Third time lucky?

Third time lucky?

Estimated reading time: 12 minutes

Rhodopean Explorer, Monday, June 3., 2019

Yesterday we visited Bansko, and instead of reaching the Lakes as we had planned, we went to Melnik. Today we will make our third and last attempt in getting to the Lakes for this tour, will we be lucky this time? But before that, we go out for a hike.

Early morning hike

Once more, we did not set a time to get out and move. Like yesterday, I don’t want to wake up Evo. Instead, I am just getting prepared for the day in my room and opening the door to the corridor, so he knows to come in once he is ready. However, if he has the same approach, we will both stay in our rooms until we have to check out of this hotel.

Anyway, if nothing else, I have a little bit of time to start a backup of my photographs

My plans work out perfectly; just as I am about to finish my backup, Evo turns up at my door, ready to leave for the hike. Yesterday he mentioned getting to some hiking point by a taxi while having the car at the other end of it. However, plans change overnight sometimes. Instead, we are now going to the Melnik Pyramids.

Melnik Pyramids

This is not a human-made structure of some sort; the Melnik Earth Pyramids (Bulgarian: Мелнишки пирамиди) are formations of grey-white sand and clay for which this area is well known. They belong to the southern end of the Pirin Mountains and have been a natural monument since 1960.

The Pyramids form changes due to wind and weather. However, the 1-2 cm thick layer of clay serves as a protection from too much erosion. Today the area is a habitat for 32 different bird species of the Bulgarian Diversity Act, which are worth protecting. Thankfully the wine farmers are doing their work like their ancestors did, without pesticides. In theory, many of them should receive extra funds from the EU for their protective work, but the application process is not easy, and the regulations are strict. Many who have tried once and did not get the approval will not apply for a second time. Hopefully, they will continue their excellent work and not sell to some businesses with bulldozers.

Melnik Pyramids
Melnik Pyramids

Hiking the pyramids

There is a hiking path all the way from Melnik to the Earth Pyramids and Rozhen Monastery of St. Nativity of the Mother of God (Bulgarian: Роженски манастир Рождество Богородично). However, that would take us three hours and more one way. Instead, Evo drives us to a parking space near the Monastery from where we start our hiking adventure. To speed us up a little bit, he even carries my backpack for me. Not that I would have asked for it, or that I would even have considered asking. But yes, I do have to admit it comes as a pleasant surprise and relief.

The path is in some areas narrow and with cliffs on at least one side. Would I have been able to make this last year? I don’t think so.

Steep cliffs and narrow paths
Steep cliffs and narrow paths

Things have changed since last year, and I am delighted that I can do this hike. Though, I do question my sanity when we reach a slippery, wooden bridge. Well, there have always been people telling me that I am crazy. So I better be mad enough for this bridge as well 😀

In the aftermath, it is easier to walk across than what I thought it would be.

Soon enough, we reach the top of the Pyramids. Given that it is sand, Evo advises me to lay down if I need to get close to the ridge. However, safety first does not stop me from “hanging” over tree branches to take photographs.

Formations of the Pyramids
Formations of the Pyramids

Of course, there are again stories behind those formations. With a little bit of imagination, you might find the face of one of the old gentlemen from the Muppet Show here. Or indeed a hiking pole far below the trail. Since I cannot spot any bones, I hope the hiker only lost his stick and not his life here.

As usual, time passes fast, and we have to start our return tour. This time, after we master the last climb, I am carrying my backpack again.

Evo hasn’t yet made up his mind to leave Melnik today or if we stay another night at the hotel. However, the Rozhen Monastery is close to our parking spot and definitively worth a visit. So before we head back to Melnik for breakfast, let’s have a look at the Monastery.

Rozhen Monastery

Rozhen Monastery (Bulgarian: Роженски манастир “Рождество Богородично”) appears for the first time in 13th century greek documents. It is today the largest Monastery in the Pirin Mountains. However, the buildings are not the original ones from the 13th century since a fire destroyed them. Today’s Monastery dates back to the 18th century, and it had its high time in the 19th century. What is so special about this is that it happens during the Ottoman rule of Bulgaria (1393-1878).

Fresco at Rozhen Monastery
Fresco at Rozhen Monastery

There is more to learn and see around here; however, we share the space with a school class, making it challenging to access everything. Evo has used his time wisely and made the decision that we are going to leave Melnik. So we have to return to our hotel to check out on time.

Breakfast

OK, you could call it lunch. After all, it is already 11 a.m. when we order our breakfast. Not that I mind it at all. As usual, we both had a granola bar in between, and the light for photography is more important than having our meals on time. Once again, we have Banitsa and yogurt with some tea. However, this time the yogurt is different. It is not made of cow’s milk but sheep’s milk instead. The sheep milk gives it a slightly different taste, which is hard to describe. It is not a bad taste by any means.

Leaving Melnik to reach the Lakes

Time to leave Melnik behind and make a last attempt to reach the Lakes before I leave Bulgaria tomorrow. Once more, we drive directly into a storm front. Up in the mountains, I can see a good photograph coming up. However, I do want to get a little closer still. If this road does not make the turns the way I need them, or if we have to take an intersection and leave this path behind, then well, I will not get my photograph.

I am lucky, though. When we reach an area close enough, there is also a little space along the road for a stop. As if someone knew I would be coming along.

Stormfront over the Pirin Mountains
Stormfront over the Pirin Mountains

I have barely made it back into the car when it starts pouring down as if there was no tomorrow. It is hard to see where the road is going in this rain. Additionally, landslides, as well as trees, have come down. It will be good to get out of these mountains. Thankfully we make it without an accident and wait out even worse rain in a nearby town. After this, the weather starts finally improving.

The Lakes or not the Lakes

Eventually, we reach the intersection where we have to leave the main road and continue our journey on a smaller one. It leads us directly through the forest and along some lakes. However, this little road comes with bumps and waterholes.

Suddenly it happens.

The car shuts itself down. While Evo can fix it, but only a few hundred meters farther down the road, this happens again. What to do now?

We both would like to go to the lakes. But what if we get entirely stuck here? Or, if this all happens again tomorrow when I have a plane to catch? Evo mentions he could call the owners of our planned accommodation, and they would probably be able to pull us out. However, what if there is more rain tonight? Will the road be passable then?

It is a tough decision to make. We abandon the idea of getting to the Lakes for the third time. I am glad I do not know what I am missing out on, but someday I will be back and learn what I could not see this time. It does not ruin the day for me. We could not get there this time, so I have another reason to return to Bulgaria – as if I needed more reasons 😉

At least we can take a short walk along one of the lakes and take some photographs before heading back to the main road. After all, this is not one of those “we drive past all the beautiful places, but you won’t be able to get out of the car for a stroll and some photos” tour. If nothing else, we get some photos to remind us of the day we almost got stuck in the mud. 😀

Lakes from afar
Lakes from afar

The long way home

Now what is left is the long drive home. No, not back to Norway, back to Evo’s place. And not without another photo stop at yet another lake.

Not the lake we wanted to reach, but still a lake :)
Not the lake we wanted to reach, but still a lake 🙂

Not without a stop for a delicious dinner, either. One more of those dinners where we share the food.

After dinner, we still have some hours of driving left before we reach Evo’s home shortly before midnight. What a day!

Too sad that this is my last night in Bulgaria.

Well, a day later in Sofia, it turns out it was not my last night after all. Just before we make it to the airport, I fall ill. Too sick to fly home tonight, Evo books me instead into a hotel room. Later that night, he gives me a call so we can plan my new plane tickets and he is going to take me to the airport a day later than planned.

While this wasn’t the end we had in mind for this tour, it is nothing than a small bump along the way. I still love and loved every single day of this adventure and cannot wait to come back for the next one.



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