Goodbye Fortress Europe

As we travelled south through Bulgaria our apprehension increased. The old growth forest of the Strandzha National Park that surrounded us is a beautiful, ancient and vast protected area . Normally being in these wild places of solitude is the reason we pedal but stories of human violence had reached us, making it difficult to relax.
Tales carried on the breeze of marauding gangs of would-be ‘migrant hunters’ beating and exhorting money from refugees; of bodies being found in the woods; of exhausted, terrified refugees wandering for weeks lost in these mountains only to receive one of the roughest ‘welcomes’ available from border police; of 15ft tall x 5ft wide barbed wire fences. These are the badlands, the cruel reality of Fortress Europe.
As our path turned inland from the Black Sea we met a lone figure walking towards us. Spidery poles, soft shell and tubes gave this character an insect like quality but these appendages also identified him as a fellow alien, a traveller. Hello Human!
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Chris, walking the E3 from Istanbul to Portugal

 

Chris, from California, is walking from Istanbul to Portugal. We marvelled in turn at our audacious journeys. ‘How is it going south?’ I tentatively enquired. ‘It’s okay, but I got a lift to here. An old man and a kid tried to mug me in Malko Tarnovo yesterday’. Hmmm not quite the reassurance I wanted at this point. It was significant to Chris that the man that had intervened to save him was called Angel. We travellers are a superstitious lot, be it the hand of god or the fall of the crow’s feather. Chris’ close call with the crutch wielding old man did nothing to lighten our heavy legs, but we shared his breezy attitude that these things happen. We pushed on up steep climbs past border patrols and military on the move. As the sun faded we cursed that once again we had left civilization without proper supplies. We also cursed our fear that meant we didn’t feel comfortable sleeping in these beautiful woods that would have provided perfect wild camp spots. It seems hard to get into a rhythm with this journey, there is a basic beat to living by bike and we are still working on a tempo that suits us both.

When we finally made it to the frayed fringes of the border town we were greeted by kids hanging out by some of the poorest building blocks we’ve ever seen.  Bulgaria is the poorest country in Europe and this is it’s very edge. The kids shouted greetings at us and one boy ran alongside me smiling, threatening to throw a bag of crisps, we have read that further east these might turn to rocks. But to fear what lies ahead is pointless. In my mind I had built this town to be a lawless place full of desperate souls instead it was a sleepy garrison town. On arrival in the historic centre two off duty park rangers pointed us in the direction of a nice guesthouse where we found a bed and hot shower and ordered every vegetarian dish on the menu.

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Malko Tarnovo

After a good nights sleep we packed up and set off, once again uphill, to the border crossing. Maybe here we would find the desperate hordes, in town we had only seen locals and police. In reality we were half-heartedly waved off from Europe by a Bulgarian customs officer and then welcomed with big smiles by the waiting Turks. There was a huge fence, there were armed guards but thankfully it was all rather  uneventful, but we are the lucky ones.

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The road to Turkey
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Turkey
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Hoş geldiniz!

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