We are now on a different path which will lead us back into the town of Veliko Turnovo. Got to love circular hikes. Embraced by plant life and still having a defined trail, I feel at home.
Zarko wants to bring us to what he calls the fountain of Vasil Levski, a spring with drinking water.
This sends me back to the days when we used to hunt for old springs with our mountain bikes. Zarko and I would ride for miles to sample the difference between the water of fountains long forgotten but still doing their thing. That is when I started to notice the taste of water. My first downhill experience happened close to that time too. Things I will always be grateful for.
As we swim in a forest sea of violets, we break from the path to admire the view and eat some plums I brought from the home tree. In the distance, we spot a storm. I haven’t seen such a storm in years so I brush it off as something so distant it can’t possibly affect us although it is clear that is heading towards us. The guys acknowledge it calmly, but I can see they are slightly more alert than me. We set a new pace. In just minutes the wind starts swirling and bending the trees over our heads, I feel somehow honoured being in the forest, witnessing nature’s performance.
Small diamonds in the shape of raindrops fall on our bodies. I feel happy. It’s been months since I haven’t felt the rain on me. Just as we step out of the wilderness into the shelter of the city, it starts pouring so hard it gets us stranded under a terrace belonging to a block of flats. Proper summer rain. We eat peanuts, listen to reggae and plan our rakia feat. Shopska salad party tonight.
In the evening we go to the Hikers Hostel situated in the old part of town. That’s where we will make our salad, drink rakia and listen to funk.
As we do our thing a moustached guy enters the reception area. We exchange few words with him after which he takes his seat at the other end of the table. Naturally, we invite him to a shot of dad’s rakia and before we realise we have failed to give specific drinking instructions the liquid disappears in one swift Russian-like wrist motion.
To compensate for our error we insist that he takes a plate of salad and sits at our end of the table. Explaining the process of taking small sips and topping them up with some Shopska salad harmonises the ambience. It is not like drinking vodka. Here in the Balkans when we drink, we also eat, and that makes for a significantly improved and long lasting experience. In these lands socially drinking homemade rakia is one of the most effective and accessible therapies and to understand the people and the place one has to experience it. For our Russian friend – Leonid that is not a problem, he adapts with the speed of light.
Next thing Moan, Marta, Zarko and I start to improvise with our non-existent Russian language skills. It’s not smooth but it works, and it’s mega fun.
During this time of downhill like language exchange, I receive rakia infused linguistic awakening. I started to understand almost everything our Eastern vagabond is saying but not in a rational way. Not as something I have actively and consciously learned, but as something that I just remembered. A skill that exists on my hard disk but I’ve never utilised. It was one of the greatest feelings I’ve ever had. To acquire something that takes so much time and dedication in just 20 minutes. I wish everybody can experience something similar at least once in their lifetime. It’s like speed downloading from the universal database of consciousness. I was getting the entire picture flowing like the clearest stream complete with the slightest nuances not only of vocabulary but also intonation and the in-between words, subtle understanding which to be fair it has little to do with one’s analytical brain. Every time I tried to think, I’d lose the string of comprehension. The moment I relaxed and merged with the intuitive flow I’d be back on the train of mutual communication and understanding. Incredible experience! Many factors were involved. Magic is complex. Thanks, Dad for making this great drink!
Next thing, two young guys enter the reception area. We ask them where they’ve been and where they come from. It turns out they are French Swiss just back from their first DWS experience in Tylenovo. Of course, we invite them to join us at the table. However Balkan style hospitality does not work on the Swiss tribe. It’s the second time I try to apply it to peeps from Switzerland with no success. Last time was in 2014 at the Petzl Rock Trip. We had a fire burning, heated rakia and Balkan songs which is like a VIP treatment as far as I am concerned. Not enough for our Swiss brothers and sisters. I am curious to know how did they lose their curiosity? It’s the saddest thing. Whatever it is, I hope one day scientists will be able to find those specific “fear of the unknown and different” neuropaths and invent a substance that would disconnect them. The world will be a better place. I am aware, everyone has those, but they do vary depending on the geographical location, upbringing and education.