Our trip started in Vidin, Bulgaria where I was foolish enough to check the weather forecast. I say foolish because I’d been checking the forecast every day leading up to the trip. And every time I looked, the predicted weather was different. This time, the forecast said it would be thunderstorms the next day. Hmmm… It doesn’t seem like it would be too fun to wander around Belogradchik looking for a camping spot in the rain. Why not camp in a cave instead?
The cave I had in mind was Kozarnika. It is located between the village of Oreshets and Belogradchik. We took the Vidin-Sofia train to Oreshets, and I was mildly paranoid that we’d miss the stop. In the Balkans, trains only stop for a few minutes at the minor train stations. You’ve got to be waiting by the door to make sure you get out on time!
We get out of the train at Oreshets and walk to the main road with the intention of hitchhiking. But what direction is the cave? I asked at the only place with people in the village – the local kafana, of course. I start talking to a nice local. He has a daughter living in America, and I’m from America… So he immediately offers to drive us to the cave. In the meantime, a taxi driver drove by and we ended up taking the taxi instead. Isabel and I get in the taxi and the two guys chat for a bit. Once we were on our way, the taxi driver tells us that the local guy had paid for our taxi! Got to love village hospitality. 🙂
Note that there isn’t any bus connection going to Kozarnika. The only way to get to Kozarnika cave is by taxi (which is really cheap at about 0.70 leva per km), hitchhike, or your own vehicle. There is a little bit of an area where you can park in front of the cave. If you’ve got a jeep, then you can drive right up to the cave entrance – there’s not anywhere to turn around though, so I guess you are driving back down in reverse.
Isabel and I start walking up towards the cave. It is just a 300 meter walk from the main road. There is a little stream trickling down where you can get water to filter. You have to climb over a bunch of branches to get to the water though.
We arrive at the cave and it is awesome. I later learned that a French-Bulgarian archeological team has been excavating there since the 1980s. They work for 2 months in Kozarnika each summer. It was May when we arrived and we had the cave all to ourselves.
Here’s some more about the excavations: There are 21 geological which the archeologists have uncovered. They’ve found artifacts ranging from the Early Paleolithic (1.4 million years BP) through the Late Paleolithic (11,500 years BP). The most intriguing find in Kozarnika cave is traces of humans going back 1.6 million years ago. This means that prehistoric people may have come to Europe through the Balkans, and not Gibraltar as was widely believed. Here are some links about the history of Kozarnika cave:
Now, I had never slept in a cave before and this wasn’t exactly what I imagined it would be like. First off, it was WINDY in the cave. The cave is fairly high up in elevation and there isn’t anything in front of it to act as a wind break. Even with all of our stuff in the tent, it still needed to be anchored down. You obviously can’t put tent stakes into a solid rock cave floor, so I needed to tie the tent down with rocks.
I already knew that there are venomous snakes in Bulgaria and had warned Isabel not to pick up any rocks. Being a snake-smart camper, I knew to look carefully before picking up any rocks to use for anchoring the tent. There was a perfect rock about 3 meters from our tent.
Holy crap! There’s a snake here! Holy more crap. It is a vipera berus!
It really surprised me to see a snake there. You never see things when you are actually looking for them! I grabbed Isabel (and the camera 🙂 ) and we watched the snake from a safe distance of a couple meters. It was flicking its tongue out, which means it noticed us. Our snake friend then slowly started to slither away. I’m not sure whether it went out of the cave or went under its rock.
I’ll admit that seeing the snake 3 meters from our tent freaked me out. I didn’t want Isabel playing near that spot, and definitely didn’t want her to be in the tall grass. That meant she had to play inside the cave. Well, it doesn’t rain inside the cave so it is covered with a layer of dry dust. The wind was making the dust fly all over the place. I did a good job of hiding my apprehension about the snake so Isabel wouldn’t get scared.
The actual cave was really cool. It was carved out by an underground river, which is evident from the striations on the walls – not like the normal smooth cave walls I’m used to. If you take a look across the valley at the mountain on the other side, you can see a few caves at the exact same level. That’s because the caves used to all be connected by one underground river. Then the earth changed and carved a valley out.
Kozarnika is a total of 210 meters deep. Isabel and I probably got in about 100 meters because she was scared. I’m really proud of her though. When we first arrived, we went in about 30 meters before she got scared and turned back. 15 minutes later, she is ready to go back into the cave even further. We kept going back into the cave, exploring further each time.
I LOVE bats and was hoping that there would be lots living in the cave, and that the bats would come swooping out at dusk like a blanket of moving creatures in the sky. So I was fairly disappointed when we only saw a handful of bats leave the cave. When we shone our flashlight deep into the cave, we could see about 10 flying around. We also saw a mouse scamper out of the cave at dusk. During the day, there was a hawk which flew at eye level in front of us. That – plus our snake friend – was what we saw of wildlife.
It was almost dark and Isabel and I are playing cards in the tent. Then I hear the sound of a vehicle and a big bang. I look outside and guess who it is – the nice local who paid for our taxi. He and his wife (Svetla) were worried about us, so they came to bring us chocolate, water, and invite us to their home. We refused the night at their home, but did chat with them for a bit. Svetla thought it was amazing that we loved bats so much. They each took their pictures with us. I regret that I didn’t get a picture of them.
As expected, sleeping on the rock floor of a cave wasn’t exactly comfortable (my sleeping pad is really thin). I put all of our clothes on the tent floor for extra padding, and that made it semi-comfy. The wind was also blowing like crazy all night. If we had ended up making a fire with the wood we collected, we would have had to make it deep in the cave since it was so windy out front.
Would I sleep in a cave again? Not at Kozarnika. The grass is too tall in front, so there is no good place for Isabel to run around and play. But I’d definitely love to sleep in a different cave someday. Maybe I can even find one with lots of bats…. 🙂