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23 June 1998

I have lost e-mail capabilities once again; and having less than three months left in Bulgaria I no longer have the strength to fight with the Bulgarians to get it fixed. Therefore, NO NOT send any e-mail letters to me in Bulgaria. It has been over a month since I sent the last installment of my Tour notes and I guess that you have tried to reply via e-mail. Sorry!

I have been in Bulgaria for just over two years now. I flew out of Reno two years ago, 10 June 1996, arrived here on the 13th and will leave on 1 September. I knew that at the beginning of this year that the time would fly but it has been even quicker that I had thought.

My future plans are undecided but I am trying to get a paid staff position with the Peace Corps. I have received notification that I am qualified and on the “List” for an Administration Officer position. I am now waiting for 1st Quarter 1999 open positions to be announced and will then make application for the country that I want. If everything works out perfectly I will be someplace else in the world in January of next year. Things rarely are so perfect but I do hope I get an assignment during the first quarter.

Somewhat dependent upon the job seeking process, I will take a month or two to get from Bulgaria to the U. S. when I leave here. Now I am thinking about a month in South Africa where I want to do a couple of weeks biking and maybe a couple of weeks normal tourist stuff. Then, if money will allow, I would like to stop in Ecuador for about two or four weeks. This would get me back to the States in late November or early December. Enough time to gather up what few belongings that I still have and buy some new clothes before leaving again. Almost everything that I brought with me to Bulgaria is going to stay here; the laundry facilities here are tough on clothes. It will also let me attend Christmas dinner with John & Janis and other old friends. I may end up flying into San Francisco and will certainly try and stop over to see you while there. Then again, all of the above plans may go out the window and I will end up doing something entirely different!

It has also been a long time since I have given you an update on the economic situation here. From Business central Europe, one of the very few publications that I still receive, I extract the following.

As Bulgarian premier Ivan Kostov celebrated his first year of power in mid-May, he had much to congratulate himself on. And he duly did: a currency board working nicely; forex reserves topping DM 4.6 billion; inflation around zero for two months running; last year’s budget deficit just 2.4% of GDP, and this year’s budget actually $200 million in surplus at the end of April.
And then there was the IMF’s decision to release the last two tranches of last year’s standby facility. By way of a midsummer treat, there’s every prospect of three-year agreements with the World Bank and the IMF – worth around $2 billion between them if Bulgaria delivers, not to mention the accompanying halo.
So is everything in Mr. Kostov’s garden rosy? Far from it. For a start, industrial production is tumbling. No wonder. Exports are way down because of the currency board: they’re becoming too expensive thanks to the combination of rising domestic costs, fixed exchange rates – and no compensating productivity gains.
If anything, productivity is getting worse. Unemployment hasn’t kept up with the output crash, and dollar wages are rising. There’s also the danger of current-account problems: exports are tumbling, but hyper-liquid banks are throwing money at consumer lending, which almost doubled in the past six months.

So based on that it doesn’t seem that things are so bad and appear to be improving however still with problems. I think some mind numbing statistics will show that there is further to go than the article above indicates. The ‘basic cost of living’ in Bulgaria is now set at 29,500 Leva ($17) per month. This is enough to buy one loaf of bread and a container of yogurt a day; no rent, electricity or anything else. The ‘minimum standard of living’ is now set at 95,500 Leva ($50). Using those two living standards it has been found that 4% of Bulgarian families have less than the basic cost of living; i.e. they are on the border of starvation. There are 65% under the minimum standard of living figure; most of them being pensioners and the unemployed. Just from my observations here in Zlatograd I would say that these numbers are probably correct. There is also the problem with privatization of state owned industry. I have talked at length about agriculture and land restitution; the fact that there have been a dozen amendments to the law. Well the privatization law has been amended 15 times in the same period. And the government wonders why there is very little interest by foreign investors? It is not only that the law changes so frequently but generally the government puts such a high minimum price and such restrictive terms on the sale that Western companies want no part of the deals. At the beginning of this year the government forecast that privatization sales would bring in $800 million this year; now they have revised that down to $200 million this year and next. The money that they receive is then used to support the state budget. So any surplus that they may be bragging about could be from a one time only revenue source. The longer I am here the more pessimistic I become about the economic chances of this country!

I will be away from Zlatograd for a week in July. Will first go to Samakov to participate in a panel discussion on Bulgarian culture and adapting to it for the new Volunteers in their Pre-Service Training (PST). Then into Sofia for two days for my Close Of Service physical, pick up June & July Living Allowance, do some shopping and spend some time with a travel agent. Maybe by the time I finish with the travel agent I will have a better idea of where and how I am going to get home. After finishing with the PC Medical Officer I am going to go to Belogradchik with Milka, her ‘umfriend’ and daughter on Saturday returning on Sunday. While there I have arranged for a dinner with the guy who helped me so much when I was in Belogradchik. I wanted to get back and see him before I left and with Milka’s friends car it is going to be a much easier trip than public transport.

The picture at the top left is of a sign showing the outline of the Fort and the years that it was constructed. It was first begun by the Romans then in the 8th century the Bulgars added to it and then the Turks in the 18century. The top row and the other picture are of the Fort.

The top row are views of the surrounding area from the Fort followed by a picture showing the eastern portion of the town of Belogradchik and the far hills are in Serbia.

The next four pictures show the oldest, and highest, part of the Fort which used the natural rock to form the fortification. In the first of the four foreground there is a hole and cistern that was carved from the rock. The last picture is a close-up of the rocks composition; which I think is what the geologist call conglomerate .

Note:The following was enclosed with this letter in a newspaper column format, one sheet of paper with two columns front and back.

Two Tours
By Edward L. Frey
for Bulgarian Newsletter

I have friends in the United States with military experience, bicycling experience, or in some cases both that ask, “How long was your tour in Bulgaria?” I am not sure of the question. Are they asking about my bicycle tour or are they inquiring about my tour of service in Bulgaria? My Bulgaria tour of service was two years and three months; my bicycle tour was only one month in duration. The surprising thing is that there is a lot of similarity in the two tours. Here in Bulgaria the more frequently asked questions are: Why did you come to Bulgaria? Why did you do the ride around Bulgaria? I have found that I want to respond the same to both questions but need the help of others to express the answer clearly. John Ciardi provides that help when he says, “If you can succeed at a thing you didn’t set out to do much. The only thing worth trying is the impossible. We’re all going to end up as some sort of failure, but at least take a big bite.” I think that coming to Bulgaria as a Business Consultant Peace Corps Volunteer qualifies as trying the impossible. To use a cheap bike imported from Italy as a touring bike for an eighteen hundred kilometer ride around Bulgaria is the “big bite”. My simple answer to both of the questions posed above is; I am an explorer and wanderer! Robert D. Ballard, the discoverer of the Titanic, explains this best when he says: “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, to be given the truth, and then come back and share the new wisdom.” (Sounds similar to the Continuation Of Service goal of the Peace Corps does it not?) 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 rode around Bulgaria because that is what I do when I am on vacation; I wander around. I have ridden many touring miles in five countries, on three continents, because it is fun and it does good things for me mentally; it clears the mind of those things that are really not so important and lets it rest. Nicholas Johnson in Test Pattern for Living has phrased it in these terms. “You ride a bicycle because it feels good. The air feels good on your body, and pretty soon it gets to your head, and, glory be, your head feel good. You start noticing things. You look until you really see. You hear things, and smell smells you never knew were there.”

This always elicits the next obvious question; What did you see? During my bike tour I saw over twenty-five of the larger towns in Bulgaria and countless villages. This answer will then always prompt a Bulgarian to ask, which town did you like best? My honest answer, and the one that causes the fewest hard feelings, has been that I do not like towns much and enjoy the villages more because they have prettier yards and less traffic! However, if I return to Bulgaria sometime in the future I will make a point of visiting Zlatograd, Obzor, Veliki Preslav, Veliko Turnavo, Belogradchik, Berkavitsa, Bansko, and Dospat again.

I also saw, and sometimes rode over, the mountains of Bulgaria: the Rhodope, Sredna Gora, Balkan, Vitosha, Kon, Ossogovo, Rila and Pirin. I crossed and rode 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 remember. I also saw the people of Bulgaria; the language teachers and Peace Corps staff, the Community Development Center staff in Zlatograd, the many people of Zlatograd and many more during my two years here. I never knew the names of some people that I met on my bike tour around Bulgaria – I remember them nonetheless. The man who hobbled to the street in a small village to shout “Bravo” and applaud me! The villager that gave me a pat on the back as I was leaving him after a short chat about where I was from, where I was going!

One of the more surprising questions that I had from a journalist after completing my bike tour was; “What did you learn about the Bulgarian people while on your tour?” Perhaps I was to blunt, but I told him that I learned nothing that I had not learned about them while living in Bulgaria for two years. The tour was not to learn about the Bulgarian people! It would be impossible for someone to come to Bulgaria for a month long bike tour and learn very much about its people. A more interesting question, that only a few of my bicycling friends may ask, would be; what did you learn about yourself while on your tour?

Another repeated question that I am sure my cycling friends will want to discuss was: “Did you have any problems with the Bulgarian drivers?” I have to say that Bulgarian drivers are no different from drivers world over that I have come in contact with. It seems that all drivers of cars, trucks, buses and other motorized vehicles that use the roads think that bicycle riders are both blind and deaf. Therefore, the driver must be very close to the cyclist before he should blow a horn to let the cyclist know that a vehicle is near. There are some drivers, this is true in Bulgaria also, that think that bicyclist do not belong on the road and will risk the cyclist’s life to prove that belief – I can only suggest discretion before valor when facing such a confrontation.

A final question, like the first one, leaves me unsure what the questioner is asking; “Would you do your tour again?” Is the question; would you come to Bulgaria again as a Peace Corps Volunteer or, would you do the Touring Around Bulgaria ride again? I will ride here some more before I leave Bulgaria and perhaps I will return some years from now to ride here again. However, will I do the Touring Around Bulgaria or will I be a Peace Corps Volunteer in Bulgaria again? I think Mark Twain answered those questions 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.”