After a “village” breakfast at the Devin Spa Hotel (included in our room rate of 42.50 Euro) we packed up the ANIMAL and hit the road. We had originally planned to head north for about 550km to Motocamp….where well known HU member, Doug Wathke, and his Bulgarian girlfriend, Polly, have set up MotoCamp Bulgaria which is a hotel, café and campsite for bikers and the first of its kind in Eastern Europe. It is located in the small village of Idilevo at the foot of the beautiful Stara Planina mountain.  However, when we worked things out it was going to be a big ask to get there and back to the Turkish boarder in the timeframes we needed due to our Green Card Insurance for Europe running out….and Vince had heard about huge delays at the border which further compounded the problem….we decided not to chance it. We sent our apologies to Polly, who had already booked us in…..maybe next time! More info can be found at http://www.motosapiens.org/motocamp/

So we just gunned it for the border instead…..which was about 4 hours to cover about 300km. Sure enough the border was packed……there was at least 5 km of trucks backed up….people were out of their now stationary vehicles…..the car line was not quite so bad….maybe about 2 km or so…..but a group of patched up bikers from Turkey were weaving their way through the traffic and so the ANIMAL tagged along…. we were lined up about 5 or cars back before we knew it….Brilliant. I dismounted and got our paperwork together……Turkey is the first place where we need to get our Carnet du Passage completed and stamped. The passport and customs people from Bulgaria were no problem…just stamping passports and waving us through customs ……then onto the Turkey boarder. Again a little bit of a wait….but nothing tragic…passports stamped but customs were not keen to deal with our carnet…..I insisted that it was important and we needed it done….I had even filled it all in for them ……all I wanted was a signature and a stamp….eventually they sent us to another building….and the girls there were nice…..Vince had warned me that our rego papers were out of date (the renewal had happened on line and we don’t have the actual current documents)….so I did some distraction talking to the girls asking them if they had been busy and saying what a lovely country they must have since so many people are lined up to come in etc….they softened and smiled and told me about some places I must go see……and luckily the expired date was not detected……everything in order…..a sticker with a barcode was put onto the ANIMAL and as we passed through the final customs inspection point we were scanned and sent on our way. I was pretty pleased with myself…..as borders can be difficult and stressful…and as we travel further East…..more complicated. All up it took us about an hour and a half…..brilliant! Vince was really chuffed with how things went as well….he says I’m just the bomb! It will be his turn to do all this when we get to Iran and Pakistan….as they won’t want to deal with a woman…..so it will be all up to him!

Now in Turkey, we then did a further 200km to arrive at Uzunkopri for the night, stopping enroute at Edrine for lunch. We were sitting at a little cafe when another biker arrived…..he was passing through on his way home (he is Croatian but lives in Germany)….saw the ANIMAL and had to stop and say hello. He was a highly entertaining fellow called Mato. He chatted to us at length about his many travels and made us a gift of a sticker for the ANIMAL, as well as a Croatian flag sticker. We gave him a 2 up adventures sticker which he immediately put onto his own bike. He was a lot of fun.

In Uzunkopri we stopped at the first hotel we saw…. the Gunes Hotel….at the tidy sum of 100 TL (Turkish Lera)….we had three single beds to choose from in a very old and shabby room, overlooking the markets frequented by scavenging dogs and cats. The ANIMAL was parked in the alley beside the hotel which the owner assured us was safe! (Despite our concerns she was still there, unharmed in the morning.)

After freshening up we took a short walk through the streets and market where we met a young boy, with a long unpronounceable name, whom we have nicknamed “Aladin”. He was helping in a stall with a man….who we established was not his father….and when I asked to take his photo it became almost a family snapshot. The shop owner gave Vince and I a banana each….they were really yummy. No one could speak English and we of course can’t speak Turkish…..but none the less it was a lovely interaction. We told him, as best we could, that we would come back in the morning and buy some cherries to take with us.

We found a small cafe and Vince had dinner…..I shared a little of it….as my tummy was still not that great, and I didn’t want to upset it more….what I did eat was delicious….the food in Greece, Bulgaria and Turkey is all fantastic….so fresh and tasty….it makes me question the quality of what we get back home.

We had an early night, as Vince was in quite a bit of pain from the long ride today….tomorrow should be a shorter day.

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!

Noisy guests in our hotel (50 Euros including breakfast) managed to keep me awake most of the night and after breakfast we thought we could get a quick start to the day….only to find that Greece is an hour ahead of Albania, so instead of 8.00am it was already 9.00am. I have had to use two tie down straps to hold my jacket together as the zip is completely buggered. After yesterdays issues with my senna falling off and my braces whipping my neck in the wind because my jacket couldn’t close I thought it best to secure it somehow….Vince says it’s a new line of Adventure Riding Lingerie ….NOT!

It was only about 40km to the Greek border, so after refueling it wasn’t long before the Greek Officials were questioning us…..Vince because he no longer looks like his passport photo (all hair, moustash and beard)….I was also asked to confirm our relationship as married….otherwise all uneventful and we were soon waiting for the other officials to stamp our passports. It was very convenient as one side of the office stamped us out of Greece and the other stamped us into Bulgaria. A short ride later and we were at the Bulgarian Customs, but the saw our Aussie Passports in my hand and just waved us through….no searching for the ANIMAL! Not that we have anything to hide …its just less time consuming not having to unpack and repack panniers, dry bags etc.

We stopped in a small village just after the border called Marino Pole and managed to buy a couple of soft drinks and chocolate bars….the prices were in Lek but they allowed us to use our Euros (2 for the lot) as we didn’t have any local currency.

We rode along the 198 scenic route which took us through to Dospat, but we stopped a little short at a local cafe near Osina to have a toilet break and some lunch…..although the owner spoke little English, we were able to sort out lunch of Mussaka with a delicious yoghurt side. Two serves, drinks and break cost us all of 12.50 Euro …..cheap as chips here! (And afterwards Karen thinks it was actually only 12.50 Lek, so she paid double perhaps).

We continued on towards Teshel, but there were no hotels there, so we headed South to Trigrad, as we saw a sign. This took us through the scenic Trigrad Gorge and past the Dyavolsko Garlo (Devils Throat Cave) and the turn off for Yagodina cave (8km out of Trigrad …part of the Buynovsko Gorge. Much of the traffic involved horse or donkey drawn vehicles….and of course we still had to watch for livestock. The biggest issue was the quality of the roads….Vince says every now and then they build a bit of road around a pot hole in Bulgaria….some of the road had subsided on the mountain side and there were many large cracks and areas where the road was sunken….a good reason never to ride at night!

A local woman flagged us down and tried to encourage us into sleeping in her house for 30 Euro, but we managed to politely fob it off and continued on our way. The hotel we had seen the sign for could only accommodate us for one night and we were hoping for two, so we backtracked to an earlier hotel we had seen ….and they too could only give us one night. Katia (sic) our host spoke no English but took quite a shine to me….she thought I was 16….way too young for Vince (haha)….she is 57 and was keen to know our ages (which we wrote down for her)….another local who spoke some English helped explain. The hotel was lovely and only cost 40 Euro for the night. We had a meal there, with a few drinks and it cost us only 21 Euro for everything.

There is a project supporting Brown Bear Observation out of Devin with a small centre near our hotel….we made contact with the organisers (Danny) and have booked a tour (150 Lek about 75 Euro) for us to hire a Jeep and a Guide and we will go tomorrow around 5.00pm for the Observation …we get to go to the cave and to stay in a hide and watch the bears…..sounds great…we can’t wait!