We have to leave Belogradchik. Not because we want to, we would like to stay, but with the influx of Russian chess players, and others there was nowhere to sleep. Still, we know where we want to go. Rabishi. There is this awesome 2.5km long cave that has prehistoric artwork painted on the walls. To top it off, the cave is also supposed to be full of formations.
We had a nice coffee before heading to the station. A bit of hope was involved here, as we have no idea about the bus times, or if we can even get there without a taxi. Still, we have to try, right?
At the station, there was no sign of an office or ticket counter. The building behind, a completely different street had the ticket office. Although you would never guess it. Having found the place, we found that there was no one here! No way to buy a ticket, or even see if there was a bus. The only info we could find was a list of buses to Vidin and Sophia. Not much help for us at all.
We decided to go back to the station proper, and maybe get a taxi from there. It turns out there was a bus sitting at the platform with the destination of Rabishi! Perfect, we just don’t know when it was going. Nor did anyone else, although when someone turned up that did know, the young people here got the info and gave it to us. Thankyou whoever you are. Especially as you also made sure that when the driver arrived that we knew it as well.
Turned out that the bus was packed. Very packed, and with nowhere to have our luggage, Anna had to have her bag on her lap while mine was wedged in the doorway. The trip was not too bad other than this. It is about 25km from Belogradchik and only took an hour and a half! Winding around the mountains and out onto the rolling hills, past small villages and lots of sunflowers. Some of these fields looked well tended, and others seemed to be seeds that had sprouted when nothing else was planted.
Eventually we made it to the cave turn off. The bus driver was fairly sure this was where we wanted to go. We did, but not with our bags. Saying we wanted to go to town he was a little surprised. There was a whole discussion with everyone on the bus on where we would stay. This solved, we were taken to town and dropped outside a guest house. The driver even made sure there was someone here, and had room for us. He was a very nice guy! The guest house was OK. To be truthful, it is the second worst accommodation we have had in the country other than Varna, and almost as expensive! The village had nothing in it. Apparently there are two small shops, and we could get a bite to eat there before walking back up the hill to the cave. Turns out that the first place does not like tourists and refused to serve us, the second was closed for siesta! We would be going hungry today. Lets hope we can get dinner!
Deciding it was time to check out the cave we set out. The hill was a little steeper than it looked, and the cave is at least two kilometres away, according to Bulgarian signs, but this was probably about right from the bus. Trying to flag down passing cars was unsuccessful,until a couple of Roma came past on a cart. Not wanting to be too blunt, we asked if this was the way to the cave. Hoping secretly for a lift, it worked and they offered. Climbing in we were with a young couple with their daughter. The poor horse was now carrying the five of us up the hill. At least we were not walking! They were a sweet couple, and even looked after their horse. At times it seemed that walking was faster, and at one point I jokingly jumped off the cart to help push it up the hill. This got a laugh, and a question on if we were going fast enough. It didn’t worry us. When we made it to the crossroad where we would part paths,we offered them a few lev for the trip. The guy wanted to take the money, and his wife had an issue with it. So we made it an offer to get food for the horse. This got another laugh and they happily accepted the money. It was worth it!!
This only left a few more kilometres up the hill to the cave entrance. When we got there, we saw big signs out, depicting the formations, artwork and the layout of the cave. We were happy to know we were in the right place. We have seen this cave advertised all over the country and are really excited to see the neolithic art. A lot of people were hanging around, and when we got our tickets we thought we would have to wait for a tour. The crowd dispersed, and a few people just walked into the cave. We followed them in.
The cave itself is very pretty. There is a clear path from the steps descending into the cool dark cavern. The cave itself is very active in a lot of places with water everywhere. A few places in the beginning were fenced off, and this is where they are continuing archaeological digs. Following the lights and path deeper into the cave, we were expecting to see the artworks that are proudly on every photo of the region. They were not around yet, so I assumed there were two options. The first is that they are right at the back of the cave, where only the bravest and initiated people can go, or there is another exit, and they are on that side.
The cave is very cool though. Both in temperature and in description. Wide deep caverns and chambers, the floor scattered with giant rocks that have split off from the walls and ceiling. There were sections without any formations and clear fractures in the rock. Other sections were full of flowstone, cauliflower, shawls and large stalactites and mites. Not so many straws though.
The second large chamber provided no artwork either, we would have to go deeper. There were a couple of other paths leading off, but these were barred to us. We assumed that it is to stop people wandering off into the uncharted depths of the cave, or at least stay on the main path.
We got to see one bat, and quite a large one at that, and lots of stalagmites. The cave went deeper, and we never saw people going back to the entrance, so it was either a loop or there was another exit. This must be where the art is. Save the best for last.
More caverns, more formations, and we again noticed the Bulgarian reluctance to do general maintenance. Almost half of the lights in the cave are no longer functional. Still, we had the presence of mind to bring our torches this time. They came in handy in seeing specific things, and even illuminating the wet slippery steps that had no lights on them!
After a long time in the depths, with the chill seeping into our skin, we came to the last cavern and the way back out to the warm daylight. Still no artwork! This last section had been blasted by humans, and not that old at all. On emerging into the sunlight, we were annoyed that we would have to go back in, as somehow we had missed the art. Asking the nearby wine seller, because as soon as you exit a cave you are struck with the desire to have a nice warm glass of wine, we got no answer. No English, and no wish to try and understand what we wanted. Another tourist that did speak English informed us that the artwork is sealed off and inaccessible by anyone without the Mayors permission. WTF? This is one of the reasons we do not like Bulgaria. This place has been advertised over the entire country. The artwork is one of the must sees, and promoted so heavily that if you spend 24 hours in Bulgaria you will know about it, but when you get all the way out here, which is no easy feat, you cannot see it. Then people get surprised that we are annoyed about this! Lets see, The Devil’s Throat, with the largest underground waterfall in the Balkans – You can’t see it. Ancient cave art – you can’t see it. The best wine in the country – Drink vinegar, it tastes better. Roman sites – If you like concrete these are the places for you!! Thracian tombs – See a replica. Megalithic city – You can’t get there. The list goes on.
Having said that, it was a very nice cave, and we may have still made the effort to get here to see it by itself. We just don’t like being mislead. We are sure the artwork is there, we just cannot see it.
The walk back to town was downhill which was good, and one of the places was open so we could get a cold beer. The restaurant was closed though, so we thought we would get some bread, cheese and salami. Trying to buy this we were yelled at, and treated very disrespectfully. If you run a shop, sell us stuff. We couldn’t even buy bread. So we went to the second shop and picked up the rest of what we needed.
Then we settled in for the night. Just glad we would be out of here in the morning. I usually like small country towns, but this one just confuses me. I suppose the whole country confuses me.