May 2021

We started May with a nice festivity. The 1st of May is a national holiday in Bulgaria and the town of Koprivshtitsa held a folkfest.

We drove on to Pamporovo to go for a hike now that most of the snow had melted. Now that the ski season was over and it was too early for the summer season, the place was fully deserted. We hiked through the pine forest up to Orpheus rocks, from which we had a nice view of the area. Here and there we still had to walk through snow but it was doable. Pamporovo is situated in the Rhodopian mountains. A large mountain range, mostly covered in forests. A beautiful area with apparently a lot of wildlife, including bears! We were really hoping to see some.

After Pamporovo we went on to see the Trigrad gorge and Trigrad also has the most bears in the area apparently…So we spend three nights in the middle of nowhere a few km’s from a small place called Vodni Pad. We parked the van at the edge of a meadow, hidden between some trees. Bears like to walk along the edge of a forest (according to a website). They can mostly be seen at dusk and dawn. So for most of the evening we sat quiet as a mouse in the dark. We also got up at 6 in the morning. We saw exactly one deer. We went for long walks, partly off trail in the deserted forest. At most we saw a few birds. We didn’t find any traces of bears either, no bear poop and no trees with the bark scratched off. We were a bit disappointed but we would go on trying.

We drove an off road trail through the forest to Buynovo gorge. In order to get there we had to do some road works.
Buynovo gorge is absolutely beautiful and offers quite a few hikes.

There are also a lot of offers to hire a Jeep with driver to take you up to Eagle Eye. We drove up there ourselves and although it was a challenging ride, but we managed and enjoyed the view.
Near Borino we went for a very challenging hike. And then drove on to Grohotno where we left the asphalt road and took a dirt track through the mountains in the direction of Devin. On our way we came past 3 huts for watching wild animals. One above Grohotno and two near Devin. We spend about a week near the huts, hoping to see bears. Again we sat outside really quietly in the dark in the evening and got up at 6 and even 5 am. We went for walks, during the day and once in the evening. After some online research we even bought food that bears supposedly like and put that on the edges and in the middle of the meadows in front of the huts. Again we saw a few deer and that was it. We were quite disappointed and gave up. After all this trouble we are starting to think that the Bulgarian bear is a myth.

We drove down to Devin, a nice small city with a cosy center and a good supermarket. From there we went on to Smolyan where we walked the “valley of waterfalls”. A hike that isn’t too difficult and reasonably well marked. With no unexpected dangers, this made for a nice change! It is beautiful and really worth a visit.

This gave us the courage to go for a hike in the Pirin mountains. We hiked up to Okoto lake and then had to turn around because there was still way too much snow, even though it was now the end of May. We also had to navigate a rather incomplete bridge.

On our way down we visited the oldest tree of the Balkan, a 1300 year old conifer. Really huge!

Our last stop in Bulgaria was another national park, Rila (also supposedly has bears…) Here we wanted to do the 7 lake hike. Because of the rain we hung around for a day. In the evening a red German camper van stopped next to us and we met Philip and Lea. We spend a couple of enjoyable hours together. It was great being able to have an actual conversation with some other people in a language we know well. It had been months since we met other overlanders. We shared food, ideas and tips.

They were going to do the 7 lakes hike as well the next day but would be walking all the way up and leave early. We had planned to take the cable lift up. According to the website the lift was open. According to the information on the ticket window, the lift was open. Well guess what; it was closed… Bulgaria seems to have ministry of tourism and misinformation…. It is forbidden to drive through Rila national park. So naturally there were several Jeeps waiting around for passengers to drive uphill. The price was the same as that of the lift. So we took a jeep uphill to the lift end station. This way we didn’t have to worry about park rangers and fines. Even with the ride uphill, it was still a long hike around the 7 lakes which are situated on a plateau high up the mountains. We couldn’t reach one off them because off snow! Again. By now we were fed up with the snow. Two other lakes were covered in snow, so we really saw only three lakes. The walk down was quite difficult because of the melting and slippery snow on steep hills. Some parts of the trail were flooded, so we got quite wet and muddy. But once we were below the lift end station the snow was gone and the hike became easier. We decided to walk all the way down instead of waiting for the jeep and it’s very uncomfortable ride.

We drove to Sofia on the 30th of May. Not to go shopping but because Sofia has a “green lane” in some weekends for anyone who wants to get vaccinated, as a lot of elderly and vulnerable people don’t want to, so they have vaccines left. And they now also had the Jansen vaccine, so we wouldn’t have to wait around for weeks to get a 2nd shot. The “green lanes” are meant for those who live in Bulgaria. We figured we could try. We waited in line for about half an hour. We then filled in a form (with help as it was in Bulgarian) and nobody asked us any questions! Not about our lack of the Bulgarian language our Dutch address or our Dutch passports.Although our names did cause the computer some problems. They gave us the vaccine and the certificate and that was it! No more expensive pcr tests before a border crossing! The certificate is valid as a replacement for the pcr test after two weeks. So we decided to spend those two weeks in North Macedonia and our beloved Albania as those countries don’t have any entry requirements regarding covid. Philip had told us that Georgia was finally opening its land borders on the first of June and a government website confirmed this. So we will finally get to go there. After Sofia we drove in to Macedonia on the 31st of May.

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