A nice bike, food, a hammock and a backpack – that’s all you need to go on a long hike in the mountains. What remains invisible to the eyes are the huge dozes of enthusiasm, curiosity and love of the mountain and its inhabitants. They gave strength to a young traveller to walk alone the longest hiking tourist route in Bulgaria.
The mountain section Kom-Emine is often called “the route of friendship”. In practice, this is the final section of the European tourist route E3, connecting the Atlantic Ocean with the Black Sea. The distance between the two end points - Mount Kom close to Bulgaria’s border with Serbia and the easternmost point of the Balkan Mountains, Cape Emine on the Black Sea, is approximately 700 km and can be covered in 20-30 days, depending on the season. Challenges for hikers on the way are the one hundred peaks to be traversed, as well as the large elevation of the terrain. Apart from hiking, the section along the ridge of Stara Planina is also used as a route for off-road racing.
"This route was a dream of mine," says Daniel Ovcharov, a young mountain lover from the town of Zlatitsa. In the summer of 2019, he managed to cover the legendary route as his own personal test for endurance and survival in nature. The idea to set off came spontaneously, and the preparation for the hike was improvised. From his time spent in mountain hikes before that, Daniel knows that the conditions there are constantly changing and you can only rely on your skills and instincts.
There are dozens of fans of extreme experiences that have covered this “route of friendship”, but for Daniel Ovcharov this is a path that untimately leads to oneself. "You can experience in one place all the emotions you are capable of - from fear to very strong enthusiasm and love. In the mountains you can really feel the sensation of freedom and you enjoy it as an innocent child, with all your senses," says the traveller.
"I decided for myself how to get to the starting point - with the bike in the car trunk to the Petrohan mountain pass, from where I reached Kom peak in two hours - the starting point of the route. It was dusk and I spent the night under the very peak - above the forest belt, at 2100 metres altitude. The nature there is very wild. That same evening I saw deer nearby - I accepted this as a good sign for the beginning of the hike. I slept on a hammock tied between two trees, but it was very cold. The next day at sunrise I set off again on the planned route. There is a tradition when you climb Kom peak to take a pebble to carry with you all the way, and when you see the sea, to throw it and make a wish. That's what I did. The first days I had a lot of energy and adrenaline, but I confused the road and deviated by 1,000 meters, which then I had to climb again. It takes time and energy, but there was never a moment when I wanted to give up”.
Food, shelter, warmth – in the mountain you need to secure all this by yourself and with the means at hand. This enriches a person both emotionally and in a practical aspect, Daniel Ovcharov believes.
"I planned to make the hike in 15 days, but with the deviations from the route, my plans got confused. I actually travelled about 100 km more. 60% of the route can be travelled by bike, but there are places where it turns into luggage. There are also extremely difficult parts where it is very risky not to fly down into a precipice. The most difficult is the path to Botev peak (2376 m). The highest peaks in the Balkan Range are nearby. It is quite cold on the ridge. I also had sleepless nights, but I took over 6,000 photos of nature and animals for these 21 days in total. In the morning, I would set off at 5.30 am, and in the afternoons a storm often develops in the mountains. I walked from Ambaritsa peak to Botev shelter for 8 hours. In some places you travel for kilometres without coming across water. Thus, everything acquires a great value in the mountains. I'm never afraid of wild animals - if you don't trigger them, they won't come near you. We, humans, are more dangerous and unpredictable”.
On the way, the young enthusiast meets wild pigs, rabbits, deer and wild goats, many turtles, snakes and birds. There are also extreme experiences of cold and rain, but his goal was to stay in nature as long as possible. "Fatigue finally takes over. I carried a guidebook and a compass, they helped me in many situations, but in the end, instead of Cape Emine, I went down to the nearby resort of Elenite. I spent the night in a meadow where there was a whole herd of wild pigs. There were abandoned wheels of old carts in this place, and the little pigs played with them like real children”.