Note:This letter had a copy of a Bulgaria highway map attached as the last page that I have not attempted to replicate for the web page. You can see most of the places that are mentioned in this letter by going to Bulgaria Map and enter a city/town name in the upper left to find the smaller places that I name.
Well it is the beginning of my second year and it is like starting over in some ways. My counterpart, Milka, quit in July and I had a temporary during August while my Executive Director was on vacation. When he returned on the 9th of September one of the first things that he told me was that he had also quit. So starting the 15th I have a new counterpart and a new Director. Life would have been much simpler if I had been able to work with the same people but maybe the challenge of starting over will make the year seem to pass quicker. Most volunteers find that they are able to accomplish more during their second year because of the ground work they have laid during the first. I see that a lot of what I did isn’t going to help and I will be doing some of those same relationship developments again with a different group. Because of who the Director is you get a whole new approach, a new group coming to the office, and different requests. It appears to me that the new Director is trying to create an even closer relationship between the Municipal government and the CDIC (supposedly a Non-Governmental organization), I am only speculating about this, but the previous Director may have been under pressure by the Mayor to blur the relationship and he quit versus comply. The national government is slowly making some efforts to “reform”; I see no evidence of the local government signing on to that effort. There was a Professor here on 19 September talking to my director, Municipal employees, and the NGO’s Board Chairman (a local Bank Manager) about privatizing property. The reaction of those attending was that we can’t do it here! Also, there is one State company in town that has been attempting to do an employee buy out for almost 3 years now and it hasn’t been privatized yet- maybe because it is making money. It seems that the companies that get privatized are either losing money or are very heavily indebted with very little to show for the acquired debt.
I did a Living allowance trip to Sofia on 10 September and returned on the 13th. The extra days on this trip were for a mid-service medical checkup by the Peace Corps Medical Officer and a dental check/cleaning. Since pre Peace Corps I have had a flaky scalp problem that was diagnosed by a doctor in Reno as a pre cancerous growth and he “burned” it off with liquid nitrogen. Then here in Bulgaria while I was in PST a Bulgarian doctor said it was bad dandruff and gave me some strong shampoo. In February I had the new PC Medical Officer look at it along with a rash that had formed on my arm and she said it was Psoriasis. When I went into Sofia soon after that she sent me to a Bulgarian Dermatologist and it was diagnosed as a skin edema. This last trip the PCMO sent me to another office and three Bulgarian Doctors looked me over and diagnosed it as Psoriasis. Because of swelling in the first joint near the nail in my pinkie finger and a couple of toes they took x-rays to see if Prosaic Arthritis was forming. Fortunately that hasn’t happened yet, they have me on Ibuprofen now to reduce the swelling; doesn’t do anything to restore the nails which have been virtually destroyed. Also have some medicated creams that seem to be helping to control the Psoriasis; however, they have told me that there is no cure. I can look forward to trying to control this stuff for the rest of my life. I am fortunate at this point to have a relatively light case compared to pictures that the PCMO had in a Medical Publication of what it can look like. Not life threatening but it doesn’t do much to improve your quality of life!
On a much more positive note: my bike riding is coming along fine considering the amount of training that I have/have not done. On 20 September I rode to Kurdjuli via Podkova and Momchilgrad. Returned on Sunday via Gebel. The last page of this letter has a Bulgarian map with crosshatching to identify the route and a circled “X’ pointing to referenced towns. I have previously talked about Preseka Hill and Radar Hill, these are both along the route to Podkova. In those previous rides I had gone over the top of Radar Hill and then climbed back up it on the return home for a total of 62 Km. I estimated that the distance to Kurdjuli at 75 Km and, by traveling the route in a bus a number of times, thought that by riding Radar Hill both ways I was doing about the same amount of climbing. Well the distance part was real close; it is 75 Km from my house to the bus station in Kurdjuli. The climbing situation is a little different. The 62 Km ride ended up with 688 meters whereas to Kurdjuli I did 896. The climbs just keep getting longer and steeper! Preseka is 60 meters in about 1 KM, Radar is 124 meters in 3.3 Km, then there is 172 meters in about 3.5 km, 212 meters out of Podkova in 4 Km, and a 60 meter climb in less than 1 Km to the summit before dropping down into Momchilgrad. If you remember the Western Tour, as I do, the downhill into Momchilgrad is like the run into Osoyoos, British Columbia. The return was only 57 Km but also had 868 meters of climbing with 540 of it in 19 Km out of Gebel. The downhill from there is 3 Km and 328 meters; on a training ride at the end of August I attempted to ride up this and had to walk about half of it. It also has some sharp curves in it so the downhill is a hard break almost all the way down but I still recorded 59 Km/Hr coming back from Kurdjuli. Because of the steep climb out of Momchilgrad coming back to Zlatograd and the so far unrideable climb over the top to Gebel this seems the way to do the round trip to Kurdjuli.
The map also shows my planned 7-8 day tour from Zlatograd to Kurdjuli, Haskovo, Plovdiv, Perushtitsa, Asenovgrad, to Kudrjuli and Zlatograd via Gebel. If the weather will hold I am planning to leave here on Saturday 4 October and return on Friday or Saturday. Will let you know how that works out and write about the experience in the next Long Letter to you in October.
Just a few words on the game hunting here in Bulgaria. In the Kurdjuli/Haskovo area I had heard about some efforts to improve tourism by breeding hares for hinting tourists from Greece. Just came upon an article in the Bulgarian Business News on this topic and thought I would pass it on. This years open season for quail and wood-pigeon (dove) began mid-August to 31 October with a charge of 8 Marks each to foreign hunters. The other game that can be taken include hare at 80 Marks, pheasant – 15, goose – 50, fox – 100, jackal (I think really wild dogs) – 50. Then you can get into the exotic stuff: a deer at 10,150 to 36,000 depending on weight or a bear with 400 CIC point at 17,000 plus 300 Marks for each additional CIC point. The article points out that last year Bulgaria had Europe’s largest bear population; estimated at 880. The article also says: “The stock of big game tend alarmingly down, and there is a shortage of mature trophy specimens to meet hunting demand. The Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Land Reform must take urgent measures to rehabilitate game breeding, experts say.”
An indicator of the economic health of Bulgaria, or any country, may be the number of new cars purchased. Here is how Bulgaria looks. In 1996 Bulgarians bought 7,557 new cars. I don’t have a purchases per 1,000 population but the raw numbers show that new car sales in Poland were 376,000, Czech republic at 155,000, over 200,000 in Hungary, 113,000 in Romania, and even Slovenia bought 62,000. In the first half of 1997 Bulgarian sales were down by a third from the first half of 1996! Since 1992 there have been 60,000 new cars sold here and the average age of a car on the road in now almost 20 years.
Last but not least the autumn session of the legislature has decided to debate bills on forest restitution, privatization, foreign investment, and amending the law for agricultural lands. I like the last one the best; remember that is the one that has been amended many times and thereby blamed for the delay in returning lands. Well they are going to debate another amendment. I don’t think I have told you before but the PROCESS in Bulgaria is what is all important. The results do not mean that much; if you do the process correctly that is what is important.