Pamela MacNaughtan

Six months ago, when we were planning for the Mongol Rally, we talked about spending a few days in Bulgaria. We spoke of going to Sofia, and having a flex day to explore a smaller town or village. It was all so exciting.

Then we started to actually drive the Mongol Rally, and plans started changing, rapidly!

Our long drive from Budapest, Hungary to Vama Veche, Romania had killed our energy levels, and although Charlie passed out in our tent, I struggled to get a decent sleep while the music from the bar played on, and on, and on; until roughly 6:00 a.m. When we woke in the morning we looked at Google maps, trying t decide how far to drive.

It didn’t take long to decide on Burgas, Bulgaria. Burgas was about six hours away, along with the Black Sea Coast, and close to the Turkish border. After eighteen hours of driving the day before, six hours felt like a walk in the park.

The sky was a bright blue, and the sun was high and hot as Charlie and I crossed the Romania – Bulgaria border, and drove along the Black Sea Coast. Our crossing was easy, and soon we were driving on the bumpy, warped roads of Bulgaria.

This is the first time during the Mongol Rally where I’ve noticed the differences between one country and the next. The landscape seemed brown and scored, littered with short trees and shrubs; nothing like the lush green landscapes I imagined all those months ago when we were planning our trip.

The towns we drove through looked worn-out, houses in disrepair, trees starving for water, and overgrown weeds scattered along the road. Not a huge surprize, some of the towns we passed through in Romania looked the same way. These towns gave one a sense of the country life in Bulgaria. Hard, rough, steadfast. Old men and women sat on worn wooden benches, under trees, by the side of the road. Children played with one another.

We could see the lives around us, but we were focused on the end goal. As we drove through each town we made assumptions about what life was like there. We commented on the road signs written in English, and Cyrillic. We commented on the hardness of the landscape, and we wondered about the hectors, and hectors of sunflowers in the countryside –I had no idea Bulgaria was a big producer of sunflower oilwhich added some cheerfulness to the worn out towns and villages.

We drove into Burgas mid-afternoon after navigated through a spider web of one-way streets, trying to figure out how to reach our hostel for the night.

The hostel was nothing fancy, it was near the center of town, had available beds, wifi, and was somewhat clean. We checked in, made our beds, and passed out. Going a few days with little sleep had taken its toll on us, and we slept for at least 3 hours before waking up feeling drugged, and forcing ourselves to sit up.  While most teams are partying or exploring, Charlie and I are sitting in our hostel working. It’s been a couple days since we had decent wifi and the energy to work, and we can’t ignore it. As I pound away on my laptop, Charlie goes out looking for food.

When Charlie returns with kebabs we chat about where we are, and how things are starting to blur. We’re in Bulgaria, but it doesn’t feel like it. Our goal for the day was a short day, a nap (yes, that was actually a goal!), and a hostel with wifi so we could write. None of those things have anything to do with the country of Bulgaria. In a way it feels as though Bulgaria has fell victim to the Mongol Rally, and or need to be on the ferry in Baku, Azerbaijan by August 1, 2012 – when our Turkmen visas are supposed to start.

As we drive around the next morning looking for a market, I notice several streets in complete disrepair. Buildings are crumbling or hollowed out. Streets have buckled pavement. Burgas (and a lot of coastal Bulgaria) appears to be a city that has been forgotten about. Forgotten by tourists. Forgotten by its own government. Forgotten by its citizens. Was Burgas ever new? I know it was at one point, but when? When did the city start to fade?

Burgas, Bulgaria is a victim of time and circumstance, and I wish I had more time to stay and explore. I know there are stories here, stories that are begging to be told, but I don’t have time to find those stories right now. Does that mean I’ve added to the victimization of this city? Am I just as bad as the country/citizens who seemed to have stopped caring about this coastal city?




  • Nicholle Olores

    August 1, 2012

    It’s really sad to see places like this. I was wondering why people are not aware about the difficulty a certain country has experience.
    If and only if money was no option. I would really try to help those poor countries because we are living into the save world.

  • Noah Lederman

    August 1, 2012

    Bulgaria has also been forgotten by the history books for its heroic role in WWII, so don’t feel so bad.

  • September 13, 2012

    Wow! We had such different experiences of Burgas. Though not a place I would stay long, I found it to be a bustling city, and full of tourists and ex-pats. There are SO many coastal resorts in that area (though I’m not such a huge fan of them…) and quite a lot of Western development (again, not something I’m huge on, but hey) and Burgas is the hub for everyone going in and out. Another reason why travel is so interesting; different interpretation of places! On another note, despite all the huge resorts in this area, there are still so many lovely, quiet and pristine beaches to be found. I really enjoyed my time in this area.

  • Yanni Karavasíleff

    June 5, 2014

    Hi Pamela, I came across your blog searching for a cheap way to go to Mongolia…I happen to be from Burgas and I am both surprised and not surprised about what you wrote about it. The problem of the country is declining population rather than it being forgotten. Burgas has recently been renovated drastically and is considered the city with the best quality of life in Bulgaria. However, it is true that while ultramodern buildings are being built everywhere, old ones are left in disrepair. My home is on one of those buckled cobble stone streets, and I don’t usually feel forgotten by the world. In fact a few weeks ago some Polish, Georgian and Hungarian youths were telling me how Burgas was like a paradise to them…are you sure you visited the right places? Looking at your picture at the top I think you went to the industrial area where nobody goes…except wholesale traders…you should come again and hang out on the beach, visit the bars, eat some amazing food at the baywalk and definitely visit the ancient Roman Greek town half an hour away from the city. Let me know you come next time! Cheers, Yani


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