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21 May 1998

Touring Around Bulgaria – Part IV

8 May:
Kustendil – Blagoevgrad: 73.4 Km, 484 Meters, 4:24 Hours

Photos #4 & #5 are of the Roman Bridge at [Nevestino]. Because I wanted to get the pictures and because I saw no signs I ended up on the wrong road out of town. I was about 6 Km toward Dupnitsa when I realized were I was and the mistake that I had made. To go back was almost as far as going forward; so being a forward “looker” I continued on the road to Dupnitsa. This ended up adding 10 Km and 25 Meters with about 10 Km more of the busy road to Blagoevgrad and Greece. Now that I have done it I am glad and probably should have selected this route. Photo #6 is of the monument near the summit between Nebestino and Dupnitsa; #7 (didn’t scan – blurry) was of the cloud covered Rila Mountains near Dupnitsa. I stayed in a hotel because Dean & Dorthy [Business Volunteers] were both out of town; Dean had offered his apartment but because I was a day late he had other obligations. He wanted to make arrangements to get the key to me and still have me stay there but he is on the 5th floor of a very narrow stairway and I thought it not worth the hassle. Saw a stork for the first time since Chevron Bryag to Montana and Montana to Vidin where I saw a lot of them. Cuckoos are calling again from the wooded areas. I have a question for Jim [Ecology Volunteer in Plovdiv and bird expert]; Do cuckoos avoid areas above a certain altitude? I don’t remember hearing them above 800-900 meters; maybe tomorrow. Note: The three star hotel here has a great bathroom with “mixit” valves (the sink one moves around badly but it works); however, shower is into the tub with no shower curtain and the floor gets soaked with no drain – a wet sloppy floor after every shower. AGAIN, they almost got it right but the “it’s good enough” attitude of this country was just to strong!

Two pictures of the Roman Bridge at Nebestino about half way between Kustendil and Dupnitsa. Another monument at the top of a pass on the way to Dupnitsa, which is the hometown of Nelly, my counterpart/translator.

9 May:
Blagoevgrad – Bansko: 60.6 Km, 952 Meters, 5:13 Hours
A little down hill and some wind behind me made the first 17 Km quick even after walking a 175 meter tunnel on the busy road to Greece. Then when I turned off for Bansko and started the climb the wind became a side wind and then in my face. The last 6 Km of the climb was at about 5% and I felt tired but didn’t hurt to badly; rested at 500 meters elevation, 750 meters and near the summit at 1140. The day started with some sun but the higher and further south I got the blacker the sky became. Photos #8 & #9 are of Pirin Mountains from near the pass summit: #10 also of the Pirin from Cliff’s [Business Volunteer] balcony. Angela [Business Volunteer from Razlog] came in just before Cliff and I were going out for dinner; we all then went to their favorite Mehena. Angela was video taping “stuff” for her Bulgarian Peace Corps experience to show friends back in the USA. Is it better to take back pictures of what you have experienced or not? Most people you show them to could care less; it’s like showing people pictures of your children. Why do people do that?

Two pictures of the Pirin Mountains from near the summit of the pass between Blagoevgrad & Bansko. Another picture of the Pirins from balcony apartment in Bansko.

10 May:
Bansko – Gotse Delchev: 52.6 Km, 84 Meters, 3:25 Hours
[I had originally scheduled today to be a ride from Bansko to Dospat a total of 101 Km and a predicted 1,010 meters of climbing. Because of how I have been feeling and the accuracy of climbing information I have decided to split the trip into two days.] I had dark clouds again this morning, wind blowing – it is another stormy day. I got rained on last night on the way to dinner as well as the mid section of today’s ride. Almost all down hill but still a struggle with some tail wind. Thought about “bagging it” all the way into Gotse Delchev. Will make a decision in the morning. The private hotel Marabelle near the old Balkan Hotel [not working] was the first hotel to complain about me taking my bike to the room [also the most expensive at 20,000 Leva]. I threatened to leave, asked for my money back, and they said it was OK if I wanted to “sleep with my bike”. The restaurant was good; however, packed with smokers and the waitress was less than attentive or pleasant. OH, when will they ever learn! Photo #10 (two number 10s, did not scan – blurry) of Pirin as leaving Bansko; #11 & #12 of Rilas from same location; #13 at the junction of the road to Gotse Delchev where it meets the Mesta River; #14 near the mouth of the canyon that the river follows into Gotse Delchev. Note: These photo #s seem messed up – I have taken 15 pictures and have forgotten one of them. I have heard no cuckoos since crossing the pass into Bansko. Ask Jim about this. I did see another stork north of Gotse Delchev, after the canyon widens out; the first one since about half way to Kustendil. [Jim said that my observation of no cuckoos at higher elevations is correct; they tend to stay at lower elevation where the habitat is more to their liking. South side of the Rhodope Mountains does not have much to their liking; the same is true of the storks, they prefer lower areas with ponds and slow running water not the fast streams of the mountains].

Two pictures of the Rila Mountains from near Bansko where you have good views of the Pirins and the Rilas. The road begins to follow the Mesta River. The Mesta then flows through a canyon before entering the Gotse Delchev valley.

11 May:
Gotse Delchev – Dospat: 55.1 Km, 1,092 Meters, 5:09 Hours
[Decision to split the ride from Bansko to Dospat was a good one. If I had tried that I would have been looking at over 8 hours riding and the way I felt yesterday would have never made it. The shorter day gave me some needed rest.] I got into Dospat about 2:00 and tried to catch a ride into Smolyan for about an hour. I then tried to find a hotel – there is a state hotel that wasn’t working and looked like a dump. Then went to the bus station and asked about a state bus to Smolyan and was told only at 6:20 in the morning. The clerk also told me of a private hotel but when I found it, it was also locked. At a nearby garage the mechanic tried to telephone and about that time the manager/owner came back. He promptly moved me in! No money, no paperwork, no problem with my bike, nothing – he said we will do that later. However, there is no hot water so that will be later also! Photo #16 & #17 were taken near Gotse Delchev of the Pirins west of the town and the Rhodopes to the southwest. There were black storm clouds all day and also a very cold wind; fortunately it was at my back most of the time. Photo #18 is a very typical Rhodope Mountain view; the far peak is probably in Greece. All other possible pictures were blocked with trees along the road (what a concept it would be to develop Viewing Areas where cars, and bikes, can pull off the road and people can take unobstructed pictures). The restaurant in the hotel was closed but the owner called in the cook to make me dinner. Never asked me for anything and charged me the Bulgarian rate for the room. I’m back in the Rhodopes!

Two pictures of the Rhodopes & Pirins from near Gotse Delchev. Then entering the Rhodopes with the distant mountain peak in Greece.

12 May:
Dospat – Tour End: 25.5 Km, 348 Meters, 1:53 Hours
The TAB is over! I broke another spoke as I entered the village of Teshel and have called it a wrap. I am sure that I could not have finished the scheduled 67 Km and some 1,230 meters of climbing even if everything was perfect. Again, I need to rethink this segment of the route. A state bus from Dospat to Devin ignored my attempt to flag him down; however, 8-10 trucks did respond but none were going to Smolyan. I did finally get a taxi to take me there and called Nelly for help in getting into Zlatograd tomorrow. The Smolyan Hotel is the “Poster Child” of Bulgarian hotels. It looks like, and the desk clerk talks like they are part of the developed world; but, no water at 5:00, Bulphone [a card operated public telephone] doesn’t work well, in coming calls are not directed to the room – in short everything looks like it should but nothing WORKS. I finally got a call back from Nelly when I was standing at the front desk complaining about not getting her call. She said the Plumen [my NGO Director] and his father were coming to Smolyan tomorrow and his father would take be back to Zlatograd after he had left Plumen in Pomporovo. Photo #19 is of the reservoir at Dospot; #20 through #22 are Rhodope Mountain shots. The last one, #22 was taken from my balcony looking south and I think of it as “Pines in the Oaks”; the dark on light green is striking to the eye; I look forward to seeing the picture. It was raining again at 3:00 when I was returning from lunch!

Two scenic pictures of a twisty road in the Rhodopes then a picture of the dam and reservoir at Dospot. The gash in the mountain side is a collapsed lead mine tunnel just down from the pass summit. The first picture in the second row is from the last pass that I did not get to ride: it would have been almost all down hill for some 16 Km. This is the headwaters of the Verbitsa River with Zlatograd in the distance. The last picture, “Pines in the Oaks” , was taken through my hotel window at Smolyan and marks the end of my TAB.

So that was Touring Around Bulgaria (TAB) as seen from the notes that I made as it was happening. Since I have been back to work I have recounted where I went on a number of occasions now and have answered the always asked questions many times.

What town(s) did you like best?

I don’t like towns much and enjoyed the villages more because they had prettier yards and much less traffic. If I were to come back to Bulgaria in 5 years I would visit Zlatograd, Obzor, Veliki Preslav, Veliko Turnavo, Belogradchik, Berkavitsa, Bansko, and Dospat again.

Did you have any problems with Bulgarian drivers?

Not any more than drivers all over the world that I have come in contact with while on a bike. There are those that are nice and those that are not. It seems that car drivers all over the world think that bicycle riders are both blind and deaf, therefore, the driver must be very close to the cyclist before he should blow the horn to let the cyclist know that a car is near.

What did you learn about the Bulgarian people while you were on your tour?

Nothing that I haven’t learned while living here for two years. This was not a tour to learn about the Bulgarian people.

What interesting things did you see?
I saw, and some times road over, the Mountains of Bulgaria: the Rhodope, Sredna Gora, Balkan, Vitosha, Kon, Ossogovo, Rila and Pirin. I crossed and road beside the Rivers of Bulgaria: the Verbitsa, Maritsa, Kamchiya, Yantra, Osam, Iskar, Danube, Strouma, and Mesta. I saw the forests, farm land, vineyards, orchards, spring flowers, cows, horses, donkeys, mules, pigs, geese, ducks, chickens, birds, and more dogs than I want to think about. I also saw the people of Bulgaria; working the land that could feed the populace and produce food for export – why not, it did it before? And I met some of the people of Bulgaria; some of their names appear in the story. The names of others I do not know but remember them non the less – like the man who hobbled to the street in a small village to shout “Bravo” and applaud me! Or the villager that gave me a pat on the back as I was leaving him after asking directions and a short chat about where I was from, where I was going!

Why did you do this ride around Bulgaria?

I am an explorer/wanderer! I think Robert D. Ballard, the discoverer of the Titanic says it best. “Everyone is an explorer. How could you possibly live your life looking at a closed door and not go open it? Exploration is still the epic journey, to dream, to prepare yourself, to go forth to be tested mentally, and physically by the gods. To pass the test, be given the truth, and then come back and share the new wisdom”. But Mr. Ballard goes on to say “Science gives legitimacy and worth to exploration. You see a lot of stunts today, but if you’re not doing worthwhile science, you’re not a explorer. You’re just wandering around.” I also rode around Bulgaria because that is what I do when I am on vacation. I have ridden many touring miles in America, Canada, Mexico and Australia because it is fun and it does good things for me mentally; it clears the mind of those things that are not so important and lets it rest.

Would you do this Touring Around Bulgaria again?

I will ride here some more before I leave Bulgaria and perhaps I will return some years from now to ride here again. But, will I do the Touring around Bulgaria again; I think Mark Twain answered that question when he said: “I am glad I did it, partly because it was well worth it, and chiefly because I shall never have to do it again.”