The weekend of June 24-26, 2016, marked the 10th anniversary of the Land Rover Enthusiasts of Bulgaria. The club counts more than 60 members; at most every event they share their passion for off-roading with their entire family—including babies. The core values of the club revolve around our comfort with family participation and the shared experience of life with our Land Rovers. Most of our member’s vehicles include Discovery 300 Tdi’s from the late 1990s, or the Td5’s of the early 2000s, but we also enjoy the presence of more recent Discovery 3’s and, of course, our beloved Defenders. Whereas virtually all Land Rovers in North America have V-8 petrol engines, most of our members run the classic diesels.

My husband Michael had been in Moldova, 839 miles and 8 hours of back roads drive time with a ferry crossing across the Danube away, but he was determined to make the event. He even brought along a new friend, Denis, a young Moldovan whose passion for motorcycles now extends to off-roading in Land Rovers.

The event would take the large group to the Bulgarian region of the Black Sea coast. In 2016, this area lies at the crossroads between Europe and the Middle East. We found ourselves heading into a part of our country through which many refugees travel between Turkey and countries in northern Europe.

We arrived on Friday evening to find many of the club members already present, sitting at a long table, basking in their recent tans from the warm summer sun. The Dolphin Campground features simple bungalows that offer just the basics of a bed and a bath—no luxury accommodations here. In fact, the lodging brought back memories of the “Socialist reality” of Bulgaria from the 80s, when as a child I traveled to the Black Sea with my parents. Still, the campsite nestled along Ahtopol Beach, with the lovely Black Sea town of Ahtopol just a few kilometers away.

On Saturday morning, a long convoy of Land Rovers headed out to enjoy the lush landscape of Strandja Mountain National Park. On our drive we encountered a Border Police checkpoint near the town of Malko Tarnovo. The police judged our convoy as suspicious; we could have been harboring or smuggling illegal immigrants. Fortunately, some of our members also work with the Border Police and convinced the guards to let us into this sensitive zone. Nevertheless, we found ourselves followed and observed throughout the journey.

This southeastern corner of Bulgaria has a rich history and cultural importance to the region. During our 50 km drive we stopped at two famous Thracian sites. “Dolmenite – Vlahov Dol” has been designated as a United Nations cultural monument in recognition of the remarkable “nestinari,” families that continue a religious and cultural heritage involving firewalking. We next stopped at a Thracian sanctuary named “Indipasha” that dates back to the earliest days of Christianity. It’s a mysterious place, a ravine without an echo, with waters reputed to reverse incurable diseases. Pilgrims travel here annually for religious ceremonies. The drive continued to the beautiful village of Kosti (which means “bones” in Bulgarian). The town’s habitation dates back many centuries and its unique architectural features, such as historic houses, still attract visitors from around the world. The simple but lovely church and the stunning, although abandoned and dilapidated, wooden house next to it made the place look out of another time. This house is an example of a local architectural style that is almost forgotten.
This beautiful region feels somewhat mysterious, a sensation that arises from the thousands of years of history (the Balkans are home to some of the oldest world civilizations). Still, the best aspect of the day came from the connection with the Land Rover enthusiasts of today’s Bulgaria. The club feels like a brotherhood, sisterhood, and support network all rolled into one. Its members own Land Rovers and help each other with advice and technical assistance, but also they are best friends. Their off-road passion provides a bridge towards a fuller social life for themselves and other members.

I want to recognize the female members of the club, because the wives and girlfriends club members are not just an entourage. And they’re not only equals, but are often greater enthusiasts than their male counterparts. They’re not afraid of wading in mud, pulling winch cable and digging Land Rovers out of the snow; they’ll do a lot more than just make lunches and care for the children present at events.

Some of these women are mothers while also small business owners, professionals in a variety of jobs. They inspire me for several reasons. These women support their men in following their passion and involve their children in every activity. In fact, the children seem the happiest—running around in nature, breathing the clear Bulgarian air (Bulgaria is more agricultural than industrial), socializing and learning survival skills. What better education could they have?

The Land Rover embodies freedom and adventure. These qualities attract club members in the beginning, but quickly, our meetings become social events that appeal strongly to families. I’m sure there will be many more meetings like the one on the Black Sea. The legacy will be passed on to future generations and the tradition will continue. And Land Rovers, once again, will be the foundation of an incredible social life that adds a quality to familial life that’s becoming all too rare in our modern world.

[Read Geri’s stories at www.whenwomantravels.com -ed.]

By Geri Vladeva
Photo credit Dilyana Vetova & Geri Vladeva