Sunday, August 27, 2006

Rila's 7 Lakes

Hiking in Bulgaria is something that I don't do enough!

this friday, myself, Carin and Ethan set out on a hike to the Rila Mountains' "7 Lakes" in the southwest area of Bulgaria. Our goal: hike to the lakes, hike around the lakes, and on the second day, hike to the Rila Monastery.

On Friday, we happened across this little white shuttle (marshrutka) that took us to our starting point, a "chalet" ('hija' in Bulgarian) called "pinoerska." from there, we started a VERY steep hike. After 30 minutes or so, I thought we were on the brink of death! Thankfully we took a few breaks and then the trail got a bit easier. After about 3 hours of hiking, we came to the first of two hijas near the 7 lakes called "Rila lakes," where we met Ethan's Bulgarian friend Milen. After a quick 40 minute hike, we arrived at our hija, "the seven lakes."

some of you may recall that I made this hike last October with a large group of PCVs. Last time, we stayed in the first hija. THIS time, however, the hija was full, and we our trek to the 2nd hija was one in search of a warm place to sleep. The 2nd hija is much older and lives up to the second meaning of "hija" in Bulgaria- meaning it was more like a hut than a chalet! Our bathrooms were outside, the only running water was a little stream, and our beds were a shout-out to Snow White and the 7 dwarfs! Our room was just big enough to house the largest bunkbeds I have ever seen in my life! the bottom row had 7 pillows and 14 blankets, and the top row was identical. The interesting thing was that each row of beds was CONNECTED...when I saw the room, I laughed and laughed. Sadly, we didn't get a picture... This one of the wackiest things I've ever seen!

After settling into our room, we went to explore the 7 lakes. The hike was MUCH easier given that Milen served as our map and that our heavy bags were saving our bed spaces back at the hija! We scaled flat rock surfaces, maneuvered around horse/donkey poo, and were generally in awe of the landscape. We sat down for a rest at the "Kidney" lake for a quick stretch and to listen to Milen play the Bulgarian folk flute as it hauntingly echoed off the mountain cliffs. By the time we started descending the mountains for our hija around 5:30, it was so cold that we had to hustle to stay warm!

The next day, we woke up early in expectation of our 7 hour hike to the Rila monastery. This hike has become a favorite of PCVs, and as Carin hadn't yet seen the monestary, we were quite excited! our excitment was slightly decreased, however, when we realized a storm was brewing on the ridge leading to the monastery; our trip was post-poned for a later date when the chances of being struck by lightning were decreased. We decided to hike back to our destination point and grab a bus to the monastery, and had a pleasant descent. We had some extra time, so we hunted for wild blueberries and raspberries and gave inspiring advice to our fellow hikers who were on their way UP to the lakes. We knew that the hike had been harder than we'd given ourselves credit for when one man shouted to his group, "as long as there are living people coming down, we're going to be alright!" I had myself a nice chuckle and enjoyed the crisp morning air and the fact that we'd soon be at hija "pinoerska," sipping hot chocolate.

so here's a picture of one of the lakes, and one of our group and a second lake! Please check out my webshots for more pictures!

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Rila monastery

Rila Monastery!

Beautiful al fresca-ness on domes and archways

Me posing in an archway, of course!

Check out the webshots in a few days!

Rila monastery

For months upon months, I've wanted to travel to the famous Bulgarian Rila monastery. This monastery was built around 860 AD, and attracts more tourists than any other destination in bulgaria. Dubbed the "bethlehem of bulgaria," this monastery is well-known for its beauty, set off by the terrific landscape of the Rila Mountains in Southwest Bulgaria. Finally, finally this sunday, I was able to drag my friend Christin to the Monastery for good times, full buses, and loads of pictures.

getting to the monastery is a bit of a "challenge." There are three public-transportation buses every day from a small village bearing the same name as the Monastery. In order to get to the Village of Rila, almost everyone has to start in Sofia, and may or may not take detours, side-trips, and encounter long "layovers." many tour services offer direct buses from sofia to the monastery, but they range from $25 to 65 euro! So based on a hot tip from another volunteer, I practically begged Christin to take the public transportation route, promising her more adventure, as sense of can-do, and a few more leva in our pockets! We left Pernik at 8:20 in order to get on the 10am bus to Rila town. Once we arrived there, we had to wait 40 minutes or so for the 2nd daily bus to the monastery. Once you make it to the monastery, you have about 2.5 hours until a direct bus will take you all the way back to sofia! Well, we got so caught up in the beauty of the place, that when we went to board the bus at 2:45 (for a 3pm departure) the bus was SO FULL that there was standing room only, with people squished from the back to the front door. We decided to leave the crowds behind- 3 hours on a packed bus to sofia did NOT sound like our idea of a relaxing ride! we were lucky enough to catch a bus 2 hours later which took us to the town of dunpitsa, and from there we were able to go to a town near Pernik, and after 6 buses and 12 hours, we made it back to my apartment!

here are a few pictures. look for the link to my webshots in a few days!

4estita годишнина!

happy one year anniversay in Bulgaria to us!

today marks the 365th day of my life in Bulgaria! I can hardly believe its come so fast! there were times when I counted down everyday until COS (close of service), times when I woke up and suddenly it was saturday again, times when things were downright scary (WHAT are they trying to feed me?) to ridiculously funny (I once said that my frozen clothes were full of brother-in-laws, rather than ice).

here is the space where I should insert meaningful reflections on being part of the Bulgarian culture, living in a post-communist society which is vie-ing for a spot in the EU... what have I learned? Mostly, I've realized that making mistakes is the only way to learn how to do something right. I've encountered this mostly through learning the langauge, but also from "failed" assignments during training, mistakes made in the first workplace, misconceptions between cultures and people. I am firmly in support of making mistakes. and as my coworker Tsveti says "Az sam 'Za!'" (i'm for it!)

in other news, I am one of 5 youth development volunteers who was chosen to assist during the b20's (newest group of volunteers...i'm an "18") initial training. Each of us were assigned to a host community, where we will meet with the training groups and assist them with project design and management, help them organize meetings and events, and provide general support and assitance to them as friends and peers. Last thursday, we were invited to the "orientation" week in order to meet our groups, exchange contact information, and again, provide whatever support was needed. here's a picture of my group;

Toni, Karlen, The Patrick, Mike, Alden

this week was also interesting, as i learned how to take someone's blood pressure! Last night, i was coming home from a late day at work, and my elderly neighboor's door was open. When he saw me (Marteen), he began talking about taking my blood pressuere. I was thoroughly confused, but decided to come see what he was up to anyway. Well, Marteen is getting up there in age, and he lost most of his hearing years ago. His wife had taken on the job of listening to his heartbeat, but unfortunately passed away a few months ago. anyway, Marteen excitedly began describing the process to me, but i was completely lost! Since I was about 80% unfamiliar with what I was supposed to do, his thorough instructions in bulgarian were lost on me. Finally, after several failed attempts, I finally figured the whole thing out and was able to tell Marteen his blood pressure. Chalk that one up to new experiences learned! But seriously, it was nice to be of assistance to my neighboor.

well, so those are my brief reflections on one year in bulgaria. maybe during this week i'll be able to compose a list of funny/interesting things that have happened thus far, and post them!

Saturday, August 05, 2006


okay, i HOPE all those pictures have shown up.

so one of the many things a Peace corps volunteer has is time. some people fill that time by making friends, learning to cook, writhing a book (way to go randy!), playing an instrument, reading, etc...

well, our group of volunteers decided that the best way to spend our time was to RUN and to do it with a CAUSE.

We are trying to sponsor a group of young Bulgarian Scouts attend the World Jamboree in 2007! we're asking our friends, family, coworkers and all other blog-readers to help us send these kids to a World Jamboree! How can you help? you can make a pledge (sort of like Math-a-thon) towards the Scouts by checking out this website....
Select “Scouting in the European Scout Region”,
Select the currency “EUR, USD, and mention
“World Scout Jamboree 2007, support to Bulgaria, YOUR NAME, and the NAME OF THE PC (that's me) volunteer in whose name you are donating

about 15 of us have dedicated the past few months and the next 3 months of our lives to running the original marathon- the marathon in Athens. Not only will this be a personal accomplishment, but each mile we run will bring a young Scout in Bulgaria closer to the Jamboree.pleaseeace support the cause! we just finished week 5, and we've got 13 more to go!

Pictures from Camp!

hey all-

here are a few snippets from Mutli-ethnic camp in Tsarevo, Bulgaria. also check out my webshots link for more photos!

these are some girls doing the "kuchek" which is a dance done in turkish and roma cultures. In the background, one of the PCVs is dressed in traditional bulgarian clothing.

This is the whole group! the kids, the PCVs, the Bulgarian organizers...look how happy we are!

All the PCVs...we're happy to be tanned, on the beach, and working with these awesome kids!

A few of the contestants for "Mr. & Ms. Zaedno Napred"