Snow and the Pirin Mountains Party – Arriving in Bulgaria

18 Apr

At 6am I had to ride across Sofia. ‘Across’ meaning the direction in which I was pointed when I meaningfully displayed the dodgy Cyrillic script I had copied into my notebook. The dodgy Cyrillic script being the address of some couchsurfers who had agreed to host me. It was so cold I wore my gloves, trousers and newly donated leather bomber zipped up. T.I.N.A, bru. This Is Not Africa.

1o km later and I was getting warmer, geographically. Still frozen to the bike’s aluminium frame, but I knew my hosts lived somewhere nearby. The Bulgarian women I asked for directions were unaffected by my charm offensive as I tried to get directions. Standing and chatting as I stood between them after saying ‘excuse me’, then pointing me somewhere with snaking hand gestures and then saying ‘goodbye’ and turning their backs. Or simply walking by, ignoring my ‘excuse me’s’. Not all are immune, understand, just the one’s I approached.

And f— me, by the way, there’s snow on that hill. Bloody hell, aren’t I going into the mountains this weekend? I’ve got no clothes.

Soon enough, though, I found that Sofia is not all ice-queen. A man let me borrow his mobile to contact my hosts, Villi and Dobri, who met me outside a supermarket, took me in, lent me warm clothes, spare shoes, gave me some breakfast, and use of their warm shower. All in preparation for a 31st birthday party up in the Pirin Mountains.

I left my bike behind in their flat and climbed into Dobri’s BMW and by around 10am we were off, and running late. We picked up a friend of Villi’s and met the party at a roadside McDonald’s. They had eaten there which sucked for them, because at 2pm while they trekked ahead up to the hut in the snowy hills our car stopped in a sunny ski resort, where ice cold mountain spring water poured out of a village spout, for a fantastic lunch.

Dobri enthusiastically introduced me to Bulgarian food – fatty lamb, fried root vegetables, chips and cheese, rice and salad, fried pork fillets which was the opposite of unjuicy, the most yoghurty yoghurt with blueberries and homemade strawberry jam. He introduced me equally enthusiastically to Bulgarian beer, and Bulgarian architecture. These guys were being fantastic hosts. Dobri then insisted on getting the cheque. I insisted on getting a round of coffees, Villi was sitting in the shade, suffering in the mountain sun. The coffees arrived. Then I realised I had lost my wallet.

Embarrassed as hell as I searched the car for the 3rd time, Dobri covered the coffees and smoothly helped me in rearranging my monetary situation. Always shrugging and insisting ‘it’s normal’ and ‘it’s happened’ when I thanked him again. And, after covering my whole weekend, refusing some money back. Villi would say that they have had help in the past when they were hitchhiking, and they were just doing the same.

We parked up at the base of a ski lift and started hiking up the hill, following footsteps to avoid sinking in the snow. The guys lent me rather fetching leg protectors, and as a thank you I threw icy snowballs at them. If I was going to be cold, then it was great to be in the snow again and the first I’d seen for a year.

Ignoring Dobri’s GPS, we took a shortcut that worked out fine and arrived at the hut after about an hour. Drying out our shoes and socks in a circle around the fire I was given home-brew rakia, a kind of brandy, and home-brew wine, a kind of wine, and answered questions about my ride and Dobri translated.

Over Bulgarian pop music on cassette, then heavy metal on mp3 players, the guys taught me some handy Bulgarian* and a new kung-fu game. We played 21’s in Bulgarian and I drank a splendid amount of neat rakia and we all ate meats barbequed by the guys and salads prepared by the girls.

I tried to get the birthday boy and his slightly skinny, slightly nervous friend to play kung-fu games with us, but skinny said they are games for children.

‘What games do men play?’
‘K-1 is man’s game.’

In the night these boys stormed into our shared bedroom asking where I was for whatever reason. Villi expertly dispatched them as I carried on snoring, snoring ‘like lion’ as Dobri described the next morning.

The resident ski-instructor cooked up some hangover-cure standard chicken soup, and served me a large rakia. He seemed to have taken a shine to me and gave me a pint of rakia in a plastic bottle as we left.

That evening we had dinner at Villi’s friends’ flat, who is a published illustrator and whose boyfriend is a cyclist/engineer. Homemade lasagne and cheesecake, cheese and sausages and plenty of beer, with more metal on in the background. We had a good night.

On my final morning with Villi and Dobri they made me a pint of a true hangover cure. 1 part yoghurt, 1 part water, add salt. We had pasta and sugar and jam for breakfast and, as I was leaving, Dobri gave me a green fleece.

I was going to centre this post around Bulgaria being very different to Africa. And, obviously, it is. Instead of screaming and excited Malawian kids running after me on my bike, barking snarling red eyed fox f—ing wild dogs charge at me from gutters and scrap heaps. But, this post has turned out to be about my time with Villi and Dobri, ambassadors to Bulgaria, adventurers – didn’t even get on to all that – and great company in which to spend my short time in Bulgaria, if not my money.

That day I headed back along the same road we had BMW’ed along back and forth, and up the steep mountain road to the Macedonian border post.

* Mamka-moo – ‘f— it’


One Response to “Snow and the Pirin Mountains Party – Arriving in Bulgaria”

  1. Zoran April 20, 2012 at 4:24 pm #


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