29 August 2005
Friday morning we had to come to “class” packed and ready to go because right after lunch we boarded a 30-passenger bus for the ride to Govedartzi for the VEGA-BTD weekend retreat. Near our destination we came across the film crew for “The Contract” again. Apparently they were shooting a police chase scene; Ryan saw two American (Ford LTD) police cars—no celebrity sightings though. We arrived at “Djambazki Family” guesthouse where everyone immediately took a nap (we stayed out a little too late Thursday night despite having a test on Friday morning.)
That evening we received some Bulgarian cooking instruction; most notably how to make the Bulgarian national salad: shopska. Julia and Ryan cut up tomatoes and cucumbers while our host demonstrated how to roast peppers on a metal sheet over an open fire. Afterward we had to peel the peppers which Paris and Dimi then cut into the salad. I cut onions until my eyes watered, and our host performed the final and most important step: grating a mountain of sirine cheese over each portion. Technically, Shopska salad is just tomatoes and cucumbers covered in sirine (without the peppers and onions.)
Saturday morning we had a breakfast of palichinkas with homemade blueberry and wild strawberry jam. (Incidentally I discovered a palichinka stand 4 blocks from my apartment; I suspect I will be having flinzen for breakfast quite often now.) After breakfast we set off for our hike in the Rila National Park. For the first few km we shared the trail with people participating in an orienteering race; they were running around looking puzzled with their maps, compasses, and flags. The actual Botanical trail we had come for started about a mile later. We had our very own botanist, Dimi, to point out the objects of interest; which was necessary because—despite being paid for by USAID—the signs were in Bulgarian only. At the top of our climb we had a bag lunch overlooking the beautiful glacial valley below (note how it is U-shaped.)
Our hike ended at the “chalet” Вада—it is actually more accurately described as a hut—where our bus was parked. While waiting for the rest of the group to arrive I discovered that this way station had its own little hydroelectric plant. At first I thought this little a-frame barely 6 feet high was a pump house, but upon noticing a 6" penstock going in one end and tailwater flowing out of the front, I immediately realized what was going on. For Arno & Simon Froese’s sake—but you're going to have to click on the links to see the picures—I stuck my camera through a gap in the door to get an interior shot showing the turbine, some pulleys and belts, but unfortunately not the generator. I followed the penstock up the hill to find a simple but effective diversion, control structure and dam. Offhand, I would say they have almost a 100 feet head.
House Djambazki is apparently renowned for its food in the area and I can see why base on Saturday evening’s dinner. After the obligatory shopska salad and Rakia, I had probably the best soup I have ever tasted and—as the entrée—an exceptionally delicious fish—and I’m not a big fan of whole fish. These particular fish come from the high (2000+ meter) lakes in the park; Paris commented that living at that altitude these fish are more bird than fish! All evening we were regaled with Bulgarian folk music from the surrounding residents in the village; although this was organized (and paid) for our benefit, we could tell these folks were having a great time getting together, drinking Rakia, and making music—a kind of jam session.
Sunday morning we again head to the park and hiked up another trail this time ending at another “hut” situated at the base of two majestic peaks. Unlike the previous day, there were tons of people here including some old folks who had managed to pick their way up the rock-strewn path and, while eating their lunch, busted out in traditional songs—specifically about Rila and the Maliovistza peak which would alternately hide and reveal itself behind a curtain of clouds—actually quite stunning.
After returning to House Djambazki to pick up Aideen (VEGA-BTD director), her 2-month old boy, and our bags, we headed back to Sofia with a stop at an artsy craft store in Samakov, which—as imagined—we guys found boring, but the women loved. We were probably all a little sore from all the hiking, but it resulted in a good nights rest.
Again, Ryan has an excellent account of last week's activities on his blog; click here to read about these events and more from his perspective (and see another picture of me!)