The sun was slowly breaking through the frozen coat of the earth. It was this time of the year when the calm farewell of the winter catches a last glimpse at the amain set in of the spring – thawing ice, singing birds, roaring wildlife. The tracks in the snow reminded me of a busy Honk Kong highway – two foxes, a couple of rabbits, a family of wild boars, wolves, a deer- everything was coming back to life. We were slowly advancing through the snowdrifts with our 4X4 pick-up. Twelve kilometers of a deserted off-road trail separated the place we were heading to from the rest of civilization. My heart was trembling – I was about to meet the last two surviving dwellers of a forgotten village. And I wasn't on my usual trip around the world, searching for local stories, riding with the Mongolian nomads or immersing into the traditional life of the Bedouins. No. This time I was in my own country, just 40 min away from my hometown. I was in the most 'developed' part of Bulgaria. Yet, I was about to trespass the limits of time without realizing it, clashing with a past consigned to everlasting oblivion and negligence.
Old brick houses, an abandoned school, the remains of a church – all enveloped by the thick veil of silence. Only the crackle of my steps and the frequency of my own breathing were mischievously lifting this veil from time to time. Finally, at the end of what was once a narrow street, here they are – a mother and a son, standing next to each other, pillars of traditions and lost culture, welcoming us with their warm faces and rough hands. It was the first time in months they had seen other people. Only the hunters in the region stop by their village to bring some bread, oil and spices. Farming is the only survival kit they have available. No water, no electricity, no vehicles.
I was listening to the vivid story of their life with great interest. What fascinated me was their gestures, the greyish covering of their blue eyes hinting at their advanced age, the dirty clothes, the few black teeth darkening their glowing smiles– these were the real repositories of history. It was freezingly cold in the tiny house, but otherwise, I wouldn't remember the feeling of warmth on my hands as the old woman spilt some fresh milk by accident. It was challenging to sit on a hard stone for hours, but how could you appreciate the softness of the homemade cheese in any other way? In scarcity, you find abundance. In that abundance, you find what is close to your heart.
I dare to describe myself as an explorer of the forgotten. Bulgaria is a country that amazes its visitors with the beautiful villages adorning its territories. The agricultural history of these places and the centuries-old traditions dominating the rural areas make Bulgaria a remarkable repository of history. Unfortunately, the Bulgarian village is slowly dying. Until 2020, 171 villages had lost their last inhabitants and completely disappeared from the face of the map. Just to compare - in 2017, the number of villages with no remaining residents was 157. These statistics are scary. We are losing our identity and the uniqueness of our culture. I realize that this is a global problem. But I genuinely believe that we have the power to change things, and we must do it starting off with our own motherland.
The striking thing about the story that I have just told above is that this place is located near Zheleznitsa, exactly 52 km. away from Sofia. This does not make it the most secluded spot in the country. Still, nobody knows about the existence of these two people. Nobody cares about them; nobody provides any social care or support for the family. I don't know if you can realise what it is to live without electricity just 50 min. away from the capital! Ridiculous!
By telling the stories of these people, by organizing tours to destinations that have met the same tragic destiny as this one, I want to bring awareness. Let us know and do something about it!
Village of Yarebkovitsa Information
Hidden within the warm embrace of Verila Mountain, this little village is divided into 7 neighborhoods, each bearing the surname of its founder family. The neighborhoods spread around the hills of the mountain and cover a vast territory. The legend says that the dwellers of a nearby village were attacked by the Turks during Ottoman rule. They sought refuge in the deep forests of the mountain, eventually settling down and establishing today's town of Yarebkovitsa. In the 30s, 40s and 50s, the village had hundreds of residents, a working school, a local restaurant, and prosperous agricultural and livestock businesses. The last official statistics for this place are from 2014 when there were only 3 people left there. Since then, there has been no official information about this place. The view that opens from the top of Verila mountain is incredible - your eyes can reach the whole Rila Mountain crest with the valleys surrounding it. The architecture of the houses that are still in decent condition is typical for this region.
If you happen to go to Yarebkovitsa (it's rugged offroad terrain, but I can assist with the transportation and let somebody drive you there), please bring something from your heart to these forgotten souls whose wisdom trespasses times and realities.
A conversation with the past...
Do you know? The woman stated that she would never go back to Sofia. Instead, she prefers to admire the mesmerizing beauty of the surrounding wilderness. She added that the last thing she wanted to do was to queue for bread and milk in front of the food shops (a reference to the post-communist period in Bulgaria in the early 90s). I vividly described that we don't live in these times anymore - we have big supermarkets with free access, in which you can find almost anything your insatiable persona may desire.
She didn't understand me.
She was coming from an entirely different era.
And she was never coming back.
A touch of the past...
The picture below is from a letter I have found in one of the abandoned houses - a letter from 1987 addressed to the Bulgarian National Radio. The shots above show some of the furniture that has survived in this same house.
A sound of the past...
The topic of the letter is 'Song of the Year'. The woman who wrote that letter is a teacher. She decided to participate in the annual voting for the best song of 1987 by choosing "Da bude den" na Sborna Formatsia ot Estradni Pevtsi. Why? Without peace, she writes, there will be no future for the humanity. Now go to Youtube and play this song. I don't want to say anything else which can ruin the authenticity of this moment...
The lyrics of the song resonate so much with today's reality, don't you think?