Saturday, July 4, 2015

Bulgaria part 2

The beautiful landscapes from yesterday continued as we rode further into this beautiful country and slowly headed south towards the border with Greece. It wasn't all fun though. I almost lost the Bonneville on two occasions. The first when Bulgarian road workers deemed it ok to simply rip up the tarmac just after a corner and couldn't be bothered to put a sign up... The second time was when filling it up with go-juice and the whole bike almost went up in flames...

Once we entered the Rodopi mountains, south of Plovdiv, the landscape changed. We followed a beautiful gorge and found ourselves surrounded by rugged mountains, wild flowing rivers, striking rock formations and on a beautiful road through it all. The only thing missing was places to stop for a photo! We don't need much to park our bikes, and we tried hard but it simply wasn't there. The photos we could take don't do it justice. Later in the afternoon the heavens opened... Rain had been following us for a while and finally caught up with us. Within seconds it was belting down and we felt like riding on a twisty road through a waterfall. At times like this good gear makes all the difference. Rukka kept us dry, which is amazing as it really came down in bathtub loads, while the new Avon TrailRider proved a worthy successor to the Distanzia as the best wet weather tyre on the market.

With no campground for at least another 100 km we did what most Bulgarians seem to do: wild camping. We found a tranquil little lake, planted the tent in the woods and called it a day. We enjoyed the hundreds of frogs, cooked a simple meal and then fled into the tent as the lake was home to an army of mosquitos who had it in for us! Meanwhile above us a magic lantern show unfolded. We had thunder and lightning for hours on end and later in the evening it rained for an hour or so.

The next morning all had cleared and we found ourselves in a beautiful area. We decided to re-ride the last part of the ride we did yesterday, where we had rain, again now that we had beautiful blue skies. Minimal traffic meant we enjoyed the ride. We saw shepherds herding their sheep, old ladies picking berries and fields being worked with horses. Logs were being transported with old Kamaz and Tatra 8-wheel trucks while old Russian jeeps and prehistoric tractors chuffed along in the fields. A beautiful day and brilliant experience. I sincerely hope this way of life remains a part of Bulgaria for a long time yet.

Shopping turned out to be more complicated than we had realised. Cyrillic is so different from our alphabet that even the most simple things are now totally unreadable. Add to that labels without pictures or pictures so unclear that we still couldn't work out what it was, which made it hard to even work out whether I had a can of tuna or sardines in my hand. Looking at the goods at butcher shop made my stomach turn upside down and gave me enough reason to become a vegetarian on the spot! So we didn't get any meat or sausages then! The fruit and veggies were well beyond their sell-by date, unless there is a new type of banana which is black instead of yellow, and we thus settled for bread and what we thought was tuna in sunflower oil.

Close to the border with Greece we turned back north towards Batak along a series of crystal clear lakes. A family of foxes crossed the road right in front of us! These usually shy animals were not shy here at all! Beautiful to watch. Later that night we enjoyed the company of a South African mother and son who were cycling around the world! Mom was in her 70s I think!

We woke early and left early too. The reason was simple: we had no food left and thus needed to go to a supermarket to get some fuel for ourselves. As 32 degrees was forecasted in Athens, we couldn't take any refrigerator stuff. So we ate the yoghurt outside on the carpark and a portion of cooked mince for lunch. The security guard looked somewhat suspicious at us and made sure he kept us in his sight at all times. Maybe he was worried we would dump our rubbish on his beautiful carpark, we didn't as Lidl supermarkets always provide a rubbish bin.

We continued south over locals roads towards the cliffs of Melnik. We missed the first fuel stop but found another not too far away on the GPS. The petrol station was there but closed and inhabited by a couple of stray horses... The next one was 30 km further, the other one 40 km back. We opted to continue and found one a little closer. A run down petrol bowser from communistic times... no card reader, strictly cash. I counted my last Bulgarian notes and he started filling up the tanks. In Bulgaria attendants fill up the tank for you... Normally this works out fine, but not today! The old bowser turned out to be a pre-automatic shutdown affair, ie he wasn't paying attention and the Bonnie tank overflowed... badly! Petrol was flowing and dripping from everywhere... and flowed over the hot engine too! The Bonnie was standing in a pool of petrol 2 mtr long and a metre wide before he finally paid attention to our 'Hey Hey HEY!' and stopped. Petrol-steam came from the exhausts and cylinders, while the tank was still open... and still overflowing. 

He went for a rag while I put the cap on the tank to avoid disaster and went looking for water. Mike only received 8 ltr as that was all my notes would cover. He never apologised but simply started filling up the next car...! I rolled the Bonnie forward, well out of the petrol pool, started and rode away immediately. Just 500 mtr up the road it started misfiring badly. Petrol had obviously worked its way into something where it shouldn't be. This went on for 10 km or so but then the bike fixed itself and I had no issue since. Still, Mike's XT was surging badly, so the fuel wasn't all that good either. Luckily it all ended without drama. Having been in a petrol fire years ago I know very well how badly this could have ended and how precarious the situation was. The aim was travelling around the world not being barbecued in Bulgaria!

We had enough fuel to make it to the border, which is just as well as I had no Bulgarian money left, and I didn't want to stop the Bonnie for the moment. We therefore rode on to the Melnik Cliffs, which was our last view of Bulgaria. The border with Greece was just around the corner, the formalities easy and before we knew it we had to say goodbye to Bulgaria and hello to Greece!