Coursing the Highways & Pounding on Pavement: Walking Through Bulgaria

Howdy there, thanks for tuning in to another round of Fugacious Follies. I do so greatly appreciate your eyeballs right now. Out of all the things you could be looking at in the world, you chose me. For me, that's pretty darn neat. 

So, things have been going well for the most part in Bulgaria. I've had my first almost mugging, my first 2 liter beer (which came in a plastic bottle), enjoyed my first zero day, and now am going through the healing process from my first on-trail (well, on-road really) injury, so that's a grand time.

A view of Sozopol (Apollonia) during the off season.

I'm not sure if you've noticed my satellite tracker (you can find it here), but if you have, you can see that I've covered many a mile in the last 10 days. I pushed through Turkey in less than a week, then made my way up the Black Sea to Burgas. On average I've been doing about 30-35 kms a day, so anywhere from 20-24 miles a day. It's been tough, but I've enjoyed the hike for the most part. Unfortunately my legs weren't able to hold up from the stress, namely, my right ankle. 

During my rest day in Burgas, I noticed that walking for about 15 minutes sent my right leg into intense pain, so I rented a bike and took the pressure off. Later last night I found walking to be pleasant once more, so I assumed that I should be fine for walking a mere 13 miles to the next town. I was dead wrong. 

After twenty minutes of walking with my pack, my leg shot up in agony. My ankle felt as though it were on fire, so I knew that I wouldn't be able to walk one mile without pain, much less make the 13 mile trip to find proper resources. So I hobbled my way to a taxi and had to take a ride back to the cheap and cozy hostel I'd been staying in for the past two days. I'm here now, taken many a ibuprofen and a little beer, so all is fine with the world.

I've learned my lesson: I treated the last week as a race against time and in the process pushed my body to a limit that was unhealthy, and worse, I wasn't stretching and resting as much as I should right now. So that's where to begin: yoga in the morning, afternoon and evening, and hiking less than I have been, then slowly build up.

Resting the leg with frozen sausages.

The trip in Bulgaria has been great so far. I've had my one moment (which I'll get into soon) that was nerve-wracking, but other than that the times have been good. The highways are beginning to get old. Dodging cars becomes exhausting and exhaust-ful, your feet get bruised from the unforgiving roads, and the scenery becomes monotonous. But hey, there haven't been any dogs! 

I've been staying in hotels or hostels since I've arrived in Bulgaria. I'm hiking along the resort side of Bulgaria, so there isn't much room for camping, and people are sensitive to seeing a person "camping" in their town. Also after almost being mugged within the first 20 minutes of arriving in a Bulgarian village I've learned a lot of about the security and safety of the borders in Bulgaria. Things aren't horrible, but traveling alone and staying in areas that are near tourist towns are not recommended. These forests have people hiding in them, and I don't want to find those people. 

Oh, I probably should get into the story of almost getting mugged while in Bulgaria...

I arrived in Malko Tarnovo ten minutes to seven. The sun was setting, the backside of my legs were burned, and I was tired of lugging some 35-40 pounds on my back. The hills getting to the border was rough, but the only thing I could think about was finding the center of town and sitting down for a much needed rest. 

Walking in, I talked to a few locals about navigating my way through the town. In a matter of minutes, I turned on what appeared to be a perfectly normal street in town. At the corner were several bodies, one of which was holding a crutch, and several youngish boys playing with a soccer ball.

I approached the corner and was ready to make my turn left towards the church when the persons sitting on the corner closest to me immediately turned around. Their body language began confirming that I was in trouble. They were very peeved off and began composing themselves to be as menacing as possible. There were three of them: one a teenage lad with a shined black leather jacket and jet black eyes, an old man using the crutch as either a toy or as a prop, and a brat of ten or twelve years old. 

The man with the crutch, a man with skin of ancient leather and snowy white hair, began yelling in Bulgarian in a manner that caught me off guard. I made an attempt to stand my ground, but when the lad in the jacket stepped towards me with a look of pure hatred muttering the word "problem?" interlaced with Bulgarian, I had to step back. The young brat was joining in on the offense, and soon all three were walking towards me while I was stepping backwards.

Carla, the token hostel pup, going for a peanut.

The brat held a cellphone to his ear and kept repeating the term "police" in a mocking manner, letting me know that he could call the authorities and that I would have no control over the matter. The lad kept saying "problem?" over and over again, putting his hand in his pocket grabbing some kind of object and inviting me to stand up to him. The old man with liquor on his breath held his crutch as a club. I could tell that all three wanted my goods, and seeing how I was carrying a heavy load, I knew that they knew that I had a lot that they could steal.

As I was walking backwards yelling "What problem? What problem do you have? What problem do you f*ckers have with me?" (after my latest dog incident, I've given up on being polite when experiencing fear), several people stepped out of their home and rushed to my side. One gent managed to yell at the three goons in such a manner that the punks left me alone. The brat was laughing hysterically that he could overwhelm a grown-ass man, and the lad kept taunting me to come closer and walk past him. I began walking to the family with my nerves shot, but I was so very relieved. 

My savior was a man named Angel (seriously, I can't make this up) and as he took me by his side he said in broken English, "Is okay, is no problem, no problem. No nervous." I was still shaken up from having faced down a serious threat to my safety, and was incredibly skittish around Angel's family. Angel understood my feelings, and read whatever I typed into my Google Translate app with sympathy and patience. 

Just a typical piece of rebellion.

When I asked Angel where was a place that was safe to sleep and had food, he took me to one of the two hotels in town. His recommendation was solid. I ate and slept in comfort and security, something that I no longer take for granted. 

At the hotel were two Bulgarian national police officers. They were a pleasant duo who carried on great conversation. So, hours of eating and drinking, we traded stories, worries, philosophies, questions and more. 'Twas a grand evening indeed. I learned more about the complexities of human trafficking in Bulgaria, the economic dilemmas that have been plaguing Bulgaria for decades as well as the pleasures of Bulgarian beekeeping. 

We talked about love, fatherhood, as well as where I should and should not sleep at night. They were honest about their recommendations: don't sleep in the woods in these parts, stay near people, and be careful with who you trust. 

Soccer Hooligans and their filth.

So I've been sleeping safely and soundly while I've been traveling here. Bulgaria is a most affordable country. One night in a hostel is $9.00, two-liter beers are $2.00, and dinner is just as cheap, so I don't mind paying for some security. Once I get to the E3 I should be fine, but until then I'm playing it safe. Already dodged one iffy situation, I don't need a second one.

I've met some amazing individuals in my travels through Bulgaria. I've met a kind Bulgarian man who was a little too kind in his offer to drive me out of Malko Tarnovo and turned a 5 km drive into a 40 km drive, two kind Bulgarian hostel owners, a very sweet French couple, more adventurers with their own website), a kind hitchhiker who gifted me with some kind of Indian nut/berry/thing, and scores of others. 

Grilling with rubbish. Absolutely fantastic meal made with scrap wood and pure ingenuity. 

Besides the whole foot thing, Bulgaria has been great. I'm glad that I've come here, and it is amazing to learn more about Bulgarian culture as well as to walk through history. Places to check out if you get the chance: Sozopol, Burgas and Strandzha. Bulgaria is an amazing country with beautiful coasts, but there are hundreds of resorts though. They keep expanding onto simple beaches, and soon the majority of the coast will not be composed of sands but instead glass, steel, and brick. Things are a changing mighty quick over here. Who knows what this place will look like in 20 years.

I'm looking forward to getting to the official E3 trail. The hike so far has been both beautiful and challenging. Hopping across highways and dodging cars is no fun (I have a new sympathy for the game Frogger and Paper Boy), the shade has been minimal for the majority of the time, meaning my Irish Tan is none too pleased, and choking down car fumes is just plain annoying. I'm glad to see that Bulgaria has much less fecal matter and trash  on their roads in comparison to Turkey, but still, trails are much more preferable than highways.

Seeing one of these every other mile soon became nerve-wracking.

In conclusion: Having a preventable injury stinks, but now I know that I need to take better care of my body. Bulgaria is both beautiful and risky, but I am so glad that I am here. Two-liter beers are a wonderful way of spending an evening. The people you meet make the journey well worth the time, and I long to start hiking among the trees rather than the cars.

Thanks again for reading, you da best.