Prohodna (Eyes of God Cave)

A big shoutout to my high school friend Barbara for today’s amazing excursion!

I slept like the dead last night and was still exhausted when I woke up, even after nine solid hours of sleep! It was sheer will power that got me up and on the trail with the dogs. I didn’t want to over do it today since I do have another couple of full days of travel ahead of me. I had originally thought that today would just be an errands day, but Barbara posted a picture to my Facebook wall last week that blew me away after I confirmed it was not Photoshopped and meant a half day excursion!

The Eyes of God. I have not been able to determine ownership of this picture and it is all over the web. If it is yours, just drop me a comment and I will remove it or give you credit. Thank you.

The Eyes of God. I have not been able to determine ownership of this picture and it is all over the web. If it is yours, please drop me a comment and I will remove it or give you credit.

Barbara posted this picture because it was taken in Bulgaria, so she immediately thought of me. I did some research and discovered this amazing geographical formation is in a karst cave known as Prohodna, very easily accessible, and… 30 minutes from Malak Izvor.

I did my work for the day and set off around 10:30 or so. I turned on Google Maps once I got to Yablanitsa and they directed me without any wrong turns to the cave site just north of Yablanitsa. I passed one sign in Cyrillic only just past the town of Karlukovo indicating I was on the right road.

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Just as Google Maps insisted I had arrived when I was in the middle of nowhere like I didn’t know existed in Europe, I saw a second sign for the cave. Woohoo!

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I still cannot get over how much Bulgaria reminds me of southern SK or maybe the Okanagan.

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I parked right near the sign, not realising that I could go straight down to the cave opening. But the road down was just a teeny bit rough and I wouldn’t have wanted to do it in a rental vehicle anyway.

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Getting into the cave isn’t very difficult. I think anyone who can walk could get to the formation, especially if they have someone to hang onto.

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Standing in the cave looking out towards the parking lot:

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This cave system is popular with rock climbers and spelunkers.

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And tah dah!!!

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I couldn’t believe that the formation was right there and that I could easily take a good shot of the “eyes” without special equipment or having to climb or whatever. Even in daylight, the effect was profound and unmistakable.

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You can really see the “nose” as you move towards the back of the cave:

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The complex is truly massive and there are hiking trails throughout it.

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The hiking terrain wasn’t that different from what I get in Malak Izvor, so I didn’t go far. I did climb up this mini cliff to explore a large cave opening.

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Amazing view from up there!

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What goes up must come down… Some scrambling on my butt was required!

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When I’d had my fill, I went back up to my car and then decided to check out that little building.

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Okay. Possibly my dream house. SO CUTE! 🙂

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There’s a monastery to the left.

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I then retraced my steps to Yablanista and headed west towards Sofia to get groceries at the Kaufland in Botevgrad. I drove around town a bit, but there wasn’t anything that would have made it worth paying to park so I could walk around. So I just went to get my groceries. First, though, I wanted a bit of lunch and I knew that there was a grill right outside Kaufland where I could grab a quick bite.

I could understand the menu well enough, but was glad that it had pictures confirming exactly what you were getting for your 1.70BGN. I picked a kufte plate, three meatballs with a bun and sauce. The transaction went smoothly. I ordered and she told me the price. Once I paid, she put my kufte in the container and said, “Sauce?” I saw I had a choice of ketchup, mustard, or lutenitsa, the wonderful Bulgarian answer to ketchup, a pepper and tomato based sauce that can be mild or spicy. I’ve had spicy homemade lutenitsa in Yablanitsa, so I decided to see what the commercial stuff is like and replied, “Lutenitsa, please.” She had her hand on the ketchup pump and appeared surprised by my choice, but made the switch. Finally, she rattled off something I didn’t understand. Instead of rolling her eyes or making assumptions, she tried again, more simply, and said just one word as a question, “Here?” Ah, takeaway or eat in? I said “Here, please,” and she smiled before adding the bun to my container and telling me to enjoy my meal.

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I was hungry. 🙂

I enjoyed my quick lunch. The commercial lutenitsa is very different from the homemade, being completely smooth and mild. There’s just something about red peppers that elevate the most boring dish. I really liked this version of the sauce and could see myself eating it more regularly than the spicy homemade stuff I had that made me sneeze!

After that, I did my shopping. This will likely be my last big shop before I leave. I think the thing I was most excited to come home with was a broccoli! I know I’m already at the point where I have to start eating down some things, like the rice and pasta.

One of my favourite things at these bigger grocery stores is the better cheese selection. Bulgaria has two cheeses — sirene, a crumbly feta-like cheese, and kashkaval a mild white or yellow cheese that you can slice and melt. I’ve found some good uses for the sirene, but all the kashkaval I’ve had has been a disappointment. I’m glad to get to a bigger grocery store for some rich Red Leicester from England (which has displaced sharp Cheddar in my cheese hierarchy) and some Parmigiano-Reggiano or Grana Padano, whichever is on sale. Kaufland has the best sour cream I’ve found yet in Bulgaria, so I made sure to grab some.

I headed home after that and it wasn’t until I got to the exit for Yablanisa and Teteven that I realised that the signage was only in Cyrillic. When I research driving in Bulgaria, I read that you can count on road signage to be in both Cyrillic and Latin letters, which is complete horse hockey. Even on main highways (like the one between Sofia and Varna that leads to Yablanitsa), you often only get Cyrillic right until the exit, where the Latin letter sign will be posted just after the exit. Unless you have eagle eyes, you will miss it! I met an American in Plovdiv who is living in Germany and is in Bulgaria for two weeks. She figured it would be a waste of brain space to learn Cyrillic for that short amount of time (same thinking I had about learning more than absolute barebones Bulgarian), but she said she regretted it as soon as she started driving here. Driving here is almost as stressful as in Mexico and I know I eliminated a huge chunk of that stress when I made the decision to learn to read Cyrillic.

I know I mention this quite a bit, but the more travelers (and even expats!) I meet who cannot read Bulgarian, the more I understand just how different my experience has been from most Western tourists because I can read the language. I chatted extensively with the hotel clerk in Veliko Tarnovo and she had me reading all sorts of stuff because she couldn’t believe that I could. In just two months here, I can get through a basic menu, recognise some stores (pharmacy, bookstore, supermarket, butcher shop, etc.), recognise some buildings (police station, town hall, library, museum (and of what), match the street names from my English tourist map to the Cyrillic characters on a street sign, and more. The American living in Germany said she tried to memorise what some words and names look like, rather like trying to memorise Japanese or Chinese characters. Not particularly efficient!

So it’s been a pretty low-key day. I’m debating attempting a long road trip tomorrow, but am cognisant of the fact that I’ll be away Friday and most of Saturday and may not want to spend another three solid days on the go. I just need to come up with a backup plan that needs the car and that is a little closer. Off to walk the dogs and then do some research while I enjoy a beer!

My Bulgarian Shangri-La

My clever boy Sausage helped me discover an amazing trail a couple of days ago. Today was the first chance I had to get back up there with a camera!

We headed straight up the mountain.

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This is a very steep like slope, with foot holds cut in. You can barely see them in this picture.

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Here’s my feet in two of them. They turn the slope into a staircase.

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Metchka and Sausage ahead of me just before the tough bit.

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I don’t know why, but this final bit up is still a challenge.

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Here’s my village, Malak Izvor (Little Spring). Population of about 300.

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I used to stop here and then go down another path. But Sausage was keen for me to know there’s more through here.

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This is a logging road. I know because I saw a logging truck go down it.

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I followed them up the logging road.

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Sausage then veered off to show me this footpath.

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That goes to this trail that parallels the logging road.

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Amazing views from that path when the trees clear!

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Metchka’s waiting for me, Sausage is sniffing around.

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I got to the end of this trail at least three times before I realised that Sausage was trying to tell me that there’s more beyond it!

Some pictures of my Bulgarian Shangri-La.

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Max is here for the weekend and arrived with a present. I’d reported that the 10-year-old cooktop had developed a leak, so he brought me this gorgeous shiny thing to cook on!

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Hiking with “My” Dogs in Bulgaria

I was thinking about doing a video about my walk with the dogs and when Croft asked for one, I knew I had to do it!

Well, the things I do for my readers… I wasted almost two hours trying to edit this raw footage in the truly awful iMovie app and then YouTube wouldn’t cooperate. You guys really don’t pay me enough to do this. 😉 So here is the absolutely raw, shaky, breathy video. Watch or don’t, it’s up to you. Just don’t go criticising my lack of video taking skill. 😉

Settling Into My Bulgarian Routine

I wanted to sleep in today, but the dogs spotted me when I got up to pee at 7AM thanks to the glass front door. I went back to bed, but I could hear them whining. When I finally got up and threw open the curtains, I burst out laughing to find their cute faces pressed against the window.

The morning routine is that I top up their food and water bowls, then dress and head straight out with them for a hike. First, though, we have a cuddle session. Mechka is a total suck, but I think Sausage is even more taken with me. I hope I one day find a human who is as happy to see me first thing as Sausage is! It’s not even that he’s giddy about his walk. He just wants the attention!

We hiked for a bit, then I came back to have breakfast, which I realised, with immense shock, I could have ordered in nearly flawless Bulgarian — coffee with milk and a tomato sandwich with butter, cheese, salt, and pepper.

Then, I got to work transcribing a fairly boring hearing and then started on an interview with a jewelry store owner. I finished very late the last two days, so I decided I was quitting at 5:00 today, Sunday workload be damned.

I took my lovebugs on an extra long walk after work, ripped open my right calf on some really sharp thorns that also lightly scratched both of my wrists, and was amused by how close Sausage sticks to me even though he’s off-lead and could go as far as he wants. Mechka is more prone to wandering off by herself, and then coming back to me for some attention. I can’t believe just how good these dogs are. It’s like they’ve been mine our whole lives.

Penghu the bratty cat and I are also getting along beautifully. He’s learning that I don’t tolerate cats on tables and counters and I’m learning to keep my food on high shelves! He’s a cuddler and I love putting a movie on and inviting him onto my lap, where he burrows and starts purring to raise the roof.

I feel so blessed by how well this assignment is turning out. I was so worried about how I’d get one with the pets and never expected us to just fit.

As for Bulgarian wildlife, there are very large and aggressive spiders as well as boars… It’s been quite an education. Bulgaria still has real wilderness. Then again, I did see a fox in suburban London, so maybe wilderness is a subjective term…

I’m almost through my afternoon beer and thinking about supper. I’ll probably do a pasta with a fresh oniony tomato sauce and a little sour cream with chicken. All this fresh air and exercise makes me hungry!

Max should be out here Monday so I’ll be able to ask about some time off to go exploring. But I have to say that, for now, I’m quite content with my little Bulgarian routine and housemates.

 

Cairn Spotting: Hiking Arches National Park’s Primitive Trail

Today was what I hoped my Arches experience would be! Perfect hiking weather (not too hot and just enough cloud cover) and great scenery!

I went to bed super early with the plan to breakfast at McDonald’s so I could use their wifi. By the time I’d dressed, packed my lunch and day pack, and made it down the road, it was just past 6:00. I caught up on some online stuff over some hot cakes and sausage (knowing I would work that off soon enough!) and a really good cup of coffee.

This would be my last day in the park since tomorrow’s forecast is cruddy, so I could fit in only one major hike. A popular one is to the famous Delicate Arch, but it just looked like an uphill slog to me. The most difficult and longest hike in the park, the Primitive Trail, sounded like a lot more fun and would let me see several arches that are not otherwise accessible. I’d spoken to someone at the visitor’s centre yesterday about the difficulty level of the hike and told him I found Angels Landing at Zion easy. He said that absolutely nothing in Arches compared to that hike and that the Primitive Trail would hardly be a challenge for me as long as the weather was good (rain would make the trail slippery). So that helped cement my decision.

I drove straight to the Devil’s Garden parking lot, arriving around 7:30. It is about a half hour drive from Moab to that parking lot! Since I was early, I was able to park right at the trailhead.

The hike did end up being pretty easy except for one section. You have to follow cairns to make sure you stay on track and I had bits where the cairns were pretty far apart, so I was moving with caution to make sure I didn’t get lost and could get back to the last cairn I’d spotted.

Well, I got to the first fin I had to cross and the cairns were confusing. I crossed a very narrow and steeply sloped ledge on my butt to find myself faced with a very steep climb up. That just didn’t seem right. It look positively impossible and I felt a flutter of something I hadn’t really faced at Zion: fear. If that was the trail, I was done. I started to scoot back across the ledge and realised as I looked at the sheer drop down that I was truly afraid, bordering on terrified, and coming back across felt like it took forever. I was really glad to reach a wider section where I could get back on my feet. I’m glad to know my survival instincts work and that I know when to turn back! But I couldn’t believe that that was truly the trail, based on what I’d been told.

So I took a look around and up and finally spotted a tiny cairn at the top of a steep slope of bare rock! The second cairn I’d spotted that I thought was telling me to go across the ledge was actually telling me that this was a good spot to step up onto the first foothold of the slope. From there, I could just barely see the other spots where I could get decent footing and pull myself up. This wasn’t quite as bad as watching someone climb a vertical rock face without any equipment (think Kirk at the start of “The Final Frontier”) since I was on a slope, but there was zero room for error as it was a tumble straight down if I slipped.

I got a comment yesterday about my footwear that I want to address. I wear Keen Newports on hikes like these. They are a cross between a sandal and a closed shoe and the absolute perfect thing to wear for scrambling around sandstone. The guy at the visitor’s centre commended me for having them and said that they are his favourite shoes for hiking in Utah parks. The sandstone can get slick if there is sand under your shoes and the way the Keen tread is made, sand doesn’t really stick to the bottoms unless it’s really wet. They do suck in sand, but I still wouldn’t want anything else, not even proper hiking boots, when scrambling around sandstone. I really trust my Keens to not slip out from under me.

Once I got over the two fins, the rest of my day was rather uneventful. Some bits were harder than others and I had to sort of throw myself up stuff (my knees are black and blue), but there wasn’t really anything that was particularly challenging.

I really liked the spur to Private Arch, where you get to the end of the trail, turn a corner, and there’s an arch!

Dark Angel is a column of dark sandstone jutting out of the northern end of the park and the northernmost thing on the map. So I took the spur there and back, but found it wasn’t really worth the energy I had to expend compared to what was at the end of other spurs. But what can I say, I’m a completist. 🙂

Double O Arch, at the end/start of the primitive trail was pretty anticlimactic. Further down, at the end of a spur, I found my favourite arch of all, Partition Arch.

The end of my hike was the start of the Double O Arch trail, also considered difficult/strenuous. The final bit (first bit if doing the trail in that direction) was a bit of work, but nothing like what I’d experienced so far.

With all the spurs, I hiked a total of 7.2 miles or just shy of 12KM by the time I got back to my truck. I did the hike in just under 4.5 hours, a very good time considering that I stopped to eat and enjoy the view.

I actually still had stamina to do the Delicate Arch hike, but my knees were done. How the damn knees feel compared to how much stamina I have is just incongruous. I’ll just push on through the pain as long as I can…

The trailhead parking lot was very full as I pulled out. Arches is definitely a park to enjoy early in the day. Even if I had decided to try the Delicate Arch trail, there was no parking at its trailhead.

And now, pictures. With blue sky!

I’ll probably head back out on the road sometime tomorrow, but today was so perfect that another day in the park, especially in crappy weather, would be a disappointment!