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Published: June 22nd 2018
The cruel practice of forcing bears to dance for entertainment was banned in Bulgaria in 1998 and now the rescued bears need somewhere to live. Thus the badly named 'Dancing Bear Park' started in Belitsa. The bears no longer have to dance, but instead have huge enclosures in thick forest where they can please themselves. They can't go back in the wild because they don't know how to look after themselves and would not get on with the 450-600 wild bears still living in the national parks.
Because of the mountains, everywhere is a long drive away, so we decided to make it more of a 'photographic, leisurely drive', like a Sunday afternoon drive only on a Thursday morning. The majority of the journey was thick forests of fir trees or snowy mountains in the distance. We had a brief stop at Raduil where we spotted an old tank painted bright green by a playground and an old plane similarly painted in what looked like a private garden.
The last leg of the journey was almost 3km of a muddy dirt track with a mix of loose stones. Mostly I was using 2nd gear but there were a few
steep points where I was driving on 1st gear. Eventually we arrived at the bear park and paid 6 lev each (£3) to get in. We joined a tour with about 10 Bulgarians and we were the only English speakers. A skinny lady took us around, looking at each of the 25 bears not only rescued from dancing but cruel zoos in neighbouring countries. One had gone blind due to being plied with alcohol, another had lost a leg. The park is on an extremely steep mountain and no wonder the guide is skinny if she has to do tours around that many times a day!
I don't know if bears normally look sad to the human eye or these bears look that way due to the hard lives they had endured. I'd read previously that part of the training entailed putting the bears on burning hot metal so that they 'danced' on one foot to another whilst being beaten, so I didn't want to watch the movie explaining this, a brief look at it confirmed my fears. The actual tour was only 20 mins and felt a bit rushed, but I got to see bears close up and
put my money into helping them. The public are not allowed to wander around afterwards which was disappointing for u, but better for the bears. A viewing platform gave us a bird's eye view of three of the bears wandering about.
After a couple of ice creams, we headed off and found a small family outdoor restaurant by the roadside where we were the only customers. A barbecue was burning in the corner and we were waited on by a friendly man and his daughter who looked about 12. We both had simple but fresh salads and Glyn ordered a local dish, 'beans in pot', which actually arrived in a bowl. He then noticed that they did trout which only cost 2 lev 80, which is about £1.40, so he ordered that and I finished his beans which were OK, but could have done with a bit more flavour. The barbecued trout soon arrived, complete with its head still on and Glyn was happy.
We went to Bansko because it was nearby and it was getting on for 4pm as the drive around the mountain had taken a couple of hours at least. Bansko is the largest ski
resort in Bulgaria and it is a lot larger than Borovets, but also is a town where locals live (unlike Borovets which seems only to be holiday apartments). The huge square has a fountain and various statues, plus bars with outside seating and stalls selling trinkets and tat. The main church was just closing but we had only come to see the huge storks' nest high up on the tower. It must be a fairly permanent feature as it gets a mention in Glyn's guidebook.
I wanted to go to the Pirin National Park but the day was getting late. So we decided just to drive near, uphill towards the mountains, but the road as always was thickly lined with fir forests so no view to be had. We stopped at a fast flowing river that was white as the water crashed over the many rocks. My plan was to do some slow shutterspeed photography but was missing the piece that attaches my camera to the tripod, and then Glyn's tripod broke. Sigh. But I think I still got some good photos. A car pulled up and a man got out, cracked open a large beer and stared at
the river. He walked around various points, supping his beer, eyes fixed on the water. It was a bit odd and we left soon afterwards as Glyn was worried he would murder us.
The drive back to Borovets took over 2 hours and we stopped just once to be urban explorers again, this time an abandoned petrol station and cafe that had a calendar from 2011 but looked like it was deserted long before that.
It was around 9.30 when we got back so we decided to eat out. Walking past Sunnys, the proprietor called us in and we thought why not? A group of Romanian lads were already dining there and assured us the food was good.
The guy who ran the place was more of a talker than listener and it made ordering a bit hard! Apparently his mama was cooking but I don't think she looked that much older than him! My glass of rosé was actually a carafe and the guy brought two glasses (just in case Glyn my suddenly decided to start drinking alcohol again). Glyn used it for his apple juice. I had a mushroom pizza as there wasn't a lot
of veggie stuff on the menu. The guy was bigging up his pork knuckle for two, so Glyn had that and asked if he could take away whatever he couldn't eat and have it tomorrow. The guy was happy to sort this saying, "you have good breakfast after sex!" A little presumptuous, but we are on holiday!
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