old injury. That will keep happening every second day, with me randomly falling to the ground, cursing and laughing in pain for 10-15 minutes, and then just continuing the walk like if nothing happened.
On the third day, we reach Musala, the necessary checkbox of the highest mountain in Bulgaria ticked. On the way the gas runs out – we definitely overdid the cooking part in the past days. Half-done rice is still rice.
We also run out of food and for half a day we survive on one sardine can shared between us, and hot chocolate packets mixed in cold water straight from the stream. Bulgaria is chaos, but we have our own dose of it added. The next meal waits for us late in the night when we go down to Granchar hut with a great traverse during the sunset.
Due to gas and food shortages, the Rila mountains part of the wine trip to Melnik gets to its end, and we think of how to get 15km down to Yakoruda village and Bansko, to move into the Pirin mountain range. Coincidence and friendliness of Bulgarian people solve that problem – a lovely couple offers to give us a lift the next day, getting out of their way to drive us to Bansko itself.