As soon as you leave Sofia, you’ll find yourself surrounded by forest-covered mountains layered like an old-fashioned paper diorama. Slicing through them on snaking motorways feels like an excursion into pre-history, I’m just waiting for a long sauropod neck to pop-up through a seemingly impenetrable blanket of tree tops.
David berates Bulgarian drivers (he hates other people’s driving in every country we visit, he doesn’t discriminate) and I try to read in order to distract myself from stress. Our car, even though absolutely not new, is a new addition to our travelling family & I worry about it constantly. Let’s talk about our car for a moment. His name is Caleche - French for a 'horse carriage' - and he’s a pure manifestation of our dreams and our unshakable faith in them. We came to visit my family in Czech two months ago with a vision to acquire a car to take us all the way to Bulgaria, within a budget people literally laughed about - a mission that amused our friends and stressed my parents. I can’t tell you how many times we’ve been showered with: ‘For this budget you’ll only find a tin can that will fall apart before you reach borders.’ A few attacks on feasibility of our dreams later, I too became very close to sceptical. Fortunately, we’ve got each other to reaffirm & reassure.
We try to be good people. I always believed good people attract other good people & together they make good things happen. We made an elliptical journey from our starting point, through countless online adverts & second-hand car dealerships, only to find Caleche back in the circle of our close friends. Arne, who’s Dutch, but bizarrely lives in my hometown of Blansko, wants to come back to a professional photography that he studied, and seeks some money injection towards a new camera. His family has two cars and he likes to party, so driving is usually out of the question for him. He had a plan to sell his Ford Mondeo Combi for about three times our budget, but because we’re surrounded by good people, he left us Caleche for exactly the amount of money we were able to spend, went through the whole sign-over admin hell with us and voilà, a joyously erected middle finger to all the doubters.
90minutes later, we’re already huffing at ‘Iskar-Panega’ ecotrail in Lovech province. 12km hiking experience around the Zlatna Panega river, that’s so ‘eco’ that at the end of the trail, you’ll find a shed with various vending machines, offering coffee in plastic cups and beer, of course. Billions of black dragonflies. David found some dragonfly wings - possibly leftover from some bird’s dinner - and I put them in between pages of my book. There’s an option to rent a pedal boat to take you most of the way back to your car, but we’ve seen many a bored couples, smoking & staring at their phones, quietly paddling away during what seemed to be an extremely slow and uneventful return journey, it wasn’t really a hard pass.
Just a few minutes away, we stop in the middle of a beautiful landscape. I worry that it’s too late, but David reassures me this is a perfect time. There’s almost no one, just two other cars blasting quite a disgusting remix of Era’s three thousand years old hit Ameno (yes, I still remember when it arrived to Czech Republic in the mid-nineties, launching a nation-wide obsession). I never knew cars to be capable of so many decibels.
‘Did you bring me to a rave?!’ I ask David half-pleased and fully shocked.
But oh boy, it’s something much more special and much more ‘me’. Prohodna Cave, close to Karlukovo village in Lovech province. It’s also known as The Eyes of God due to the two equal-sized giant holes in its ceiling. Tonight is a full moon in Aquarius, and if you’re patient - sometimes during night, the Moon will align with one of the holes, creating a perfect illusion of a celestial eye. I’m speechless - it’s such a cliche, but the size of this cave complex really does make you feel super insignificant. If these are Eyes of God, it’s some lovecraftian eldritch deity.
Continuous chirping of swallows that live in the cave ceiling, darting in and out constantly - is soon replaced by a chirping and darting of bats, taking over for the night shift. We parked next to a long stone watering trough for the night - at least we’re shielded from one side, we thought. Of course, when the ginormous and deep red full moon starts rising on the horizon, all the frogs come alive too. Croaking hysterically and so loud, it seems like they’re in the car with us. Of course, the boho esoteric hippie-us, we use this special time for charging our crystals and conducting our separate moon rituals. In the middle of mine, a loud lapping sound came from my right. I’m kind of not surprised at all that a fox - my spirit animal - came to drink from this trough.
We calculated that the Moon might come to a perfect alignment with the cave’s ‘eyes’ around 3am. Of course, I fell asleep before then and slept through our 3am alarm, but we did catch a sunrise - one of only few we ever watched together. We made one midnight trip down to the caves during last night though. A truly humbling experience - I get the whole ‘protection from the elements’ thing, but still can’t understand why our ancestors chose caves for home. It’s creepy as fuck. Thank lord I had no signal on the road and only read a message from my friend Klara - warning me about the jumping cave spiders! - after we arrived back. Bizarrely, one super huge and super intimidating spider managed to hitch a ride with us back. It jumped out of the trunk of our car and disappeared somewhere in the city. I imagine bringing a species that’s not endemic to Sofia will launch a whole chain of events, resulting in giant mutant cave spiders making their home in the city’s sewage system, attacking and eating people through toilets - where we’re at our most vulnerable.
In the morning, a whole marketplace selling homemade jams & honey, fridge magnets & booze, grew in front of the cave entrance. Dozens of thirsty goats surround our car, as they try to hydrate before shepherd's dogs get to pacify them again. We perform some sort of a basic ‘horse bath’ here by the trough and embark on a journey back home. Well, home...I mean Sofia, but since leaving our safe lives in London in 2019, our home really is wherever we are stationed at any given moment.