Day one: This was what travelling is all about
From where I was standing I had the beauty of Bulgaria before me. I could clearly see all seven lakes of the ‘Seven Rila Lakes’ trek, and all the hard work and effort was worth it. After all, this was what we came for, but it was the four girls behind me taking ‘ultimate selfies’ that made it such a memorable and worthwhile experience. This was what travelling is all about; this truly was travelling at its best.
Rewind about 18 hours and I was chatting to a girl, American Kate, over breakfast in Sofia. We had your usual breakfast conversation over Nutella on European bread before we were some onto familiar territory – where have you been and where are you going next.
Kate’s eyes lit up as she quickly told me all about her plans to go trekking to the Seven Rila Lakes, stay overnight in a hut in the middle of nowhere, and continue onto Rila Monastery, which admittedly was something I was thinking about seeing myself.
Once she had finished, Kate looked at me and said: “You should come too. It’ll be a lot of fun.” Almost nonchalantly, I replied I might just do that.
Later that evening I saw Kate again. It was obvious at breakfast we would be hiking together – sometimes these things don’t need to be talked about, they are just assumed – and we were soon planning our trek to the Seven Rila Lakes and Rila Monastery. When I say “we” were planning, I was listening to Kate tell me all about it as she had already done the research; all I had to do was turn up in the morning.
Also involved in the conversation was another girl, British Kate. She had planned to go onto another city that night, but after hearing Kate and I talk about our trek, it wasn’t long before we convinced her to join us. This was travelling, and two quickly became three.
The next morning saw our little group head off together at 6am.
We caught a lift to the bus station we needed, a good hour outside of Sofia, with a local Bulgarian guy who American Kate had been Couchsurfing with.
Even though he couldn’t speak the best English, he still managed to show three complete strangers (well, two complete strangers) a little Bulgarian hospitality by buying us breakfast of banitsa (a puff pastry stuffed with white cheese and spinach) and ayran (a drinkable yogurt). It was exactly what we needed for a full day or hiking ahead of us.
The thing about travellers is you can spot them a mile off, and at the bus station we started speaking to two girls, Ceci and Malin, who also were hiking to the Seven Rila Lakes. This was travelling, and three quickly became five.
Luckily for us, Ceci was Bulgarian, so our job of getting to the Seven Rila Lakes became that much easier and we all deferred to her.
Once we got to Dupnitsa, we took a bus to Separeeva Banja (2 lev, approximately €1) and a taxi to Pionerska (4 lev, approximately €2 per person), which was at the bottom of the mountains. To get to the top of one of the peaks we took the ski lift (10 lev, approximately €5 for a one-way ticket).
I had never been on a ski lift before, and I have to admit, being rocked back and forth with the girls chatting behind me, I knew I was in for a day to remember. All around me was the deep, dense forest that has come to define Bulgaria, and as I slowly ascended to the top, the mountains became clearer and clearer, some of which were still snow-capped.
The Seven Rila Lakes is one of the most popular treks in all of Bulgaria, and with reason.
As you can probably guess, they are seven lakes all in close proximity of each other high up in the mountains. In winter, they are frozen over and covered in snow; in summer, once melted, they are a clear emerald green, and each one its own source of beauty.
The trek to the top of the Seven Rila Lakes took about five hours, but we were walking slowly, getting to know each other a little better while walking on the trail.
Once we got to the top of the Seven Rila Lakes trek, we all had the beauty of Bulgaria before us. The views were simply stunning, and we all took it in; that’s before we started taking selfies that is.
After seeing the Seven Rila Lakes, the five of us summited the highest peak in the area (about 2,800 metres above sea level). While at the top, Ceci decided it was the perfect place to practice some acrobatic yoga, and it wasn’t long before she was up in the clouds.
With time pushing on, we picked up our pace and carried on hiking. We were staying in this little hut in the heart of the mountains, the only place around for hours.
By the time we arrived, we had been hiking for seven hours, so it’s safe to say we were all pretty tired.
It’s hard to describe the hut, but it has obviously become its own little commune with an assortment of people living there. With no hot water and limited electricity, it really is cut away from society. It is just you and the mountains; nothing more, nothing less.
That night we sat around drinking rakia wrapped up in warm woollen blankets. Not before long, one of the guys living there produced a pair of Bulgarian bag pipes. As we followed him outside, there was already someone else playing a set, the dulcet drone drifting over the moors towards the mountains.
Perched against the wall, we were all treated to a performance of Bulgarian folk music. After 10 minutes, someone started singing, illuminated by the full moon overhead.
The five of us looked at each other and smiled. We didn’t need to say a word. After all, this was what travelling was all about; this truly was travelling at its best.