Trail and Error in Bulgaria

Our first night in Bulgaria

Our first night in Bulgaria

Being open minded is the key to approaching a new country.  Listening to what others tell you, cataloging that information in your brain and then finding out for yourself.  That is how we like to start a new country.

Bulgaria was very kind to us on our first day here. We had relatively quiet roads as soon as we left the Romanian borders. Shopping was easy, exchanging money was simple. We had a lovely lunch in a small town of Shabla and then headed out to the coast.  Sure, there are plenty signs of poverty – but the people have all been super nice and friendly- offering the usual confused look as we go by, and then a smile and a wave.

Light House Beach Camping

Light House Beach Camping

Our first night was wonderful – we rolled into the place where there was a campground symbol on the map – and immediately knew we had found our home for the night.  Lighthouse Beach was beautiful- the camping was perfect (except, perhaps, there were no perfectly flat spots for the tent).  There was a small restaurant, a sanitary block (showers and toilets) and a nice beach bar.  A perfect way to wind down from the chaos along the Romanian coast.

Beautiful Boardwalk - a sea wall to protect the hills.

Beautiful Boardwalk – a sea wall to protect the hills.

The next day, Monday, we woke with high expectations of more quiet roads and lovely camp sites.  We had planned to get through Varna, the most populated area on the Black Sea and Bulgaria’s third largest city, and camp somewhere on the coast just south.  We started by taking the beach side boardwalk out of Topola, which was absolutely beautiful. Easy riding, no traffic, scenic coast line under blue skies.

Road blocks

Road blocks

After several kilometers we came to a barrier which stopped cars from passing but had enough space for pedestrians and of course, bikes. So we proceeded past that barrier and the next.  At the second barrier we noticed a road coming down and a van parked just outside of the boardwalk.  We noted this as our bail-out option if the boardwalk failed us.

Walking the broken cement

Walking the broken cement

Jay and his GPS indicated that the path continues all the way around the point to the next small town.  The actual path proved the GPS wrong. First, the path had been pounded by waves and was broken up into large concrete blocks – which we walked our bikes across.  Then, the trees and bushes were encroaching the path – but there was a single track under and through, so we followed it.  Finally, there was a rather large mudslide obliterating the path into the sea.  Perhaps if we did not have bikes, we could have scrambled across.  Not worth it with our gear.  So we turned around, navigated the trees, bushes and broken cement blocks and headed up our bail out road. Which turned out to be a long, steep, hot and sweaty climb out to the main road.

A quick stop at a market for a snack (did you know they made dark chocolate Kit Kats with Peanut butter?) and a cold drink and we were off again to find pristine beaches.  We headed out along the very busy E87 – the main coastal road- looking for escapes along the coast.  Coming into Kranevo, we were greeted with a warning of an upcoming 8% grade.  At that moment Jay noticed a “path” along the coast on the GPS and asked if I would rather take that?  “Are you up for some adventure?”   Sure, especially if we can avoid another long climb.  We headed down through the run down town of Kraveno, along the coast and were stopped short by yet another land slide.

Back out to the main road, up the 8% grade – we were rewarded with a sweet downhill into Golden Sands.  We had heard about Golden Sands but were blown away by the tourism and over development. One huge resort after another, beach bars, casinos, and all the amenities any tourist could want.  We only stopped to purchase a cold drink (which cost us four times we had paid anywhere else) and eat our homemade sandwiches.  We were approached by two young Bulgarian lads (mid 20’s) who were fascinated by our journey.  The questions kept coming. They could not get over what we were doing. One of them kept saying that “it was not possible”.  They were nice enough, but made me a bit nervous when they started in on about how rich we must be….. here we go again…. All Americans are rich.

We quickly finished up our lunch and gladly pedaled out of the over-priced tourism that is Golden Beach on our way into Varna. We found our way back to the highway – trying to stay close to the water for as long as possible.  We did not hang out in Varna as it was getting late and we really wanted to get into camp for the night. We still had  to cross a nasty bridge – that was very busy with cars and trucks going way too fast and no passable pedestrian path.We took a deep breath and started pedaling and did not  stop until we were off the bridge.

Coming off the bridge, Jay and his GPS found a “bike route” along the inlet that would take us near the location of a camp ground symbol on the map.  We headed that way and had to negotiate a short and steep dirt path decent to the bike path on which I was thankful for my mountain bike handling skills.  We spotted a supermarket along the way and stopped for supplies.

We followed the road around the peninsula in search of the camping and none was to be found. Although you can wild camp in Bulgaria, that does not necessarily mean you should camp anywhere.  Safety is first and foremost when we are evaluating a spot to wild camp!

It was 4:30 and the next beach access was 20 km down the road.  We decided to head out –  but instead of doubling back to the road, Jay and his GPS indicated that if we continued on the peninsula we can connect with the road without doubling back.  An extra 18 km of steep hill climbing later we met up with the road (which, if we had doubled back would have only been 8 or so km).

We cruised the road the final 9 km towards the beach and camping symbols on the map.  We had an exhilarating downhill through Primorski Dorn and were super excited to see a camping sign on the road. That is, until we arrived at the Paradise Bungalows.  “Five  Euros, or 10 Lev and you can stay here” said the disheveled lady at the reception. “Showers, toilet and you ride with your bike 5 minutes and you are on the beach”. Never mind that the whole establishment has long been run down and over grown.  The bugs were as thick as pea soup and the sewage smelled from up the road.  Not a chance.   We headed down to the beach hoping to find something a little more peaceful.  The whole area was just as run down with wild dogs and trash everywhere.  Not for us.

It was now 6:30pm when we decided to head back up 5 km and then down another 5 km to Kamcha, A Nature preserve – which allowed camping.  When we arrived, we were surprised to find huge resorts on the hill, with a fancy sports complex.  We inquired about camping and were told 200 m down that road over there.  We headed in that direction but never came across anywhere feasible to camp. Back up to the main road and then down the hill on the other side by the river was another very long forgotten small village which gave us both the heebie geebes, lets just say the banjos were playing a little too loud.  So we thought that we would try a hotel.  Back up to the main road.  All were booked.

It is now 7:30pm and we have been on the bikes for 104 km and over seven hours. We have not eaten dinner and are not sure where we will lay our heads. So we headed back up the hill and, after being told that there is camping on the beach, we headed in that direction.

Wild Camping

Wild Camping spot

We rode up and down the beach in the dark. On both ends were run down establishments, looking pretty scary (on the south end, cars would drive in on the board walk, make “transactions” or drop something off and turn around.  We did not want to know.) In the middle was a fancy shmancy restaurant with some beach chairs.  So, after a total of 107 km with a ton of climbing (over 1100 m) we settled on wild camping on the beach half way between fancy shmancy and scary to the south.  We finally settled into our tent at 9pm, ate a strawberry filled croissant with Nutella on top for dinner and crawled into bed for a restless sleep.

Sometimes, all the planning, all the maps and GPS coordinates do not fully represent what is really there.  Apparently in Bulgaria development is occurring so fast that many of the camping places are being replaced with resorts.  In Obzor, where we are pleasantly camped in a pension right on the beach, there is camping (we checked it out on a walk today) it is adequate, in the middle of town surrounded by large fancy resorts.

Monday was a tough day- but it was just another part of the adventure.  Enjoying the ride!

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