In this episode, we drive east toward the Black Sea. A dramatic drive, chased by the weather, through Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Serbia, all the way to into Bulgaria. We need to make it across the mountains before trapped in the west by snow. On the highway through Sofia in Bulgaria, Dory suddenly blows up and we are a long way from home and in big trouble! But Bulgaria is not all bad. We also climb Mt Musala, the tallest peak in the Rila Mountain range.

In the last episode of nomads for love, we continued our exploration along the Adriatic coast. From meeting fellow travelers to taking Dory up one of the most dangerous roads in the world. Croatia offseason has been really good to us, but we are ready for new adventures, so we finally decide it is time to leave.

Leaving for Bosnia and Herzegovina

We head for the border into Bosnia and Herzegovina. It is dark and not always easy to tell the size of the border crossings on Google maps. So the first crossing we approach send us up the road to a bigger one equipped to handle international travelers. We are leaving the EU again and immediately notice a whole new level of security and a lot more police presence. We are stopped by police three times in just the first few hours! No real drama, in general, they seem mostly confused (or amused) to see a Swede and a Kiwi with a camper this time of year.

I have never experienced a white Christmas before, so that is on the wishlist for this year. Sarajevo delivers, but we do not want to linger as there are more storms in the forecast. We need to make it across the mountains in Serbia before the roads get too bad. We just have all weather tires on Dory, and while they are rated for snow they are not all that great on ice.

Driving through Serbia

We push on through Serbia. We had a rough go at it last time on our way to Croatia and feel some apprehension. Our experience this time is much better, although we keep getting pulled over by the police, we are starting to get used to that by now. As the weather quickly deteriorates we have to keep moving while trying to get a feel for the country as it passes by outside the window. Then there is just something about Serbia for us… it just seems jinxed somehow. In our short time driving through, one thing after the other breaks. First our main iPhone dies, and of course, it is the one we are using for navigation. Then the accelerator pedal craps out in the middle of the night, in the middle of nowhere. Luckily we manage a rough roadside repair and continue on.

Engine trouble in Bulgaria

We finally make it to Bulgaria and our goal is to get to the Black Sea on the east coast. Driving through the capital of Sofia, Dory suddenly loses power and start making a lot of strange noises. This is really, really bad and way beyond a roadside repair this time. We slowly limp back down the highway to a truck stop where we find a helpful tow truck driver who takes us to an amazing mechanic who is willing to receive us on a Sunday, just days before New Years.

Communication is a bit of a struggle, but they run an efficient shop and we actually get Dory back within 24 hours – with a rebuilt engine! Turns out we had just had some bad luck. The tension wheel for the cam belt had shattered, damaging the head in the process! We have been taking really good care of our engine, but a 25-year-old plastic part had gone brittle over time and suddenly failed. Basically, something that we could not have foreseen.

Luckily we ended up with a really good mechanic, not always easy to find when you are traveling. Not only did they replace the broken head and tension wheel, but basically overhauled the whole engine, replacing all the belts, all the fluids, and the water pump. While it was a very costly repair all in one hit, much of what was done would have been routine maintenance further down the road anyway, making it a little easier to accept. We are just thrilled to be back on the road again!

Climbing Musala Peak in the Rila mountains

After days of endless driving and sordid mechanical troubles, we are yearning for some quality time, so we head towards the Rila mountains.

We stop at the Rila Monastery on the way. It is the largest and most famous Eastern Orthodox monastery in Bulgaria. An impressive 10th century cultural and spiritual center beautifully located in the Rila River valley just south of Sofia. What makes the strongest impression on us is the number of stray dogs. They are everywhere, and it is really sad and hard to watch.

We continue on to the ski town of Borovetz. Our plan is to climb Musala peak, which at 2925 meters is the tallest peak in the Balkan Peninsula. We take the gondola from Borovetz up to the Yastrebets ski slopes to make use of an amazing short weather window. The ride takes about 25 minutes and saves us a couple of hours of climbing, making it a more comfortable day-mission.

It is not a very technical climb and due to its accessibility, it is quite popular. The last ridge leading up to the summit is a bit exposed, so there is a fixed wire guiding climbers up. The views from the top are breathtaking!

We spend some time taking it all in, before heading back down. We reach the gondola just as the clouds start rolling in. Perfect timing! We want to get Dory back down to lower elevation before the next storm front drops more snow later tonight.

What an amazing day! This is what life is all about!

Next time…

After a few eventful days in Sofia and an amazing day on Musala, we decide to push for the Black Sea coast. We leave a snowy Sofia behind and continue east in search of milder weather. On the way we check out the massive monument of the Bulgarian-Soviet friendship in Varna – we even climb inside the thing for some covert investigation! We finally reach the Black Sea and start exploring the wild and desolate coastline. Starting up north by the impressive red rock cliffs of Tyulenovo and working our way south towards the border into Turkey — but more on that in the next episode of nomads for love. We’ll see you then!