Not really…..no actual “hunting” even though our Guides were from the Hunting and Fisheries Association….just a Bear Observation Tour in the Mountains outside of Devin (Bulgaria)….but more about that a little later!
We were in Trigrad overnight and had a late start (Vince wanted to sleep in) followed by our breakfast which we did’t realise was included until Katia (our hostess) had her husband come and fetch us. It was unusual….salami and cheese with Chai tea ….but I am getting a bit better at trying new things now. Katia had taken a shine to me and introduced me to her daughter in law and baby granddaughter (Katerina) who is just 10 months old. We took some photos much to their delight, including some of her with us. We said goodbye like old friends kissing on both cheeks as they do here in Bulgaria, before heading off to the Devils Throat (see link below), a nearby cave. However, no one spoke English and the cave seemed to be closed except to Bus Tour Groups….so we didn’t actually end up going in (http://www.visittobulgaria.com/visit/special_tours/nature/caves/devils_throat_cave)
We then headed directly to Devin, only a short 25km ride where we booked into the Devin Spa Resort (42 Euro for a double with breakfast). Situated in the very heart of a natural phenomenon – the Rhodopean massif, at 710 m above sea level, in the center of the town. The SPA Centre of the hotel combines the unique therapeutic advantages of mineral springs, for which the town is known. I had a hot stone massage whilst I was there and it only cost 29 Euro….very relaxing for my aching muscles after some long ride days. Vince caught up on emails, and then went for a walk into town to chase up some batteries for the SPOT (as they have gone flat after 3 months of daily use).
The Bear Observation Tours have been running for around 6 or 7 years and we are the first Australian’s they have had. Our meeting time was 5.oopm out the front of the hotel and our guides, Danny (who spoke some English and has been a guide for around 10 years) and Vladimere (Guide Leader for about 25 years) were waiting with their beat up Suzuki Vitara that had seen better days. We had already agreed on the price of 150 Lek (about 75 Euro) for the tour in total. I was a bit surprised by the condition of the vehicle but we piled in with Vlad driving, Vince in the front and us girls in the back. Danny’s English was very basic but we asked a few questions about what to expect….it soon became clear that we were ill-prepared. It was a 40 min 4 wheel drive adventure up the mountain, with flashbacks from my recent experience in Albania. Vince was in his element enjoying every minute. Then we had a 20 min SILENT hike up a steep mountain track that eventually disappeared into the scrub…and as we followed our Guides, who were obviously fitter than us, I found myself getting stabbed in the legs with stinging nettles and other jagged plants and of course then it started to rain! Whose bright idea was this one….oh wait a minute MINE!
We eventually came out into a more open clearing but still had a steep climb up to the Hide. I was bursting for the toilet, and so was Vince, but we just had to hold on…..in total for the next 5 hours! Once inside the Hide we had to sit SILENTLY with binoculars (loaned from Danny) looking. From 6.00pm – 8.00pm nothing happened. The most entertainment I got was watching a mosquito bang itself repeatedly against the glass pain in front of me. It would occasionally leave the glass and fly around me….I made a silent deal that if it left me alone it could live….but one bite and it would be squish time! Luckily it left me be…but I found out later it did bite Vince on the finger. Around 8.00 three wild dogs appeared and scavenged around but then left. I was getting really bored and decide to ask to go around 9.00pm if nothing had happened. But as 9.00 approached a male deer (around 9-10 years old) appeared and we watched him for a while…. a female also appeared fleetingly but I only managed to see her running off. Another hour went by and I was at my wits end….I couldn’t really talk to Vince but at 10.00pm managed to get the message that I wanted to go….It was now pitch black and I don’t see well at night (so I could not have seen any bears by then if they had come)….I was highly stressed about 1. getting back along the almost non existent track down the mountain, especially after the rain and on the steep incline and 2. although we hadn’t seen a bear we knew that this was the territory of at least three, a female, adolescent cub and a male ….we might not be able to see them but I still didn’t want to be dinner on the way home! Danny and Vlad had to give us flashlights … as we hadn’t realised we would need any…. it was less arduous physically going downhill….but slippery in places due to the rain….I was so happy to see that clapped-out Suzuki in our flashlights. Another gruelling 4×4 decent down the mountain for 40min with my bladder about to burst….and I had also been having some tummy trouble….so that was a further worry…but we were then happily back outside our hotel. Danny told us as we had not seen the bears they would reduce the price by 100Lek, but Vince and I agreed that that would not be fair….and the proceeds help support the bears….so we actually ended up giving them 160 Lek….as we didn’t have change.
Lesson learnt….when embracing an adventure opportunity…..check out ALL the facts first…..even if there are language barriers…..FIND A WAY so you can BE PREPARED!