Thursday, October 7, 2010

Visiting Villages #1 - A "Walk In The Woods"

Visiting Villages #1
A “Walk in the woods”

One of the things Lynn and I do as often as we can is to visit other volunteers.  Often we are visiting folks near the rail lines because it is so much easier to reach them.  However, the more interesting trips are when we have a chance to visit fellow volunteers who live in the more remote (generally mountain) villages.  Getting to these villages can be an adventure in itself.  But the experience of “village living” is always worth the five-hour rides in small “van-like” busses which follow roads that weave along mountain streams or in constant “S” turns as they go up and down the mountains. 
The part of these visits which is most interesting is that they are like time machines. They take you back 60-100 years ago.  Village life is completely controlled by seasons – planting, growing, harvesting & canning, in the spring, summer and fall; and then resting, celebrations, and drinking homemade wines and rakia during the cold dark months.   These places are often nestled high in the mountains with every day views that a hotel would charge a ‘kings ransom” to give you.  The volunteers are watched 24/7, and everyone knows where you are, and what you are doing.  They are also given free food from the gardens or invited for “na-gosti” (visits and food).   It is a VERY different life from the one Lynn and I live (almost anonymously) in the cosmopolitan city of Plovdiv. 

A couple of weeks ago, we had an opportunity to spend time in a small village less than 10KM from the Greek boarder.   From just this one visit, we probably have three blog entries.  The following is a blog about just five hours of that visit, during which time we took a very long, challenging, and beautiful walk in the woods.    

We had to walk out the back of the village, and along the way we picked-up two colleagues who worked with our volunteer friend.  As we got nearer the edge of the village, there were mountain fields where hay had been stacked.  And, there were small orchards with people working bringing the apples, pears, or what ever else was planted.  From the pastures we could see our destination. It was the next mountain top.  But in order to get there, we had to descend almost a thousand feet to the valley below, and then hike up to the open pastures on the top of the next mountain.   As we began the descent, we started to hear chain saws.  In the mountains, lumbering is a significant business.  During the walk, we watched several trees crash to the ground (BTW – trees do make a sound when they fall in the forest).  After close to an hour we reached the stream with a bridge crossing the gorge below.  There was also a spring “spigot” for us to fill our water bottles, with a “communal” cup for anyone to drink from.   Then it was uphill for an hour and half. 

During the climb, we passed several storage buildings with thatched roofs, and mud and stone walls.  Inside was hay, wooden pitchforks, or just anything needed for work in the mountain pastures.  During the hike up, I felt kind of like a bear getting ready for winter.  We passed more springs, and found a few blackberries to eat.  Then we found a walnut tree near a stone wall.  We almost did not make it to the top because of this.  We spent lots of time cracking the nuts on the stone wall, and eating the moist nut meat inside.   When we did get to the top, we found there were several apple trees there with small, sweet apples to munch on.  All this natural food combined perfectly with the grapes, cheese, homemade bread, and chocolate bar we had brought along for the picnic lunch. 

Even though, the weather was overcast, it was beautiful sitting up there, looking out on the vistas, and soaking up the silence.   We must have stayed there for an hour and a half.  And then it was time to head back down.  We spent as much time at the walnut tree on the way down as on the way up, but finally did get to the stream, and then headed back up to the village.  It was a great walk.   We were jealous of our fellow volunteer who can do this walk anytime.  But we decided to try to visit him again in the spring when the mountain flowers are everywhere. 


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