Today (October 15, 2004), I’m fresh out of the Rhodope Mountains, where we rode like mad shopska-salad-eating-bulgars for five days while scouting itineraries for next summer. The rakia was good (can you really call this stuff “good”?). But the Mastika was better: on one morning’s marathon climb, an enormous logging truck with a hacking cough passed us and stopped. Out stepped two Bulgarian loggers, already tagging a bottle of chilled Mastika and offering it’s sparkling contents (when chilled, icy crystals form in this clear anise liquor of 47% alcohol).
Well, you mustn’t refuse a Bulgarian logger offering a cold drink, regardless of its contents, so we sipped. At the friendly loggers’ invitation we were soon heaving our bikes into the back of the sputtering log-hauler. We stumbled over hewn bark sides of recently felled trees to reach the front of the flatbed. Standing tall against the back of the cab of our Bulgarian Mountain Taxi, we laughed heartily at our good fortune as we lumbered up the rutted road. At the top, the exact location of which was left to the discretion of our Mastika-induced Taxi drivers, we felt relief and joy at the thought of the imminent descent.
As we tripped over log scraps and boards to unload our now-energized two-wheeled riding machines, our logging friends swung out of the cab, glittering and fully of generosity. The Mastika found its way down our throats again. We were two loggers and three riders standing together, ready to bid farewell. The bottle was passed. A rider sipped. And then another. The momentum of the crystal bottle grew as it circulated around our circle of new friends, and the crystalline liquid disappeared like water swirling down a drain. New friend and Rhodope-riding-mate “Bacho Gele” (whose real name is Angel, but who, on this trip, took the affectionate nickname of something like “Uncle Nikki”) sat to tell one of his animated tales, and a logger sat to listen (I hope you all will have this particular pleasure; I don’t understand the language and yet Bacho Gele’s Bulgarian yarns had me laughing every time). Soon, we were all seated comfortably in the sun-drenched grasses beside the Taxi, sipping and nibbling on Choco Bars or other Bulgarian specialties passed down from the communists (Peter made sure I got a taste of communist candy!). The magic elixir swirled and so did we.
And then the loggers left us to The Descent. Since I carry a voice recorder with me to make mental notes, I decided to tape this particular singletrack journey through the woods (if I remember correctly, it was actually Peter who prodded me, “Kim, is your dictaphone on?”). What a treasure of one-liners and glee among friends on a journey south, for down is south when you’re on such a journey. My favorite artifact is a section where I am shouting to Peter and to Bacho Gele In a state of half-laughter/half-terror, “You Bulgarians are CRAZY, NUTTY, NUTTY people!”
Not sure how, but we made it out alive. And the Mastika was just making its debut… but I promise we won’t offer Mastika Service during trail hours on our future trips.