It's late autumn, raining heavily and I'm climbing up an impressive piece of very wet rock. I'm lucky it's not breeding season, or otherwise I couldn't have been able to go up here at all - I would have scared the vultures off their nests. Yesterday I arrived into Sofia and drove for three hours to the south east: close to the Turkish and Greek borders. I met with my host Mihaela at her Lake Retreat, the sun was shining abundantly and I looked across the Studen Kladenet reserve to enjoy the gorgeous view from her house.
After a good hearty Bulgarian lunch consisting of meat, potatoes, salad, breads and spreads, I took a boat across the lake to the Studen Kladenet Lake Reserve. The autumn colours are amazing. Within two hours, I spotted red deer, roe deer, European bison, griffon vulture and a white-tailed eagle. How incredible!
When we drive back to the boat that will take me back to Mihaela's Lake Retreat, there was an amazing sunset to be seen with beautiful blue colours over the lake.
The next morning the sun decides not to show itself and instead it is cloudy and drizzly. But that's autumn. My guide -and Mihaela's husband- is taking me for a hike up the big rock behind their house. I only brought my trail running shoes but they are terribly insufficient in this weather and luckily I can borrow a spare pair of decent hiking boots from the outdoor couple. The path that leads through the village now consists of an incredible thick and sticky mud. We see a neighbour milking her only cow, a few sheep, a few dogs. Typical small village life, and beautiful in it's authenticity. Once we leave the village, we go through a patch of forest and dozen of deer are running through the trees a few metres ahead of us. A big stag keeps a close watch on his herd, and a close eye on us.
Once we get out of the forest, the path becomes small and rocky, and we climb quickly. After another 30 minutes we are nearing the top. The view from the top is, despite the clouds and drizzle, impressive. After five minutes the rain pours down on us heavily and my guide gestures that we will go back. He then quickly points up behind me. When I turn around, a massive griffon vulture soars over our heads. I don't even have time to grab my camera, but just enjoy the moment, and the sight is now etched into my brain.
I change my dripping wet clothes into a dry set at the house and say goodbye to my lovely hosts. I drive an hour east and meet with the local Rewilding Rhodopes team - Stoycho, Desi and Christof, who are all very enthusiastic about the work they do - and the prospect of showing more tourists their beautiful backyard.
I spend my last day in the Rhodope Mountains in and around Madzarohvo. It has a totally different landscape again and is truly a bird watcher's paradise. My guide Marin takes me to see the vulture hide and again the landscape inspires me. I'm glad though that the sun is coming out again, as it all even looks better in the golden light and the red, orange and yellow leaves are even more impressive. I spend my last night at The Wild Farm where I'm treated to a soft bed and local delicacies. This visit was really too short to do the Rhodopes justice, but I now have a taste for more...
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