Trigrad, Gotse Delchev, Breznitsa and a new friend

Once again a lot of adventure since my last post. Let’s see how much I can remember.

It seems many Bulgarians have espresso cofee, maybe milk (mliako), and not much else for breakfast. Daniela served a generous serving of fried dough fritters stuffed with a little feta cheese, plus coffee and herbal tea. YUM! After that I went for a walk and my exploring instinct led me to the trail going northwest toward Jagodinska village. Aside from knowing the general direction, and following the road up along the side of the mountain, my final clue was an intersection with a well-maintained dirt road where I noticed a modest size rock with just barely visible red and blue arrows on it. After following it around 30 yards finally some signs were posted with destinations and mileage for hiking. Yay. So I followed it for about 1/2 hour and followed a side track that obviously led to one of the dramatic stone outcroppings I had seen and photographed the day before. The outcropping on the left with the vertical cliff down into the gorge is the spot I found.

After returning to the guest house and checking out I started on the road back down the valley going north to meet up with the “main” road going west. But on the way just as I was below “my” viewpoint from earlier, I noticed some trails and information signs so I parked the car in the shade and got out to investigate. Chatting with some folks, turns out I was just a few hundred yards from the famous “Devil’s Throat” cave so I walked down to check it out. Since it wasn’t too crowded and the tour was about to start, I bought a ticket. This cave is much shorter than the previous one, but it was worth it to descend into a huge cavern (I think about 300 feet tall) with a stream cascading through it. Getting out was via a very steep set of stairs leading to a lovely riverbed through the gorge, lined with greenery, including zdravets which is a type of geranium that grows prolifically in Bulgaria and also in our garden at Lake Celeste (thanks to Henry Goldberg!) Back to the car, unexpectedly just a few steps from the exit, and onward!

The road heading west from Teshel is narrow and winding, with no lane markings at all, rising up through pine forests, vistas then opening onto various alpine valleys, some quite large, passing through the town of Dospat and the slightly larger crossroads of Sachovka. Quite soon after leaving Teshel I spied a sign for the village of Zornitsa and decided to make a side trip there. It was lovely and peaceful, I took some pix and spent a few minutes walking around and soaking in the scenery before resuming. Stopped a few more times to snap photos of a stone arch bridge crossing a stream and ending in a field, some panoramas, etc. Starting to see the high peaks of Pirin and Rila in the distance, with some snow still left.

The temperature in the highlands was still hot during the day but nice and cool at night. So far not much rain.

After passing through Sachovka I descended into the very large valley where the large town of Gotse Delchev is located. I stopped for a while there, walked around and took pix, and then proceeded to the tiny village of Gospodintsi to find my guest house. Wow, what a trip! Drove a mile up the paved road, which then turned to bumpy dirt road in the village itself. Most of the houses are half-finished or somewhat falling apart – both common sights in poor villages). A few yards in I see a nice looking house with a phone number on a sign which I recognized as the number of my lodging. Had a hard time getting through, consulted some neighbors who had no idea, but eventually did reach someone speaking Bulgarian, who said they weren’t able to let me in right away, and would have an English speaker call me back. After about 45 minutes (I drove around a bit) a caretaker and her two daughters who spoke English eventually showed up to let me in. I had the run of a 2 floors in a modern 3-story house decorated with folk costumes! A lovely courtyard out back. 14 chairs at the dining table and 23 pairs of sandals by the front door (no shoes allowed inside). Seemed out of place in this tiny village – and I think the owners are Bulgarians living in France.

I got in touch with a friend of our friend Martha named Salih (Bukovyan). He lives in Breznitsa which is just 15 minutes away from Godintsi. He gladly accepted my offer of dinner and suggested a nearby hotel a little further up the mountainside. Once again the road turned to a bumpy narrow dirt track, finally leading to a nice modern hotel where we had a lovely lamb dinner and warm but somewhat broken conversation, sometimes helped by Google Translate 🙂 Afterwards he invited me to visit him and his aunt the next morning which I gladly accepted. Little did I know…

Yesterday morning I picked up Salih outside his house in Breznitsa. Salih is Pomak (Muslim) and the town is primarily Pomak. We drove around the block to his aunt Alife’s house. They welcomed us and we sat outside in a narrow courtyard under a typical grapevine arbor. Salih took out two old-style two stringed tamburas and proceeded to play and sing with his uncle Ismail who is 89 years old. All the songs were plaintive sounding, mostly epic ballads, in the key of F (hicaz or minor). Salih explained that they were all local traditional songs. They were gorgeous, with a lot of subtle microtonal pitches, though they might sound monotonous to some. I recorded the entire session and noodled along on my gadulka for part of it. I also sang one song that I thought was vaguely in the same genre called Krifkono Fesce… These folks were very gracious and seemed pleased to have a foreign visitor who was respectful and interested. Once again I was in heaven and just so grateful for this unexpected opportunity to connect with village folks, deeply connected to one of the local cultures.

Afterwards Salih and I went out for soda at a local cafe as they day was heating up. Then I dropped him back off at his house, said goodbye, and headed off towards Melnik.

Heading up into the mountains again, still on narrow winding roads, I took another detour to the tiny village of Pirin. Wow! I think that is the poorest and tiniest village of all. Like many in the mountains, it’s in a steep gorge, with a single cafe (unmarked by any sign), a single store, a falling down schoolhouse or cultural center. I estimate it had around 30 houses, some of which were half collapsed and half occupied! The road in and out was potholed, and the road through the village only had room for one car to pass. I parked and went for a walk across the stream and up the other side. As I passed a horse was leaving one house with his master following, who was being let out to graze on grass by the roadside. I don’t think I mentioned before, people often tie up their horses, goats, cows, etc. in fields to graze, or graze them along the roadside. The man asked me in Bulgarian if I was on foot – I think he was asking if I was hiking from place to place. He seemed friendly, but most of the villagers either ignored me or just glanced at me curiously.

Onward to Melnik! That town has only a couple dozen residents, but it is a big tourist trap – I mean attraction :-). It is famous for its “sand pyramids” – sandy steep sculptured hills – and its local wines.

It’s getting late now and I need to go to bed so this story will have to continue again tomorrow. Darn I’m a full day behind in my story telling.

One reply on “Trigrad, Gotse Delchev, Breznitsa and a new friend”

Well, Noel – in my “book” you hit all the right spots! I’m delighted that you found the Devil’s Throat Cave – I’ve been there a couple of times and am very fond of it. And selo Pirin! With more time, I could have sent you to more people – but I think that for this time, you did a fine job.

That road between the caves and Dolen….is the one where a friend commented, when we took it many years ago, to the effect that the distance between villages is not large, but every village must be sure to get its own 15 kilometers of paved road!

Looking forward to more….

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