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Our latest trip to Bulgaria for new specimens was well planned in advance a few months before the date of the flight. But as we landed in Sofia, we found out about the extremely difficult conditions in the region where we supposed to be by the end of the following day. Even though winter was at its end you never know what kind of surprises Mother Nature can reveal in the mountains. It was snowing really heavily, especially in the Rhodope Mountains where we were to go. In fact the worst conditions were exactly there. Some cities and hundreds of villages were reported to be without electricity. Main roads were barely passable, because of the falling trees, which were tearing down the electricity poles and cables. Secondary roads were reported as particularly difficult as snowploughs were finding them difficult to access.
I wasn’t in a rush but my girlfriend had taken only 10 days off from her job in London. This was her first time for collecting new specimens, because last summer I was there by myself. Because of the time window we had to act fast. I wanted to spend as many days as possible in the city of Madan, for me the centre of the Rhodope Mountain mines which were most likely to be of use to us.
I am originally from the city of Troyan, situated at north side of Old Mountain (the Balkan Mountains), which divides the country into north and south. Our destination was about 200 km south. We spent the first day in Troyan with my parents and next morning we hit the road to Madan. Passing through the middle mountain we found bit tricky, although we thought that was nothing compared with what we are going to contend with. We had to visit my girlfriend’s parents on the other side of the mountain anyway so we used the visit as an opportunity to check up the latest news on the TV. Unfortunately the situation was getting worse and worse. So thinking ourselves trapped, we didn’t have any choice but to delay our departure to Madan. Watching the news made us think that the trip would be a hell of a difficult mission to accomplish.
Even the government were advising against travel and many people were stuck in places, in the middle of nowhere, without electricity, phones, network and TV coverage using the last of their food to survive. Some houses and buildings were unreachable even by the military.
Two days later we decided to proceed, come what may. I’d had a similar experience when I was younger, probably about 20 years ago, and I wasn’t scared. I was worried about my girlfriend but I thought to myself “If I’m OK, she’ll be OK”. In the middle afternoon, we jumped into the car and there was no turning back. To our surprise the trip to Madan city went quite well. Last summer when I’d done the same trip there were lots of cars in both directions. But this time there was almost no other traffic, presumably because of the weather conditions and warning news. We’d were driving a 4×4 heavy duty mountain jeep, Japanese manufactured, which I had delivered to my father as a gift a few years ago. Driving this vehicle in these weather conditions was just what we needed.
We reached Madan late in the evening, having passed through villages and cities in pitch black, with the exception of lights from candles or isolated electric lights from people who had got lucky and managed to buy a generator. As we entered the city, we met a TV news crew just preparing to go on air. We had booked a hotel room, even though they had discouraged us by phone from coming. When we got to the hotel, there was no one there. I wasn’t surprised as on our way we had had poor mobile coverage and been unable to contact them. However one of our friends made a call and a few minutes later a member of the hotel staff arrived. So finally we were accommodated and we were certainly happy to be settled in for the night.
Next morning, everything was completely different, like going from black and white to colour. There were still problems with normal daily stuff – no hot water, no heating, no electricity, no TV and mobile coverage, exclude only Telenor mobile, and the fact that you could barely see anyone walking in the city. But all this faded into the background the second we saw some new minerals from different mines with all their varieties of beauty.
During these days of devastating weather conditions all the miners were off as well as the most of the population of the city. Only some of the shops and hotels were working providing the most common materials and food. Some of the mines were flooded and were dangerous for anyone trying to enter. So we didn’t have a chance to get ourselves inside any mine as some of you probably think we would. Even in normal situations, it is ‘a little bit against the law’ anyway!
But we found what we were looking for. We picked up really interesting specimens from Krushev Dol, Borieva, 9th September, Gyudyurska and Androvo mines and just a few from the Lucky area.
For me personally, it was a lovely surprise to acquire a few very rare crystallizations of Sphalerite and Galena. There were forms I have never seen before even online, although maybe I’d missed them. The Sphalerite presented with very thin lines growing on top of each other and some of the Calcite had a snowy-milk colour (very appropriate in this weather!). They are absolutely gorgeous.
A total surprise to me was some of the Galena, which was thin like a feather, imitating the leaves of a tree, associated with very gentle Quartz and Calcite. I did have a feeling that I could break the Galena just by blowing against it.
A few more rare transformations of Galena, Pyrite and Chalcopyrite turned out to be of interest to us as well.
So in the end we were very pleased with our trip. You can’t see everything at once, each time there is something different, something new. You find yourself discovering the beauty of minerals again and again.
During our stay in the city, we did have a great time. The power was re-established 6 days after the beginning of this devastating situation (that’s 2 days after we got into town), but only for the bottom part of it. A couple of days after we left, they fixed the electricity a bit further, which means that some parts of the city were without electricity nearly 2 weeks. Mobile and TV coverage remained the same a bit longer. 20 days after the bad weather started, a friend of mine has told me the miners had recently resumed their work and everything was back to normal.
The only thing we regret is when we left Madan, there were still houses in the city and lots more villages around the area where it was not known when they will be powered up again. We couldn’t do anything about it. It is what it is. Mother Nature treats us the way we treat her. There were a few deaths registered in the region.
By the end of the day we all should take a lesson of everything happening around us. We must stand up and not just try, but succeed in keeping the environment clean and healthy. There is no such thing as impossible and this planet is the only one we’ve got.
Thank you very much for reading all or even some of the articles. Hopefully they’ve been useful and interesting to you. We apologise about the quality of some of the images, but we’ll get better and better in the future.