menulio-sviesa-kalnuose_400 SHTUROPIA’ 2011
(MOUNTAIN BIKE ADVENTURES IN THE RODOPE & RILA MOUNTAINS)


punktyras_800

 

  Approximately 5 years ago I got acquainted with Bulgaria, where each year I spend few months and always take my mountain bike with me. This year I got lucky to make my old dream come true  to spend few weeks in The Rhodopes with my Bulgarian friends, who are crazily mad about biking and to visit many impressive places where rarely you can meet not only tourists, but people in general. Within 15 days we managed to make 785 km traveling the ground lanes of The Rhodopes, later on the Rila Mountains following Bulgarian-Greek border. So much excitement has left for me after this trip that I decided to write down all my adventures and like this to save the most pleasant memories.


punktyras_800

2011 08 05

Sofia - train station of Svilengrad – bushes next to Mezek village

      
            Hardly, but after all I managed to put all my trip belongings to the 20 liters “Millet” backpack. Sleeping bag I hanged on the seat of my Giant Trance X, mattress tided on the handlebar up front and started driving to the quarter of Ilinden in Sofia, where the guys from “Shturkur” bike team and few others were already gathering next to the bike store of team captain Paco. All were sipping the beer calmly. After less than an hour all of us started driving direction train station, where the first part of the trip was ahead of us: trip with the train reaching Svilengrad.

       It was around 8 pm when the high speed train heading to Turkey showed up with one hour delay. Even hard-boiled Bulgarians, were surprised seeing three wagon “pensioner”, which even didn’t have the promised postal wagon to load the bikes. Anger passed as soon as the bottle of Kosovan rakia was opened, so the trip, even with long stops did not seem to be that much long. We reached Svilengrad around 3 am. After we climbed out of the train the atmosphere seam to be a bit siurelistic as everything was surrounded by barbed wire. Most likely because of the border with Turkey. Mucko, who was responsible for the route switched on GPS and after short wondering which way to turn we finally escaped from „Auschwitz“ and start moving towards Mezeko village.  Driving approximately 12 km up the asphalted road we decided to stop for a night. Settled in some field between the bushes. I slept not that much good, probably because of the excitement and all the unknown that was waiting for me during the upcoming days.


 2011 08 06

 
Bushes around Mezek village – the peak of Sheynovo – Valche Pole Village- border fence Stoil Kosovski – border fence Voivoda – border fence Asen – Lambuch village - Ivaylograd

    Our trip started around 8 am. We drove prolly around one hour up the asphalt road, where noone steps, till we reached the peak of Sheynovo. Eastern Rhodopes are not that high in general so we reached 800 m above the sea level. It was damn hot.We continued our trip on rocky lanes, later driving roads destroyed by jeeps and tractors,  full of grass...it was hard to call them roads... and accompanied by the cloud of annoying flies. Around you could see some kind of spiny shrubs and small oaks. Two times I managed to blow up my tires, catching thorns similar to those that rose has, Bulgarians call them Grandma‘s teeth... „will be interesting“ I thought.

We hoped to get some water in the abandoned border fences, unfortunately could not find a sip. My hydro pack, which I bought yesterday was smelling awfully and the gum it was made from made water so stinky that it could be not used anymore. In the afternoon each of us were spitting feathers when finally next to one border fence we found plum tree. I probably gobbled up one kilogram of this fruit.  Eventually we reached the Lambuch village, where the lawn and tiny church grabbed our attention. After we stopped by, red hair countryman invited us to his house yard to drink water. As long we were trying to refresh ourselves, our rescuer brought us a huge watermelon, which we ate right quick. The enormous pile of the fruit he had, was dedicated specially to feed his pig Mirko. Few guys went to see this famous Mirko, meanwhile I grabbed the second watermelon, as during my life I saw enough of the pigs.

     

      After this amazing refreshment we drove down the mountain where we reached the pond surrounded by huge forest and the first border post with the first check, where we showed the letter allowing us to travel the border. My passport was being checked maybe 10 minutes and they even consulted with the government guys. One frontier-guard described how to get to the best place for swimming. On the shore hanged a plate forbidden to swim, but because we received permission... the water was perfect.
   The asphalt road, after refreshment, brought us directly to Ivaylovgrad. The 8th team mate Krassi was already waiting for us in the city. Together with him we found local providers, an elderly couple, who brought 12 litres of home made Rakia and additionally to it a home made pie, huge home made cheese and full bag of tomatos and cucumbers. We sat at the local tavern and had the royal feast. It was getting dark and after driving few kilometers up the hill we settled down next to the pine forest, which was pointed to us by the locals. We were having a rest while watching lightening city, which we left down the hill. 



    

2011 08 07

Ivaylovgrad – Drabishna village – Bialopole village – Syv Kladenec village – Mandica village – Dolno Lukovo village – Gorno Lukovo village – Korolov chair peak – Chiladjik peak – Gorni Juruci village

    Not many mosquitoes you can find in Bulgaria, but this night few of them were disturbing my sleep extremely annoying.  My tire was flat again... and again I had to fix it. So in the morning we moved on and I immediately noticed that environment changed into more attractive with exiting roads, hills, blossoming sunflowers and forests. We passed Drobishna and Belopole villages in an easy trance. The ‚village –ghost‘  Syv Kladenec left an oppressive feeling and at the same time looked horrifically beautiful.  We passed ruinous houses and the donkey which went out of an old church.

     On the way we passed oaklet and juniper forest, drove down the hill till we reached the village of Mandrica. It has a wonderful architecture. Locals are the descendants of ancient Thracian are very friendly and hospitable. While the owner of the local bar was grilling Kebapche (this was the only thing he had eatable), another local guy brought us the basket full of cucumbers and tomatoes. Later on we reached village of Dolno Lukovo, where we had a swim and continued driving on a road heading up to Gorno Lukavo village. On the top we split up. I was driving in front of everybody and was the first to be stopped by the car of frontier-guards, who asked whether I am that Lithuanian guy... information seams to be spreading out fast and again I was impressed by the architecture of Gorno Lukovo.

      We continued driving the same border  few times entering the Greek part to make some photos. The road in the beginning was disgusting, sandy, not interesting at all, but little by little the view changed. The byroad changed to a pleasant road with picturesque panorama of wooded valleys and my mood grew up within each moment. Shortly we reached Gorni Juruci village, which was the final destination for today and stopped by the shop-pub. The local gypsy forest workers obligingly stepped aside from the only table standing outside. We enjoyed the beer and had a dinner. Night passed on the glade on the other side side of the pub. This time I slept like a log.

2011 08 08

Gorni Juruci village – Golata Chuka peak – Chernychev village – Avren village – camping next to Krumovica river

      As we didn‘t find any bread in all the village, grandma, who is the owner of the local tavern, baked us amazing Mekitsi, which could be described as something similar to Soviet chebureki (Lithuanian Cuisine Heritage), or Bulgarian version of donuts. These baked Mekitsi we ate with black color honey made from semolina. Locals shared that Greeks are buying and selling it in Germany.

      One local guy was extreemly disappointed when the watermellon he brought, was left without being eaten, as we had to leave and did not manage to pack it with us. In the morning we were ready to start from 600 and to reach 1700 kilometers above the sea level. In the begining the road was scoured by timbers, which got better after 3-4 kilometers. So finally we were climbing up the road and it was a great pleassure. On our way we found spring water, then shortly reached cherry trees screaming about their existence. After reaching the peak we layed back for a nap in the shade of the oak. Not far away, somewhere from the Greek side, we were listening the tingaling bells of grazering sheeps.    

      Further road was completely overgrown, so we had to grab the asphalt road and after few moments we reached the village of Avren, where we found a pretty good store and the bar with cold beer. There we spent few hours talking to the boss of the local frontier guys, listening to his advices and after shortening the route we settled down in the unfinished camping place next to the river. Bulgarian camping place is ussually by locals built any
size bower with the table, benches, often with the fireplace. Definitely you will find spring water nearby, sometimes even electricity and firewood which you can use for free.   

     On the road to camping we passed pleasant hills where speedometer showed maximum of 67,67 km/h. The place was truly amazing. That evening, sitting at the fireplace, I was feeling like sitting in the ruins of the old temple. 




2011 08 09

Incredible place – Devesilov village – Big Devesil –Egrek village –Buk village- Malkoch village - Tichomir town –Strijba village – Hero peak – Makaza crossing –  Mandarlinka peak –Orlica village -  Kirkov village–Shumnatitsa village

      We passed villages of Devesilov and Big Devesilov on the asphalt road. After the village of Egrek started sharp hill on the old pebbled Turkish road, where in some places we had to push our bikes. Sun was burning.

      We reached the abandoned borderline, where luckily found spring water and stopped for a few hours break.  After the „free-ride“ path we bumped into Buk village, where Rodopi mountains look totally different. Mosques and that specific tobacco smell everywhere. Anywhere you look you will see drying tobacco leaves. We pleasantly passed few more villages, where narrow devious asphalt road changed dirt byways. We got up to the Makaza notch, where border guards were already waiting for us saying „why did it take so long for you guys...“. After the instruction received, we struck down the hill towards Orlica village. I managed to hit my tire which within a seconds got out of the air and like 20 meters I was trying to stop the bike. I changed my tube immediately and went down to the village, which was very interesting with its narrow central street. Unfortunately didn‘t manage to see anything as we had to move on.

      Shortly we entered big and civilized Kirkov village, where after  some shopping we settled down in the glade with amazing view to the Shumatica village. Youngsters were hanging around backwards and forwards all night long, prolly because of some discotheque.

2011 08 10 

Shumatica village – Kremen village – Chakalovo village – Dolno Kipinovo village – Gorno Kipilovo village – the peak of Suljova Chuka – the peak of Mechkar – the peak of Ostra Chuka – Kushla village – Gorni  Izvor village

      Day started with a pleasant lane, which was settled on the edge of the park. Although we were driving up the hill, it was easy to triddle. The road was really good and all the time was meandering alongside the stream which has scoured his path in the rocks. Shadows of the trees were protecting us from the sun.  

     We passed Kremen and Chakalov villages and after reaching the asphalt road, descent the hill to Dolno Kipinovo village straight to the hotel with the cold beer and an amazing lunch. After the advices of frontier-guard we continued direction border line, where we had to find a proper road.

      Unfortunately, instead of described road we reached beaten goats’ paths, where going left and right we were trying to find the right one. Finally one grandma pointed out to one of these paths. Later it got widen and transformed to the scoured out lane, which in sharp angle was bringing us to the peak of Suljova. Only first gear was a proper one to use, that’s why most of us were just pushing the bikes.

      I was the first to gain the peak and was the first to understand that t was really worth to make it. We were surrounded by the valleys and peaks of Rodopi Mountains.  The asperity (intense strong color) of the sky took our breath away. On the top we took the border lane and accompanied by the cannonade of the thunder we continued our trip.

      The road was keeping the same level going up and down and all the time surrounded by amazing views lasting few kilometers till we reached Kushla village. Mind dwelled upon the past maybe to 19 century, where women were sorting tobacco, sifting some kind of grains, grandpas were riding the donkeys...and to them we were looking like UFO‘s.  

 

   As we didn‘t find any place to settle down, headed to more civilized Gorni Izvor village, which was mostly settled by Turkish and Muslims. Because of the Ramadan the store did not have beer. Fortunately locals were so kind and to our honor opened  the restaurant, where we got beer and food. They even suggested we to settle down in non-finished store, which was a true salvation from the rain pouring all night long. Interesting fact that two onths there was not even a drop from the sky, so locals were thanking for the rain brought, telling that Allah sent us there.

2011 08 11

Gorski Izvor Village – Zlatograd – Alamovtsi Village – Karelska Chuka Peak – Mrzian peak –
Mrzian cordon

      Morning started with the good news that both of my tires were blown up. After a bit of sunshine, clouded over and started to drizzle. Still, it didn‘t bother us and we continued our trip. Obviously it was raining enough to appear small rivers, which we could not notice yesterday. Driving unsurfaced lanes we reached city of Zlatograd. Doggy, which got a peace of sausage, was running after us happilly around 15 kilometers. Packages with the food from Sofia and home made Rakya from Ivailovgrad were waiting for us  in Zlatograd already. So you can imagine that our baggage were loaded again. I bought bunch of patches and glue for tires in the local bike shop, cause all I had before were used already. In the afternoon we moved towards Alamovci village on the asphalt road. The village is located in the steep valley, so we hardly were able to drive the streets. On the very top located houses it was impossible to drive, so all of us were pushing the bikes. The streets finished. Only craggy paths were n our way.

      Shortly we reached better road, which till the peak of the Karelska Chuka was keeping almost the same sharp level. The road continued on the woody edge of the mountain, which was more or less on the same level. Panoramic views were fascinating us from both sides of the edge. Shortly we reached our camp – derelict cordon of Mrzian. The bikes were full of mud and were crackling and crepitating. It was pretty cold on the top so we were warming with Rakya and spending night at the shelter.



2011 08 12

Mrzian cordon – Chepinsi village – complex of Bahama – Korita village – Mochure village- Gorov village – Eliov village – Eliovska Reka resort

      Even if it was still cold, morning seamed to be nice. We stopped at one spring to wash our poor bikes and continued the trip till we reached huge Chepinsi village. There I counted three mosques. Continued with one rise up and once rise down the hill on the muddy and swampy forest lane. Suddenly, on the least expected moments tires were buried half in the mud. Shortly we managed to get out of the forest and bumped straight into the civilization with the swimming pools and girls taking sunbath on chaise-lounges. I felt as I am at the sea resort.

        Three hours we were savoring the lazy „standard“ heaven of tourists and later rolled our road. We passed Mochur village, which I would call the most beautiful village I have seen up to the moment because of its fascinate tiny cobbly streets.

      Rodopi Mountains again changed their coat comparing to what we saw as a landscape and the architecture of the villages. We drove on the pleasant dirt lanes, where from sharp up (this was the favorite parts of my group) was changing to free-ride downs. We passed few more nice villages till we reached hunting box, where we planned to spend the night.

 

 Unfortunatelly it was locked and we had to search for the other place. Driving on a very pleasant path, meandering by impetuous river we reach suitable bower.

All was fine except one tiny detail – dozen lumberjack gypsies – all, from the smallest to the oldest looking alike with big ears. My Bulgarian coleagues were impressed by modesty and friendliness of the gypsies. After we exchanged the samples of rakya they crushed up into the old minibus and left.
   

2011 08 13

 

Eliovska reka resort – Sivin village – Gorna Arda village – Arda village – Tracians temple – Potoka village – Borikov village – village-resort „Borikovska cave“

      It was a beautiful morning. We took the asphalt road to Sivin village, where we were hoping to refill the provision. Unfortunately the store was closed so we took the road up to Gorna Ardo. Being quite ahead, after one kilometer i realized driving too much easy...and understood I do not have my bag-pack...  with the speed of wind i got back to the village, out-riding one jeep...fortunately my bag was at the same place where i left it – next to the door of the locked store. I clambered the ancient stony road to reach my trip mates. Shortly the road changed to forest paths, where on one of the descending down the hill was deeply rutted. This was the first time I flopped on my butt down.  Village of Gorna Arda unfortunately didn‘t have any food either. We reached Arda village being extremely hungry and bumped into the feast, where my colleagues even managed to  give an interview to the local TV.

      This was the place were we filled our stomachs by ordering roast lambs. It was the way too much and only few of us managed to finish what was ordered . All that was left we packed for the trip and continued on the path recommended by the local guide. To be honest this time we were pushing the bikes up, as it was too sharp to drive. Swearing the guides, carrying our filled up to the top bellies to the very top of the hill standing ruins of the Thracian temple, finally we reached the level where it was possible to drive.  We passed small Patok village, which was surrounded by amazing view. We took fast stony road to Borikov village, where we bought fresh trouts. One kilometer and we reached our camping with bower. The colleague from Kriva Spica veloclub was already waiting for us with the kilogram pork roasts ordered by us in the morning. This was the first and the last time I ate so much during this trip. 

2011 08 14

 

Resort „Borikovska peshtera“ – Chereshite village – Kiselchev village – border cordon Gerzovica

     The morning dawned beautiful. Rambling forest paths, we were searching for the entrance to the Chereshite village. There used to be a path, but you can hardly notice it: bushy, scoured by streams, even few sloops... so we were climbing like mountain goats.  After this obstacle course the path appeared again and shortly we reached the highway. First victims. My colleague Krassi ran a fever, had diarrhea , vomited nonstop and drove at a snail’s pace. After some time he decided to bowl off. He farewell and got back to civilization. Mean while we headed direction Kiselchev village to search for a food. The store was closed so my colleagues Diado Kolio and Ryba went to search for a saleswoman and finally buggered but happy they got back. It took like an hour to find the lady who served us for the lunch Kebabcheta made at the store itself.

    While we were eating and sipping the beer, band of locals appeared and showed us the shortest path, which was recently made for timber transports and tractors. The path was 90 degrees sharp and only rain was missing...which, of course, started shortly and rained heavily. Wading through the mud we were pushing our bikes up, sliding left and right without any hope to see the end.    

       Rain soon ended, as well as the climbing up after one torturing hour. Finally we were awarded with the glorious view. We drove the fir forest in a wonderful mood. Shortly we reached today‘s final destination – abandoned cordon of the Giuzovica border, where was a well appointed bower. Although the cordon was abandoned it still had 2 clean rooms, where of course we settled down. Evening passed warming by the fireplace and enjoying full table.

2011 08 15

Cordon of the Giuzovica border – cordon of the Shabanitsa border – Shabanitsa reserve – cordon of the Kesten border – Sarjaro peak  - Kozare village – Buinov village

      Success was with us from the first day serving us a wonderful morning. We drove pathways passing fir forests and mountain glades. I should not previously think about success, as shortly the shoe clip went out of the pedal and stayed there...this was something new. Fortunately with the help of my colleagues we managed to fix it.

      We passed the reserve of Shabanitsa on the road which was going just by the border. Then enjoying our ride we went down the long road and bumped into the idyllic place: bower, stream, spring...what can I tell...its all we needed.   

      We stopped for a lunch and used a moment to take a nap. The path brought us to the border and was keeping more or less the same level with small ups and downs. Although it was spitting I was speeding  grin from ear to ear.

      Rolling down the hill we reached Kozare village. One local suggested to visit the church and I decided to accept this proposal. I was surprised by the brand new building and the icons. We reached the shelter next to the Buinov village. It had huge fireplace and even electricity, so we had a dinner and stayed for the night.

      We left the village and took the sandy road pedaling up the hill one hour, where suddenly the shot echoed and the bike stopped. I looked around and realized that my back tyre is torn and the tube has blown up. Leave the tube, more worst was that I did not have an extra tyre. Diado Kolio was the one to help me. He sewed up the tyre, but still I was afraid to blow more air and tryed to drive more carefully. Shortly we went down and reached fir forest, which was looking alike Lithuanian grove, so you can imagive the fun of driving. In the end of the forest opened an idilic view to Zmijevo village. One more fast and amazing pedaling down on the sandy road...and the dinner in the village. We took an asphalt road and headed towards the dam of Shiroka Poliana. Like crazy, everyone started to speed up and I hardly managed to keep up with my soft tyre. Within less than an hour we reached Shiroka Poliana and refreshed with the beer. Beglika was within a touch so in an hour we were at the camp.

      Beglika, one of the most beautiful ponds in Bulgaria, 1500 meters above the sea level,  huge and surrounded by spruce-covered mountains.

2011 08 16

Buinov village- Zmijevo village – dam Shiroka poliana – dam Beglik

2011 08 17

Beglika - Beglika

     
First day-off, good weather and total relax. Next to the bank we found timbered float, so we decided to visit the camping of our friend Vasko, who was living in the other side of the pond. We were rowing with handmade oars and spades and finally ...finally we reached our destination. They gave us a rapturous welcome with the bottle of Mastika (Bulgarian Sambuka) and we agreed to relocate to the camp of Vasko.Rowing back was more easy as we got few real oars. In the evening, huddled together we got to our camping, where dinner and affinity group was already waiting for us. In one word it was fun.

2011 08 18

Beglika – Karatepe surroundings – Mediani Poliani

      Again the morning was sunny and again we were lucky. I borrowed the back tyre from Vasko so was finally calm. We said goodbye to the company of Vasko and pedaled passing fir and pine forests. On our way for the first time I saw wooden decrepit houses, probably accomodated by gypsies. To reach Karatepe we passed forests and glades, after that continued long but fast going down on the sandy lane. Everyone splitted and I was not sure where I was going, but seams so I managed to get on the right way.

    In the  Inn of Karatepe we ordered beer and settle down on the grass. We were waiting for three newcommers named Brada, Vinkel and Bobi, who took the train to Velingrad. After few hours 10 of us were heading the village Mediani Poliani, passing gypsies neighboor and the cut  forest, which left dismals. For the revenge, after leaving the forest I saw Pirin mountain, where was extremely beautiful. We have finally reached the edge of Rodopi muntains.

   Shortly with swarm of dusts we entered Mediani Poliani village, where we did some shopping and settled in a nearby camping. Evening continued with roasts and tasting the fairing of the newcomes.

2011 08 19

Mediani Poliani - Jundala

      In the morning Emo was teaching us yoga excersises which are dedicated to welcome the sun. It didn‘t work for me – I was feeling bad. Emo got sick after Krassi who left us, but later got well. Ryba and Mucko were still sick. I felt bad as well and understood it was my turn. Strange, but was feeling better when riding instead of staying off the bike. All the time we were riding on the edge of Rodopi Mountain so imagine Pirin and later on Rila Mountains upfront of us. My appetite totally disapeared. While others were having lunch, I slept on the ground. In the afternoon we reached Jundala town, and settled nearby. I laid all the evening, finally started to shiver and could not put any food to my mouth. I realized to sleep outside is not the best idea, so thanks for Sasho who found me a house. The owner gave herb tea with rakya and brought me to the house. I was sweating all night, but at least I slept warmly.

2011 08 20

Jundala – Belmeken – hut Granichar


     I still was not in my best shape nor I could eat. In one moment I even thought of leaving, but thanks to Emo who encouraged me to continue. I was hardly pedaling and had only half of my power. 17 kilometers up to Rila mountain to Belmeken was ahead of us. Belmeken is the famous resort and national sport base. The biathletes passing by up and down on their bikes and rollers somehow were encouraging the fighting spirit. The biathlets were different nationalities so I was looking around to see Bjorn Dalen...but all they winter hats were making all of them look alike...          

      When we passed by the riffle shooting in Belmeken everyone splitted off, only Sasho was on my sight. We were reaching the hight of 2000 meters. The cover of the road was quite awful, drove on stones, but still the view I should note, was one of the best during all the trip we had. Still I was not that much delighted, as tried to focus on one – to reach the hut of Granichar, the mountain recreation centre. The forest ended, started shruberry and dwarf pines. In the afternoon finally I reached the hut in the high of 2180 meters.

      My mood imediatly improoved. I had bed, bedding and almost all day of rest, so could spend curing myself. 


2011 08 21

Hut Granichar – Borovets – Samokov- Kovachevitsi – Zheleznitsa – Bistritsa – Sofia

      Again i felt up, the world again looked wonderful and it was great to live. Today is the last day. Few more guys joint the Shtur Kur team yesterday so now in small groups we pedaled up reaching the pass in the high of 2400 meters. We were riding the path with amazing views.

     Now real free ride on stony tracks and lanes – extremely fun part. One flight over the handlebar, wahere very technically I managed to reach the ground on my feet, only that I hanged a bit on the juniper. So we bumped straight to the MTB park in Borovets and drove downhill route. Imagine going down on sharp, prolly should say 90 degrees angle on scoured lane, covered by patuluos roots of the fir. My Giant Trance X showed in all its beauty, although 120 mm of my Fox  RL  was not enough. Shortly we were away from the mountains and the rest 80 kilometers to Sofia took speeding crazily on the asphalt road and without any adventures.

Full of contravercial feeling I was driving in the centre of Sofia. Trip ended and it was strange to get back to those noisy streets from the places where time has almost stopped.

punktyras_800