Part 3: Road Trip with Wild Tracks: Scotland – South Africa

Last year while in Argentina I met Chris, a young and energetic lad from Scotland. Our 10 day adventure paved way for a lifelong friendship and he’s like a younger brother to me. On the road we packed in a few adventures along the way, searching for dinosaur fossils, sharing frustrations while the country basically came to a halt during Easter and spending my birthday drinking wine in Mendoza.

Chris & Julie in Purmamarca, Argentina

I wasn’t then surprised when he contacted me a few months ago with his plans to buy and ride motorcycles on a road trip from Edinburgh, Scotland to Cape Town, South Africa with his two friends, the Archies, yes, that’s right, Archie and Archie, longtime childhood friends.

Please join me in welcoming Wild Tracks back to The Travelling Munschkin. May we be inspired by their journey and courage!

Wild Tracks Departure Day

Wild Tracks Departure Day

Budapest is such a fantastic destination and it was recently voted by TripAdvisor as a top European destination in 2012.

How did you like it? Did you get any time to enjoy it?

Budapest was unbelievable and we all instantly fell in love with this old communist city. The centre seemed completely untouched by both war and time. Everything and everyone looked slightly haggard and weathered but still strong and proud. Impressive monuments appeared around every corner and each square was crowned with a commanding statue. Even the surrounding stone buildings demanded respect as they watched over their buzzing city. We were fortunate enough to arrive with freshly fallen snow as this somehow enhanced the feel of the place and left us feeling like we were in Bond film.

We only gave ourselves a couple of days to explore the city and that was nowhere near enough. We saw some of the city through a wee self-guided walking tour which included a soak at the Széchenyi baths. The warm open roofed baths were a welcome sanctuary from the surrounding snow. The rest of our tour unintentionally (to a degree) took place on a party boat. The Danube River is lined with incredible buildings both on the Buda and Pest sides of the city that look especially magnificent at night. We did our best to absorb the sights before getting dragged into the party boat scene where people from all corners of the world strawpeado-ed champagne while bopping to the all time classic, “I’m On A Boat”.

Budapest was incredible and our two days did not do it justice. We will be back.

Have you encountered any language barriers?

With every new country came a new language and the incurring hurdles. We however never found ourselves in a situation that couldn’t be solved with some masterful charades and well placed smiles. Everyone we have met on our road trip has been friendly and welcoming despite the language barriers. We have also found that English is quite well known, even in Eastern Europe. We feel very fortunate to have English as our native tongue.

What have you learned about yourself on your road trip?

That is a tricky question. We are luckily all very like-minded and are happy to push our bodies to their limits to achieve our goals. It is very hard work riding through the European winter, the cold and wet weather drains you physically and mentally. We have found that we all reach our limits after a similar amount of time.

As a group we have also learned to accommodate for each others’ peculiar behaviours and irrational moods. Archie B sticks to a very tight schedule – if we agree to leave at 0900 then we shall leave at 0900 or incur his wrath. Archie L likes to ride at the front of the group – if you brave the overtake he will “unintentionally” force you off the road. And unfortunately my stomach can control my moods – we now carry emergency rations to remedy my “mood troughs”.

I also learnt that I have a ginger beard. Nice Chris! 

Tell us about Romania and Bulgaria! I look forward to visiting these two countries one day. Any memories of communism hanging around?

We have heard great things about Romania but unfortunately we didn’t see that side to the country. The weather was terrible, the road and countryside was boring and everywhere you looked was completely covered with litter so regrettably we have a negative opinion of Romania. It’s not really fair to judge the country from our short time there and so we all hope to return and see the nicer side.

Bulgaria on the other hand was fantastic! We started to fall in love with the new country instantly as the landscape got more exciting and the dreary rain turned to beautiful light snowfall. We found all the people to be very welcoming and warm despite the language difficulties. On our way to the coastal town of Burgas we stopped to camp in the snow-covered hills below the monument of Buzludzha. This communist monument is a colossal spaceship looking building on the peak of the central Balkan Mountains. After a night and day investigating the deserted HQ we enjoyed a breezy ride over to the Black Sea. Burgas is a lovely seaside town with promises of a lively summer break. Unfortunately we found it in winter when the streets are verging on ghostly. The sea breeze was a welcome change from the snow/ice filled wind from the previous days. We explored the beach and wandered along the pier before making the most of the limited nightlife. Both stops in Bulgaria were amazing and we would definitely recommend Bulgaria for a visit.

The Buzludzha Monument, Bulgaria

The Buzludzha Monument, Bulgaria

Besides the unmistakably communist monument of Buzludzha there were some faint signs of its communist past especially in the civil engineering. Stacks of dull high-rise buildings along with Soviet looking bridges were among the clues we noticed. There was also a general feel to the place that spoke of hard times and a struggle to catch up with the western part of the European continent.

What was your favourite place in Europe that you visited and why?

Buzludzha is without a doubt our favourite place thus far. Not only will we remember this historical building for its sheer size and impact but our inconceivable experience was equally unforgettable.

The Buzludzha Monument, Bulgaria

The Buzludzha Monument, Bulgaria

The Buzludzha Monument was built by the Bulgarian communist regime to commemorate the events in 1891 when the socialists led by Dimitar Blagoev assembled secretly in the area to form an organised socialist movement. It was opened in 1981 for 20 years until the fall of communism in Eastern Europe. No longer maintained by the Bulgarian government, it has fallen into disuse which is ideal for intrepid explorers like ourselves.

After a failed attempt to scale the mountain on our bikes we decided to make base camp slightly bellow the monument with a pledge to climb the mountain in the morning. It was completely deserted when we eventually arrived and so we got busy with our photography trying to capture this colossal building. As everyone got trigger happy on their cameras we failed to notice that the doors were securely barred and there was certainly no way to get in. At least not through the doors… We were relieved to find a small gap in the communist defences. Had there been no way in there would certainly have been tears all-round. The interior made our excursion 100% worth it. The main room was a large amphitheatre crowned with a, remarkably still in tact, hammer and sickle. The surrounding wall consisted of a beautiful mosaic story depicting angels, soviet symbols, workers and three large portraits of Stalin, Lenin and Dimitar Blagoev. The feel of the room was unbelievable. Every inch shouted communism and leaves you humbled but it was the hammer and sickle that initially draws the eyes. The wording engraved around it translates to: Workers of the World Unite!

The Buzludzha Monument

The Buzludzha Monument

Apparently there are plans to renovate the site in the next 10 years so I would recommend anyone interested to visit sooner than later. Such an incredible experience. Visit in the winter if you can – the snow added volumes to the magic of the place.

More info: http://www.kuriositas.com/2011/11/buzludzha-monument-abandoned-relic-of.html

What has been the most memorable part in this leg of the trip?

The most memorable part so far was probably when we found unlikely sanctuary during an intense snow storm that hit us in Bulgaria. We were already soaked through and freezing from the drizzling rain of Romania when we crossed the border to face a blizzard. Our enthusiasm for the extreme weather was quickly drowned out by the waves of slush sent forth to engulf us by passing lorries. Visibility was already low enough without this and the snowdrifts determined to collect on our goggles. Our situation was becoming very desperate as the whiteout thickened and our speed dropped to 20MPH.

Our destination/the nearest town was quickly becoming a pipe dream as we became part of the scenery. Out of nowhere Archie B spotted a half buried sign for a Hotel. Without a moment’s hesitation we headed down the snow-covered track heading through what can only be described as a Narnian-esque forest. Shortly after entering the winter wonderland we stumbled across an unfortunate local who had run out of petrol. We shared as much as we could spare before delving deeper into the white abyss. Finally we came to a clearing containing a series of hunting lodges. Light and warmth seeped from every window and smoke billowed from the main chimney – nothing could have been a more welcoming sight. We rushed to the door only to have our dreams shattered as we found the hotel closed for the season.

Despite our desperate appearance and pleading the owner was reluctant to take us in until karma played its hand. The local we had helped with fuel turned out to be the proprietor’s son and on hearing our kind deed she embraced me with a huge motherly hug and dragged us in out of the snow. She led us straight to the fire and set us up there to defrost. We couldn’t have dreamt up a better sanctuary from the snowstorm. Despite being closed for the season they managed to rustle up the perfect meal for after a long cold day on the bikes. Beer, burgers and a warm fire – certainly not the end we were expecting to such a brutal day.

What an incredible story Chris and thanks for sharing it with us, you tell it so well! 

3 Responses to Part 3: Road Trip with Wild Tracks: Scotland – South Africa

  1. Julie and Matt –

    I love your blog lay and the content! I can’t wait to see where you go next. To show you how much I like your blog I have nominated you for the Most Inspirational Blog Award. You can find more about the award on evonlagrou.com/2013/06/29/inspirational-travelor

    I hope you enjoy this experience of nominating others as much as I did! I look forward to following your travels.

    Good luck to you! Evon

    Evon LaGrou June 30, 2013 at 4:55 PM Reply
    • Thanks Evon!

      We’re currently travelling in Indonesia and have just spent 2 weeks on the beautiful island of Pulau Weh but with no Internet!

      I’m adding this award to my To Do list after I catch up.

      The best of luck to you and your blog and we’ll be sure to keep reading it. :)

      Julie Munsch July 2, 2013 at 1:56 AM Reply
  2. Great post and photos. Buzludzha is my favorite place in Bulgaria and I am so happy to see that you had a lot of fun there. :))))

    Adriana Vassilkova April 4, 2016 at 3:30 AM Reply

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