To the Reservoir! (11-07-2010)

So I know this guy. I can see where he lives and it’s not that far, as the crow flies anyway.

We’re friends too, so on occasion we’d like to take a break from the busy village life and have a little lunch, exchange stories and work tips and so on but we can’t, because there’s mountains, forests and a reservoir in between us with no direct way across for 50-100 miles.

Oh the comedy.

“I can see your house from my house!”
“I can see YOUR house from MY HOUSE!”

So one day we decide, “what’s the point of being in the beautiful Rhodope Mountains (where there’s no poison oak/ivy, poisonous snakes or spiders and no significant bear threat, by the way) if you can’t just ignore the paths and the roads and find your own way somewhere.

You know, get a little lost and so on.

“Alright, it’s in my calendar.”

So the plan is to head to the reservoir, he on his side, me on mine and meet at the points where the two sides are closest and then, if necessary, I’d swim across.

Yuk, yuk, yuk.

*Don’t worry Peace Corps, I may be crazy enough to have come here, but I’m not crazy enough to die in a hydro-electric damn.*

What actually happens is the weather cooperates and it’s a gorgeous, even hot autumn day. I slowly make my way down the side of the mountain after having checked the map and deciding on which mountain ridge to follow to the road.

When I got to the end of the flat, and generally tree-less area, I can hear the firecrackers, rifle shots and dogs barking from the hunting party that’s work down below.

“Hmm, I’d better stick to the right side of the ridge, just in case. And maybe sing a little, to really make sure.” I’m not very excited about the idea of being shot by a hunter whose ears perk up and trigger finger gets itchy from the sound my foot steps.

After an hour and a half of knowing only that I was “going down hill,” I reach the road and find a clearing that faces the reservoir. I can see the rendezvous point on the other side, but I can’t see anyone there, it’s still over a mile away directly. And I’m definitely not going directly.

I call on the phone and my friend is indeed there – he found his way through the forests without err – despite the warnings of the villagers, “It can’t be done! There’s no path! How will you get there? It’s kilometers away!”

After warnings like that, you pretty much have to go.

It’s at this point, walking and jogging along the side of the road that I realize how absurdly slow it is bushwhacking your way through a forest compared even to walking. Without really thinking about it, I’d kind of just assumed walking to be walking, but in only another 20 minutes I’d covered, on the road, what would have been a huge pain in the butt if I were trying not to slip coming down the steep side of a mountain. “Duh,” I know, I know. But still.

When I finally get directly across from the peninsula on the other side of the reservoir, I make another call.

“There’s two house-boats below you, one looks empty and has a boat, the other has some guys working on it and has two boats.”

Good to know, I can’t see down to the water on my side at all because it’s all steep drop-off and trees between me and the water line.

I climb down, using roots and saplings like handholds and get below the tree-line to where the water used to be before they started filling up the new damn, which is upstream from where we are. There I see about five guys, going in and out of the aforementioned house-boat, doing this work and that.

One of them notices the random guy standing just below the trees, wearing a dirty-orange vest, sack diagonal across his chest with two two-liter plastic jugs full of beer hanging from the strap, tied there with twisted-up plastic bags. (I had to tie them by the heads to the strap because whenever I’d lose my footing I’d have to use my spare hand to hold onto whichever one wanted to go flying down the hill – it was the only way to have my hands free if I fell, while not risking the loss of my precious cargo).

“Hey,” he says.

“Hey!” *Big smile,* “can I use your boat?”

“What are you doing here? Where’d you come from?”

“I’ve got a friend on the other side of the reservoir, we’re going to have lunch and then I have to go back to my village. I came down from the road.”

“Hm.”

He disappears into the house, he and another guy come out and I wave. The second guy kind of smiles, kind of waves and then without another word, the first guy gets into the boat and ferries me to the other side.

An important thing to remember here is that Bulgarians cannot resist an opportunity to be hospitable. They just can’t. They don’t quantify gifts, or how much their generosity puts them out of time or resources. Later we joked about how out of the whole plan for the day, all the ground covered, all of the assumptions that it would take “this long to get there,” and “the area under the road might be passable here” and so on, the one certain thing was that if given the opportunity, a Bulgarian would help us.

Later when I tried to give him money for the gas for the boat, he refused and when I tried to leave it on the boat and jump off, he lunged and shoved it back in my pocket. – I know, right?

Lunch was delicious. There were rare delicacies, like crackers and cheese, and even something that you could call salami. More seriously though, there was wild-mushroom risotto. Quite the hookup and quite the surprise too. I’d skipped breakfast so I was quite the happy camper when I saw the food-spread.

When it got to be time to leave, I called the man with the boat (I got those digits when we first met), got across and scrambled up the side of the hill.

On my way home I stopped at a hotel/restaurant, the only one in the region, that happens to be at the head of the trail I wanted to take home (I figured it’d be a good idea to not force the trailblazing on my trip back up the mountain, when I’m running out of daylight).

The food was not good, it made me a little sad, but since I was glowing from all of the ambient Freedom (how much do we Americans love Freedom, am I right or what?) on this particular day, it didn’t make much of a difference. The calories did help me get home though so that was good and appreciated.

By the time I was half way along the trail the sun had already dipped behind the mountains. Turns out sundown comes about an hour early when you’re here and not at sea-level. That was mildly disconcerting, but as I found out, I’ve taken this trail enough times before (once is apparently enough times) to know my way in the dark. When I finally got back to the village, the street lights and the sounds of the bar, were welcome signs of being home.

Turns out it was Vladomir’s birthday, so there was a little drinking to him that went on, but of course I had work the next day so everything was kept Kosher.

I also had the opportunity to reassure, through my presence and my story, all of my Bulgarian friends in the village who took my joke about swimming the reservoir too seriously, telling me I would freeze to death and be turned into ground meat (by the hydro damn) and then trying to force me to call and cancel my plans the night before.

I’ve got to remember that sarcasm doesn’t translate very well.

Good times though.

Sadly no pictures however, I was afraid my camera would get wet.

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