An intense weekend

I’m not sure I’ll be able to convey everything I did this weekend but I’ll do my best.On Saturday morning, we headed out to the Rhodopi bus station in Plovdiv to catch our bus to Smolyan. Smolyan is very close to the Greek border, the capital of its providence and a 2.5 hour bus ride away. The drive was incredibly beautiful, winding through the valleys. After we made it to Smolyan, we bumped into another PCV who would be travelling with us (we are convinced the PC injected a homing beacon during one of our vaccines as we are able to find our PCV friends in cities with uncanny speed and ease). We went grocery shopping for dinner since Stoykite (the village we would be spending the weekend) didn’t have a market where we could get anything really substantial. We caught a minibus to the village. It was packed and travelled at roughly 10 mph (a liberal estimate).


We met up with the PCV who lives there and works at the pensiony (a juvenile delinquency home). She lives in the vacation home of a British couple. Since they were spending the next two weeks in their property, we spent the weekend in a house of one of the British ex-pats she befriended (and is actually working with at the home). The homeowners, who weren’t there until this morning, we quite cheerful and interesting. They have five children of their own but have adopted ten others. Their adoptive children all live on their own now and are mostly from Eastern Europe.

After we made dinner, we went to the pensiony to see were the PCV worked and to meet the kids. We toured the dismal facilities and met the enthusiastic kids, aged 10 to 17. They were sentenced here for various crimes, ranging from stealing to prostitution. We had a disco night in one of the game rooms. Being the only guy in our group of seven, I was quickly hunted out by the boys (they make up a sizable majority there). This resulted in several speed hand slapping games which turned into arm wrestling and then ended into a push up contest. It was a lot of fun, though some of those kids were deceivingly strong. One of the boys eagerly asked me to take his photo. However he scowled for the photo.

It seemed like every boy in the room saw me take the photo and I was bombarded with photo requests. The next boy flexed for his photo. The next boy, trying to outdo the previous one, took off his shirt and flexed. Every boy after him took of his shirt and asked to be photographed flexing. I’m going to have to do a lot of explaining to the FBI why I have a several photos of topless underage boys on my camera. Each one made me swear that I would email it to the PCV working there. Thankfully, my batteries died and I spent the rest of the night dancing with these awesome (though mischievous) kids.

The next morning we headed out to Shiroka Laka, where the Kukeri Festival is held. Since their isn’t regular bus service there and we were in the middle of nowhere, our only option was to hitchhike. It was a very rewarding experience. I caught a ride with a couple from Sofia going to the festival as well. They spoke very good English and knew all about the Peace Corps. On the way home, I caught a ride home with a doctor and his wife from Plovdiv. They were nice and very interested about the Peace Corps. She gave me a map of all the “must see” cultural sites in Bulgaria as well as some recommendations.

Shiroka Laka was busy but it was good that we got there when we did as it got very crowded. There were already some Kukeri dancing around from store to store. We strolled around, looking at all the vendors and chowing down on traditional Bulgarian food. The festival soon started and it was quite a show! There were several groups from all around Bulgaria. Each ceremony lasted anywhere from five to ten minutes and the costumes they wore were all ornate. The used props varied from ox plows to cannons. Some of them were difficult to follow as they were three or four subplots going on at once!

(more here. I’ll upload more later. I took over 500!)

The last one involved some thinly veiled racism where the Kukeri chasing some “evil spirits” (dressed in black face and committing stereotypical negative Roma behavior) into a straw hut and (literally) setting it on fire.

That wasn’t the note I wanted to end on. After all the ceremonies, the village center broke out into a large horo. We milled about a bit, ate more and danced. When we had our fill, we hitched back to Stoykite.

This morning, we discovered there was no bus service to our small village since today is Liberation Day. We started to hike to Pomparvo, a tourist village, to catch a bus back to Plovdiv. We hoped to hitch a ride. However no one stopped, leaving us to hike 13km through the mountains. It took us over two and a half hours to get there and some 100 cars past us. However, our luck changed as soon as we got to the bus stop. A guy approached us, asking us where we were headed. As soon as he heard we were going to Plovdiv, he offered us a ride for less than a bus tickect. We thought “why not?”, piled our stuff the back of his station wagon and we were good to go. There were four us, one for every seatbelt. Unbeknownst to us at the time, the guy also promised a lift to another lady. Four people squeezed in the back and we were off to Plovdiv!

The guy was very nice and knew some of the PC administration. He told us stories about the area and some of his friends (including a bronze medal cross country skier from a Winter Games in the 80s). As we were driving along, swapping stories, he asked us if we wanted to pull over and go to the Bachkovski Monastery. Why not! We pulled over and he gave us a guided tour of the area. The monastery was packed and we didn’t get a chance to go into the chapel. We were, however, able to peak through a window. The place was beautiful! It was turning into quite a day, and it wasn’t even two at that point!

We got to Plovdiv and thanked him for a wonderful time. We went to the train station and bumped into three other PCVs all heading home from the festivities. We shared stories before heading on our way. I left Stoykite at ten this morning and I got home, after travelling almost nonstop at six! I’m going to sleep well tonight.

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One Response to “An intense weekend”

  1. Kukeri 2009 « Chronicling Bulgaria Says:

    […] Kukeri 2009 By Jimmy This is how you ward of the demons (from the beginning of the month). These photos were taken in Shiroka Laka. I was there last year. […]

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