One of the seven lakes
Bulgaria is a country of 6.5 million inhabitants bordering the Black Sea and among other countries: Romania, Turkey and Greece.
Location of Bulgaria in Europe
There’s something quite grandiose about driving south from Rila, the capital of Bulgaria, and heading towards the mountains chain called the Balkans. I couldn’t quite explain it, but the orange hue of the grass at this start of autumn was mesmerising. It’s like I had seen it before… with a sensation of vague old memory. It made me think of armies crossing the mountains and heading south, back from some military campaigns up north.
Location of Rila
I was heading towards Rila and more particularly the seven lakes, a spiritual site that had caught my attention when I first heard about it. Like many of those trips, I knew I had to go there, and I just answered the call without objecting. Curiosity took over. I did not feel much reassured in my first-price rental car (never a good idea by the way, it’s better to take the 2nd or 3rd least expensive). The engine was so small that any climbing was a test, but I didn’t care much: I was there and that’s all that mattered!
They say the White Brotherhood gathers in those mountains and that the seven lakes are a spiritual place of world importance. So I needed to see the lakes, which meant hiking several hours to reach them and sleep onsite in a mountain hut. It’s not really something I was used to do, but I accepted the challenge. I remember shopping quite a lot at Decathlon trying to get ready for any eventuality. Ah, little did I know that the real challenge was going to be the cold and I still remember that night as one of the coldest of my life. And for a reason: it was far into the negative whereas a few days before it was still around 15 degrees. Mountain is unpredictable they say, and it certainly was. But there was more.
As I took the chairlift to get to a plateau and start my ascent, I realised I was stepping into the unknown. I was travelling solo, I did not have any local contact and I was going to do a long hike with 15kg of gear on my back, on the far east of Europe. What could possibly go wrong?
Start of the hike
The landscape was beautiful and I was attuned to the environment. I had an excellent book on my kindle as companion for the breaks and I just felt compelled to see the famous lakes. Except that on day one, I did not see any! A thick fog was all around as I reached the lake level, and as I was ascending, the freezing wind was whipping my face. I mean, just look at that flag!
Not so warm there!
Visibility was poor, the sun was going down and I had passed the point of no return: I really had to find that mountain hut because otherwise it was going to become really unpleasant. I had no tent. I was just not prepared for that eventuality of harsh weather, after all.
But I was not afraid. Quite the opposite: I was in awe and very peaceful inside because I knew I was going to find that hut, it made no doubt to me. It had been a while since I crossed any other hiker. I was alone in the mountains, and there was that moment of awe and communion with nature. I felt a presence, a benevolent loving presence that was watching over me. In fact, I saw some light in the fog: it felt like it was superimposed over anything I could see, like an anomaly in my eyes. I’ve never known what it really was, but it was there that day only.
I finally reached the mountain hut, had a hot dinner and met other fellow passengers. I remember going out to brush my teeth late at night and the fog was still thick. In the morning though, it cleared and the lakes were revealed to me. I had walked past several of them without realising it! Indeed, they were all around the trail. That realisation was profound: beauty was all around me but I could not see it, and I had to wait to look back and realise it was there… A lesson, so to speak, at the metaphysical level.
The mountain hut the following day
I never saw the brotherhood or any spiritual disciple. There seemed to be a lot of Jewish people though, and speaking with some of them sparked an interest in going to Israel—which I did within the following months.
My trip continued further south near a ski resort area, although the ski season was far later. I met that English guy in a local pub who told me all about the merits of Bulgarian ski resorts and how much good value for money it was—with a special interest in drink prices as one could expect. I also took a gondola to get far up and that time it was sunny and gorgeous.
Up the gondola
I still remember to this day some moments spent in those mountains, and it is a happy memory. Not much more happened, it’s as though my duty was fulfilled: I had returned to those mountains, connected to whatever energy it is I needed to download, and I had figured out a future destination: Israel.
Last look at the Balkans