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Brad’s Travel Diary

Monday, 11 Jul 2005

Location: Sophia, Bulgaria

MapI've just returned to Sophia again back from an exausting but wonderful four days treking in the Rila Mountains. After overindulging in beer and parties, I heading to the Rila Mountains for a dose of solitude and mountain air was just what I needed. I ended up trecking for three and a half days through some of the most spectaular mountain scenery and meeting some of the most lovely people I've met on my trip.

I arrived at the start of the first days walk at Maliovitsa at about miday, and set off for the hut at the seven lakes. The trails were really well marked, and together with the map I had obtained from a friendly man at Plodiv there was very little chance of me getting lost. After following a rushing mountain river for a while, the trail starts to head straight up and climbs steeply for several kilometres until a spectaular mountainscape slowly reveals itself above the thick pine forest. By about four o'clock I reached the seven lakes area, where I was hit by a vicious thunderstorm wich proceeded to hail quite heavily on me! It soon cleared though, and the sun came through shining on a waterfall running into the first of the lakes. From there it was only another hour to the first hut - a chalet, very comfortable by trecking standards! Indeed, I went down to the kitchen all ready to hoe into a huge dinner when I found that, yes, while they did serve food, all they served was soup! Not exactly substantial hiking food. Anyway, I got my bowl of soup and was invited to sit down to dinner with a Bulgarian group that I had met on the trail. They were being really friendly, asking me what I though about Bulgaria when suddenly I had a plate of food and a glass of schnapps placed in front of me! Of course I politely refused, saying the soup was fine, but they insisted and soon I was eating this huge meal of cheese, sasuage, salad, bread, wine and schnapps! Their generosity was so touching, especially considering they had carried this food on their backs for kilometres to get it there (food becomes very precious when hiking). We spent the rest of the evening together, finding about each others culture and history and singing Bulgarian and Austrlian songs for one another. It was a really wonderful evening, something I definatly won't forget.

The morning of the second day was probably the most spectaular walking of the treck; the trail wound around several of the lakes, and then climed steeply to give a spectaular view over the surrounding lakes and mountains. It then passed over a ridge, flattened out for a while, then descended steeply for five of six kilometers down to the Rila Monastry. The monastry itself was amazing, laid out in a square design with a beautiful church in the middle. I had heard that there was accomdation available so after waiting around for three hours, a monk with a big black beard appeared and offered me a room in the monastry for $20. This is probably the coolest place I have stayed, the rooms were really dingy but I was staying in a monastry built in the 13th century!

Looking at the map on the third day, I knew I had a pretty steep climb ahead of me, but even so I wasn't really aware of how steep. The track climbs up an unspectaular hill for was too many kilometres, and you pretty much ascent straight from the floor (1250m) to the peak of Mt Maliovitsa (2729m), climbing over one and a half kilmetres! This is a long way, and the reason I look pretty buggered in the photo! While I was resting and having lunch, I met some Bulgarian students who asked if I would like to join them for the rest of the walk. The three of them were really cool, their holidays had just started and they were treking in the Rila Mountains for a week. While we were talking the trail wound its way down the other side of the mountain past more lakes and gushing rivers towards the valley, all in the glorious afternoon sun. This part of the walk was really beautiful too, and we all took off out shoes and stretched out in the sun next to a lake. The time came where we were going in different directions and I hadn't really decided where I was going to stay. They said they knew of a small mountain hut about an hours walk away where they were staing the night and I would be welcome to join them. So we all set off up the other side of the valley and climbed porbably about another 750 metres up. The hut was on the top of a little hill in a small valley between two huge peaks on either side, such a spectaular place to spend the night. One of the students even convinced me to go for a little barefoot run in the snow - very cold! No sooner had we got to the hut than a huge storn broke out, it started hailing and getting very cold - for the first time I was very glad I brought my sleeping bag all this way!

This morning I said goodbye to my new friends and walked the last two hours to Maliovitsa where I began treking three days before. I've had an awesome time up in the mountains, I've met some really fantastic people and seen some of the best mountain scenery I have seen, only New Zealand rivals it. There really is something indescribable about walking in the mountains...

Anyway, to top it off when I got back I asked this guy when the next bus to Samakov was, where I would get the bus back to Sophia. He asked where I was going, and ended up offering me a lift all the way to Sophia, saving me about $20 and several hours! Bulgarian people are so hospitible, it's very humbling at times.

So now I am back in Sophia, and much to my dismay, there is still no news about my visa!! So I have decided to investigate a change of plans. If it is possible, I am going to catch a ferry across the Black Sea to Georgia, and pick up my visa in Baku, Azerbaijan! I met another Australian who has just come from there, and he told me Georgia was unbelievble and Azerbaijan is really worth seeing too. Hopefull then I'll cross the border from Azerbaijan into Iran and continue on as planned...