BULGARIA: 16.08. - 31.08.2003

Route: Novo Selo, Vidin, Russe, Silistra

Distance: 543 km (339 miles) in the canoe

Preface: Thanks to the sluice “Djerdap II”, most of the plastic trash stays in Serbia. So the Bulgarian Danube, which reminds us of the Caribbean, with its white beaches, invites for a stroll or swim. Unfortunately, in Bulgaria, there are several Industrial cities right at the Danube, so that latest behind Russe the fun is over. Like in Serbia, we can not tell anything about the central country, because we “only” traveled on the Danube.
Since we had lots of fun sailing, we reconstructed our improvised sail into real sail by now, and successfully put the first 10 km (6.25 miles) in Bulgaria behind us. That’s “paddling” the way Nadine likes it.
A short epilogue to the previous journey log: Since we were not able to find a suitable Internet café in Belgrade, and even our day off in Vidin was fruitless, we were going to try our luck again in Lom. Previously we had already finished a 45 km (28 miles) long stage. Unfortunately, the campground was situated about 3-4 km (1.8-2.5 miles) outside city limits, and so we got on our way, after putting up the tent to get our stuff situated. After about 45 min on a dusty farm road, we reached Lom, but since it was a bigger town it took a little longer, until we reached downtown. The search for an Internet café took another 45 minutes of following blindly directions trough the inner city. Finally, we got to a regular residential building with a business sign on the front door. In disbelief, we followed through a doorway, in which a mother and her child were sitting, up the stairs to the second floor, to be surprised by a brand new Internet café. It was a joy to use the new computer and an hour later (the connection was quite slow), we had successfully updated our last two weekly journal logs. When we got back to our tent it was pitch black again. As you can see, we do not shy away from any strains to keep our web page current. If it takes longer again until you see the next update on the web page it does not mean that we became victims of kidnappers, but most likely that we are on the desperate search for a suitable Internet café.

In Vidin, the participants of the TID were presented with a wonderful performance of a Folk dance group. Besides the dancing performance the stage of the evening made this a very special occasion because they danced in a little, old fortress. For the occasion the fortress was dipped into a romantic light by numerous little lanterns.
The following days, were demanding in a paddling sense. On the first day, we had only put 20 km (12.5 miles) of the 45 km (28 mile) day stage behind us, when we suddenly got some tail wind. Naturally, we ceased paddling and put up our sail. As you might be able to tell on the last sailing picture, we have turned our tent pole into a boat mast. Since it is quite complicated to reassemble this every morning, I now use one of the paddles for a tent pole in the evenings (only works in a tepee :-)). So we peacefully sailed the last 25 km (15.6 miles). By the way, our sail works so well, that we can even use crosswinds (up to a 90 degree angle). We spent the afternoon relaxing on an island in the Danube with a white beach. What can you (or better Nadine) want more…

But the awakening followed promptly the next morning. We already ran late at breakfast and when we were loading the boat, strong head wind set in. Most of the time, the wind was so strong that it started to haul around our mast. Together with the waves (about 40 am or 16 inches high) it was very strenuous to fight against. We are still dazzled of how we managed this 42 km (26.25 miles) long stage. I guess that the Danube must have had quite a bit of current in this area, or we might still be there today. Unfortunately, some of the other paddlers did even worse, because the last boats did not arrive until after sunset.
Two days later, we got lucky again. After about 10 km (6.25 miles) the Danube branched into two arms. Even though all other paddlers went down the right branch, we decided to go left. Later we realized that this left branch belonged to Rumanian territory and that we were not allowed to take it. For a while we thought that we may have went into a dead end but altogether we probably saved about 3-4 km (1.8-2.5 miles) with this shortcut. Just as we were getting ready to go back onto the main branch, a “Schubverband”, a large group of boats that were pushed by another cargo ship, were going by. As we had previously learned from other paddlers, such a “Schubverband” creates a large undertow, so that if you are about 1-3 meters (1-3 yards) behind it, you can easily paddle away. Naturally, we wanted to try that. Quickly we pulled aside the giant (probably 100 meters long and 30 meters wide). We calmly let him pass us by, so that we could hook up behind him. The relief was enormous. So we paddled comfortably behind the cargo ship with a distance of about 1 meter, as we were watched critically by the ship’s crew. After a few kilometers they had confirmed themselves that we would be fine, and let us be. Quickly, Nadine used this chance to use her paddle to hold onto a bar on the ship. So it happened that we were pulled the last 25 km (15.6 miles) by the SMOLIN 2 with a speed of 9.5 km/hr (6 mi/hr). Later we got two more visitors and even on the other side three other paddlers used this comfortable means of hitching a ride. That’s how we managed to finally get a “Top ten” result after over 3 weeks. Thanks to the shortcut and the cargo ship, we were just as fast as the head of the field. In the contrary to them, we did not wake up at 5: 00 am to pack up our stuff (and wake up everybody else in the process), so that we could be on the river at 6:00 am in a timely manner (I hope that that was really the case, since I only know the times from reports, because we usually sleep until 6:30 am and only wake up briefly in this morning trouble). No, we woke up at 7:00 am, started paddling at about 8:00 am and still arrived at the goal at 1:00 pm after 48 km (30 miles), with the motto: The last ones shall be the first ones!

Yesterday, we split up from the group, to shorten a 55 km (34 mile) long stage. But we had to share the sandbank we had been longing for with 25 others. We were rewarded with a beautiful sunset and even some mosquitoes
In Russe, one of the great harbor- and industrial cities on the Danube, another day of rest was waiting for us. Unfortunately, the exit was so bad and the campground so far away that we almost spend 45 minutes hauling our bags around. Like in Belgrade, another camera team was walking around. They even tried to interview me. Unfortunately, the translator only spoke broken English, so that he could not translate some of the questions he was supposed to ask. “Who cares”, is what I figured, and so I just started talking. The question remains on how he translates my English into Bulgarian, but I guess he does it just like me and just says whatever he feels like. With this in mind, I just kind of left this whole thing as it was and forgot about it. The next, (and I mean the entire day) was used to update our web page again (refer to guest book entry). Doing this, we unexpectedly passed a barber shop that charged 4 Lewa (about 2 Euro), Martin’s hair had to come off. The female barber was very communicative in spite of her broken English and told us something about TV, that made us believe she had another job with a TV station. After a few minutes, we finally guessed, what she was really trying to tell us and that was that she had seen Martin earlier that day on TV. The surprise was big on both sides. The barber couldn’t believe that we were in her shop, and we were puzzled how they managed to cut the interview into a version they were able to air. Unfortunately, we never found out what Martin said in Bulgarian.
On the last but not least day, a traditional Danube baptism was performed at a spring near the Danube. There was some uncertainty, of where the spring was located exactly (at km 411 or 404) but in the end, almost everybody made it there. In the shade of the trees, everybody sat together to enjoy lunch, talk, and wait for Neptune. At least one hour late, (the first ones had already left again), it was about to begin. First, one had to kneel on a bed of rocks. Then Neptune asked the people to be baptized for their name, origin, point of entry, several River miles, etc. Every wrong, as well as right answer was rewarded, or punished, with a slight hit of a bundle of bush branches that were dipped in water. At the same time one was drenched with water out of a ladle by Neptune’s helper (Torturer). After one had answered all the questions to Neptune’s satisfaction, the actual baptism began. One was allowed to stand up one received a new name (Danube name: Nadine Möwe (Seagull), Martin Kaschalott (some large Sea fish), and was “praised” with the wet branches. As a reward we got a sip of red wine from the ladle. This was not that delicious since we received about a few liters of muddy water (water with leaves and dirt) over our heads as we were taking our sip. Altogether a quite wet and friendly experience.

After a total of 32 days and 1073 km (670 miles) we finally (Nadine) arrived in Silistra. Even we could not withstand the general uproar. Now we had to wash the boat in the heat of the afternoon sun (one water hose for over 100 boats), pack it up, and redistribute our equipment to get the bikes ready. From “mother and dad” we received a Fikars axe as a fare-well present, and Nadine traded the book “Stupid White Man” (highly recommended) for a thermos with Sepp. The next possibility of driving in the canoe does not present until we get at least to the Nile. That’s why we decided to take the cheap offer of sending the boat back. Hubertus and Hiltraud, who are going to travel to Limburg next week to visit his parent, generously offered to take the canoe back with them (Thank you so much). The last 3 Lewa (1.5 Euros), we spent going shopping (tomatoes, yogurt, and bread) and during an Internet visit (0.5 Lewa/hr). The night of the farewell, we spent in a noble hotel in Silistra with all kinds of dance performances.
Altogether the TID contributed enormously to our journey, except for the fact that Nadine never liked paddling, except when were able to sail or being pulled by the cargo ship. We were presently surprised to see so many active elderly up to 83 yrs old)! The day stages that are partly more than 60 km (37.5 miles) are not always easy as pie. Even the fact that one has to sleep in a tent every night is quite remarkable for participants from countries in which even adolescents enjoy their summer vacation in Several-Star Hotel in the Caribbean. Unfortunately there were few younger participants (besides us there were only two others from Germany and one more from Austria), which may not just be the result of the long duration of the tour (2 month, from Ingolstadt to Silistra), but may also be a result of the journey being physically strenuous. In our opinion, younger people might really profit from the experiences of the older participants. In regards to being open-minded (Rodney wants by a computer for Christmas so he can surf the Internet and that at age 77), as well as helpfulness (look in Faces) it isn’t hard to find a few good role models. We thought it was really funny that there are several ways experience the same journey. In the TID there were several groups. First there were the “Early-birds” (i.e. “Early–morning-panic-troop”, i.e. “Refugees”). Officially it was not permitted to take down the tents until 6:00 am, but by then, most of them were already gone. Their daily goal seemed to be to get to the next campground as early as possible to get the best shaded spots available. The contrast to this was the “Nightshift” (i.e. “Graveyard shift”). After they use the morning to sleep in, they spent the day floating, instead of paddling on the Danube, or they visit several beaches, just to reach the campground right before sunset. Another group seemed to look at this tour as a “trip of the bowling league”. Their mission seemed to consist of trying to hit as many restaurants as possible. Sociability and a steadfast buzz in the evening seemed to be the purpose of the vacation. Last there were the paddlers that put importance on nature and peacefulness. They left relatively early in the morning, to spent the day on some sandbanks. Just before dinner-time, they finally made it to the campground too. If each one of these groups would write about their trip, one could think that they were talking about totally different trips. At last, we want to thank everyone for all the great conversations, the helpful hints, and the help we received. We hope that some younger people discover the charm of the TID and therefore save the TID from “extinction” :-).




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