The day we almost died, happily

The day we almost died, happily

Estimated reading time: 12 minutes

Rhodopean Explorer, Thursday, May 30, 2019

After yesterday’s sunrise and sunset shootings in the Rhodope Mountains, it is now time to start our Road Trip. Little did we know this day would become known to us as the day we almost died, happily. So follow me through our adventure of the day.

The first day of the Road Trip

Today we have some car driving ahead of it, so we decided that we would only go out to shoot the sunrise if we both woke up in time without setting the alarm. It seems our beds got the better of us.

Neither of us is awake before 7 a.m., and even then, I am trying not to move before I can hear Evo downstairs.

About an hour later, he calls for me to come down and have breakfast, after which it is time to pack all my stuff. Yes, the time has come where I will leave this beautiful home for a multi-day road trip.

Countries that are closer than they really are

We are heading toward Smoylan, where we will have a lunch break. That is, if those crazy people passing us on the road don’t get us killed first. I guess you can find mad drivers in every country of the world, except for now that they are all on vacation in Bulgaria.

Spotting a sign pointing toward Kosovo being only two kilometers away. I start kidding a little bit with Evo about how close we are to the former Yugoslavian republic. Evo, knowing me, however, believes that I read something interesting about this town and immediately offers to take a detour.

However, I had never before heard about the town of Kosovo, only of the country with the same name. Knowing that we have a long way to go today, I ask him not to add it this time. I will come back someday, and by then, I will have done some research, and we will know if it is worth a visit. Of course, by the time writing this, I have already read up on it, and it seems to be a lovely town with some traditional buildings, so maybe next time I will have a chance to visit?

In Smolyan, we have lunch at the same place we had dinner last year before going to Eagle’s Eye. And like last year, Evo and I still share food, which I still love. Soon we are back on the road again toward Trigrad, the first destination of the day.

Unexpected Police stops

We aren’t that long back on the road when we suddenly get stopped by the police. Ups. Not understanding more than “Hello” (Здрасти) in Bulgarian does not help a lot when Evo asks me for my passport. Apparently, this is no stop due to an accident ahead as I believed, or maybe a speeding thing (not that I would think we were too fast anyway).

Unfortunately, my passport plays a round of “hide and seek” with me. I am pretty sure that I packed it into precisely this side of my laptop bag, though. It cannot have gone; it does not have legs!

The border police stopped us asking our whereabouts because we are relatively close to the Greek-Bulgarian border. Bulgaria does not belong to the Schengen area. Hence, border stops are relatively common in this area. There is nothing suspicious about us, so we are allowed to go on.

Trigrad Gorge

Eventually, we reach today’s first major stop. Within the Trigrad Gorge (Bulgarian: Триградско ждрело), we find the entrance to a cave, home to Bulgaria’s largest hall naturally formed by a 42meter high waterfall. The Rumbling Hall, as it is called, is 110 meters long, 47 meters wide, and up to 35 meters high. You could fit the Alexander Nevski Cathedral into this!

The cave is known as Devil’s Throat (Bulgarian: пещера Дяволското гърло), named so as its exit looks like the Devil’s head. Can you spot it in the photo below?

Of course, there is a myth to this cave! How could there not be one in the country of legends?

Legend of Devil’s Throat

Orpheus, a Thracian singer, who could please the gods of old with his play of the lyre, found and married the love of his life, Euridice. However, their wedding day was not under a good star, as Euridice was bit by a poisonous snake and died. After her death, she entered the underworld, the realm of Hades and Persephone.

Orpheus, however, would not accept her being taken from him. Therefore, he decided to follow her and ask Hades and Persephone to let her leave with him. They refused at first but were soon persuaded by his play of the lyre. However, Hades insisted on one condition for Euridice to be allowed to return to the world of the living. While leaving the cave, Orpheus was forbidden to look back toward her. If he looked back, Euridice would have to stay with Hades and Persephone in the underworld after all.

The condition seemed easy enough, and Orpheus accepted. However, on the steep climb out, he heard something that sounded like Euridice had lost her footing and was falling. Of course, he turned back, wanting to help her. Instead, she started vanishing before his eyes, returning into the realm of Hades and Persephone for good.

In Hades’ and Persephone’s realm

Devil’s throat’s massive hall is believed to be the main hall of Hades and Persephone of this myth.

I did, however, not expect it to be this cold. When Evo suggests fetching my headlight from the car, I ask him to also bring my jacket, to which he agrees. We entered together with an elderly couple, but they have somehow vanished. I am left wondering where they might be. There have been no intersecting paths on the way down here. Turns out that they actually turned back already, so we have the cave to ourselves. Even better, since a group arrives later, the guide allows us to take some extra time for photographs.

The hard way out of the underworld

Eventually, we have to tackle the staircase through Devil’s throat. Not before I point out the rather big sign to Evo, though. People with heart conditions, asthma, fear of hight, or joint problems cannot take this staircase. Ahem. Wasn’t there something? Evo immediately points out that I am not supposed to read the sign. Ah, OK, it is only there for decoration. Or maybe to increase the thrill like in a haunted house on a fair? Well, OK. Not that it would have stopped me anyway.

This staircase must have been imported from the Mines of Moria! Thankfully some improvements have been made since we do neither encounter Orks nor Balrogs. Nevertheless, it seems to have been constructed for giants and not for tiny people like me.

As usual, we take our time and a break every here and there. We cannot just walk up the stairs without looking over the handrail and make a photo from time to time.

The cave system

Devil’s throat and its caves have not been entirely explored. In the 1970s, an attempt was made with two divers and a state of the art equipment. However, the two divers never resurfaced, and no further attempts have been made. Scientists have tried to figure out the river’s undersurface flow by throwing pieces of wood into it on one end. Well, that wood never came out on the other end either. So they tried dying the water, expecting to see the same color again on the other side. However, that dye took more than two hours to go from one side of the system to the other, so there seem to be extensive underground streams. An in-person exploration will not be performed in memory of the two lost divers, though. Who knows what this cave system is still hiding from the world?

We, however, following the path, make it out again. Evo did not vanish before my eyes when I turned back to him. I guess I call that a good sign!

While I take some more photos of the river and the waterfall outside the cave, Evo walks down to the parking lot to fetch the car. It was the last car standing, and now that the group is not going to come, it might feel alone after all.

Before we meet up again, I hear some rumbling in the mountains, but I dismiss it as someone is doing some work up somewhere. Or was that Hades in the Rubling hall?

The long walk back

We decide that I will walk down the street to the parking lot to take photographs along the way, while Evo will follow me in the car. We’ll meet up down there, or so I believe.

Walking just around the corner, Evo passes me. He suddenly stops along the side of the street and jumps out of the car. Why? This is not the parking lot? Running toward me, he asks where I am hurt. What? Why? When? Relieved, but shocked, he realizes I am neither hurt nor nihilated. It turns out the rocks on the street that I just photographed were not there when he passed that place only ten-fifteen minutes earlier. Considering there was neither a crater nor a blood trail, it now seems logical. The rumbling that I heard before must have been these rocks, coming down within the past fifteen minutes or so. Had we been sticking together and maybe packing up a little earlier, or had they fallen a sooner and hit him in the car though…

Maybe there is some truth to the myth after all? Was this an attempt by Hades to get us to join him in the underworld? Nevertheless, we decide to call this day “the day we almost died, happily.”

Now for the big question. We had plans to go on from here to a place that Evo calls “The Lakes.” It would require a longer drive, and we would not reach it before sunset. Evo leaves the decision to me. However, considering that we both are still somewhat shocked, I decide it will be best to find accommodation. We can most certainly find a spot to watch the sunset from here as well.

The unplanned stop

Finding a place to stay the night turns out a little more challenging than we would have expected. However, we locate – with the help of some locals – a decent guesthouse to stay at. As so often before, we only move in to go right back out again. After all, the sunset is not going to wait for us.

A pleasant spot along the river gives us some chances to photograph Trigrad’s surroundings in the evening’s light. A small cabin near the woods raises the question if that should have been our place for the night. It looks cozy.

It is already 9 p.m., and time to call it a day and find a place for dinner. Unfortunately, the restaurant our host recommended is already closed. Once more, Evo is asking the local people for recommendations. So we find someplace…if it hadn’t been so late, already we might not even have considered entering it. The food is of questionable quality. Well, Spelunke would be a fitting name for this place. Reading “Ресторант” in a mix of Cyrillic and Latin makes sense for this place. “Pestaurant” seems appropriate. But hey, it will give us something to talk about for years to come!

Time to head back to the guesthouse for some rest. Tomorrow we will be out and about early again, another sunrise is waiting for us.

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