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Living on the Road - Stage 7: Bulgaria

Updated on July 19, 2012

In the late 1970s and 1980s I had visited Bulgaria several times, traveling to different places by hitchhiking, in the 1990s and early 2000s I was a regular visitor of the Varna Jazz Festival. Now, after almost a decade, I came back to visit this beautiful country again to work in volunteer projects, to attend the Varna Jazz Festival and the No Border camp, and to become a member of the organizing team of the European Hitchhikers Gathering.


Working and traveling

After arriving in Bulgaria, I spent the first night sleeping on the roadside before hitchhiking to Pleven where a couch was waiting for me. The next day I hitchhiked to the town of Yablanitsa to go to a nearby village where I had my first volunteer job in Bulgaria. It was a new project, and I lived and worked there for more than two weeks. Back on the road again, I hitchhiked to another village but I stayed there only for few days to work there in another project. Then I had no special plans, hitchhiking, expecting the unexpected, and so I ended up in Asenovgrad, a town in the Southern part of Bulgaria. I stayed there for several days, trying to find a job in a nearby monastery, sleeping on the roadside or in the forest, one night together with three other travelers from Bulgaria which inspired me to write the poem Hitchhikers Lullaby. Then I found a couch in Stara Zagora before hitchhiking to Uzana, a small village in the mountains close to the geographical center of Bulgaria where I had a weekend job at an eco festival. Back on the road I hitchhiked to Haskovo, two nights of couchsurfing there, and then I went to Ivan Vazovo, a village near Plovdiv where I had my next job for one week. From there I hitchhiked to Varna to attend the jazz festival. I stayed in this city at the coast of the Black Sea for about one week, couchsurfing, listening to some good music, and meeting the other members of the organizing team of the European Hitchhikers Gathering there after the festival. My next stop was the Hitchhikers Gathering at the beach of Kara Dere south of Varna where I spent another week. From there I returned after a short stop in Varna to Ivan Vazovo where I worked for one more week in the same project. Then I hitchhiked to a small village near Pernik in the Western part of Bulgaria, working there for several days in another volunteer project. My next destination was the No Border camp where I arrived after two days of hitchhiking including a short couchsurfing stop in Haskovo, on the same couch I had surfed some weeks before. From Siva Reka I traveled to the capital Sofia where I spent about one week surfing three different couches. It was my last stop in Bulgaria before moving on to Serbia.

Varna Jazz Festival

It was the 20-year anniversary of this international festival, and compared with the festivals I attended in earlier years, it had become smaller, two bands every night, but that is not so bad because it is much easier to concentrate on the music. At every concert one Bulgarian and one international band performed, the highlight of the festival was the international trio Priority with Israeli pianist Vyacheslav Ganelin, Lithuanian saxophonist Petras Vyšniauskas and drummer Klaus Kugel from Germany, the most interesting Bulgarian group was undoubtedly the trio Acoustic Version, a band which exists since 1985 and which made important contributions to the Bulgarian jazz scene. Three nights with some great music, meetings with some old and new friends - I enjoyed this extraordinary festival again.

Kara Dere beach
Kara Dere beach

European Hitchhikers Gathering

It was the fourth edition of the European Hitchhikers Gathering, an annual event which takes place every year in early August, and which is held in a different European country every year. This year it happened in Kara Dere, a wonderful and untouched beach at the Bulgarian coast of the Black Sea where you cannot find any hotels or pubs, and when you wake up in the morning you can watch the sunrise and the dolphins jumping out of the sea. The idea behind this event is to bring together hitchhikers from all over the world, to share hitchhiking ideas and experiences, to make new friends, and to have a lot of fun together for one weekend, or, if you want, even longer. The program of the gathering also included a yoga workshop, a No Border workshop, a living library and other activities. This gathering was attended by about 150 hitchhikers from about 30 countries including the United States, Canada, Mexico, Australia, New Zealand and Japan, and even the hitchhiking doggie Nina was there. It was a great pleasure for me to work in the organizing team of this wonderful event.

at the Greek border
at the Greek border
Fortress Europe - detention center in the town of Lyubimetz
Fortress Europe - detention center in the town of Lyubimetz

No Border camp

The main demands of the No Border camp which I attended in Siva Reka, a village close to the Turkish and the Greek border included the demilitarization of the borders and freedom of movement for all people, the legalization and decriminalization of all migrants which arrive in the European Union and the closure of all detention centers. One of the preconditions for Bulgaria to join the Schengen-zone in 2012 is the militarization of the Turkish-Bulgarian border. On the first day of action, after street performances in the town of Svilengrad (I performed my poem Unity there) some 300 activists from all over the world marched to the headquarter of the Bulgarian border police which culminated in the symbolic placing of worn shoes at the entrance in recognition of the migrants who lost their lives on their way into the European Union. The second day of action included protests at the border crossings to Greece and Turkey, and on the last day protests were held at a detention center in the nearby town of Lyubimetz.

Some final thoughts

I spent almost three months in this country which is rich in beautiful landscapes like mountains and the coast of the Black Sea. I hitchhiked almost 3.000 km in this country without any problems. You don't have to wait for the next lift for hours, most of the drivers are very friendly even if there is a language barrier, they usually drop you at a good spot where it is easy to continue hitchhiking, and it happened several times that I was invited for a lunch or a drink. One of my drivers was a pastor from South Korea who gave me some money. I also enjoyed couchsurfing in Bulgaria meeting some very friendly hosts on my way. It was also a pleasure to work in all these volunteer projects, most of them were only in their early stages, and I had the impression that there is a growing interest in such projects which offer a more independent lifestyle. One of the problems I faced in this country was the internet access. In remote mountain regions it is sometimes impossible to get internet access, and when you go to libraries you have to pay in most cases. But Bulgaria is also a very poor country, probably the poorest in the European Union, and very often I heard the word slave. On of my drivers, he was in his early thirties, told me that he is working all day, and when he comes home from his work he is too tired to play with his five-year-old son, and he said that he became a slave of his job having no time for the most important thing in his life.

Stay tuned - there is more to come ...


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    • B. Leekley profile image

      Brian Leekley 

      6 years ago from Kalamazoo, Michigan, USA

      Back in the 1950s, from around the age of 11 or 12 until I went away to college at age 18 in 1960, I used to hitchhike often from our little village in Illinois, USA to the nearby small city of Waukegan. While attending Knox College in Galesburg in the middle of Illinois, during long weekends the springtime I would hitchhike about the state carrying a loaf of bread and a jar of peanut butter. During the summer after my sophomore year, I hitchhiked to, and back from, San Francisco. I lived in Canada 1967 to 1977, and during the several years that I lived in Thunder Bay, Ontario, during warm weather months I often gave rides to hitchhikers traveling across the country. When back in the USA, I was too busy running the family used book shop to notice the hitchhiking trends, but eventually it dawned on me that the previously frequent and unremarkable experience of seeing a hitchhiker had become extremely rare. And it still is. I am curious about what factors brought that cultural change in the USA and about why it didn't happen in Europe. I wonder what a multistate hitchhiking trip would be like now here in the USA. I daydream sometimes about giving it a try one of these years.

      Anyway, I'm enjoying your hitchhiking about Europe hub series.

    • alekhouse profile image

      Nancy Hinchliff 

      6 years ago from Essex Junction, Vermont

      Wow. Thanks for the road trip. Very interesting.

    • m0rd0r profile image

      Stoill Barzakov 

      6 years ago from Sofia, Bulgaria

      I loved this hub.

      About Kara Dere - I must warn you, that there is a project for building an Eco Village, that will probably ruin the whole eco system around the beach.

      So keep your good memory about this wild beach. It is one of the last non-urbanized areas of the sea.

      You may also check Pasha Dere around Varna, but someone should point you the way there.

      Good luck and stay on the road.


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