Orpheus Revisited

Novinite Insider » DESTINATIONS | July 14, 2005, Thursday // 00:00| Views: | Comments: 0
Orpheus Revisited Extreme sports lovers climb up to the entrance of the Haramijska cave, squeeze through its labyrinth and dive into the underground 180-meter long cavern. The tour takes no less than five hours at a price of 25-30 levs. Photo by hit.bg

There, Santa Claus lives in a cave, a throat of a devil spares none that dares approach it, while visitors are lured to hang on a rope for five hours over the wide chasm of a dark cave.

Doesn't sound like one would go there for fun, right? Wrong, says Milena Hristova.

I arrived in the Rhodopi mountain one Monday afternoon in July with a plan to spend a week in exhilarating and soul-expanding hiking, exploring bucolic villages that have all but disappeared in the rest of Europe, following the steps of the mythical Orpheus. And that meant caves as well.

After my first visit to a cave, however, I scrapped some of my plans.

Yagodina cave was my maiden underground trip. A pearl in the crown of the Rhodopi natural beauty, it is part of the Buynovo gorge complex. Its labyrinth is ten kilometres long, woven of five layers and abysses. I was not surprised that its callous beauty does not grow strawberries*, but even here one could find familiar figures. In a whim of nature the water has moulded the rock into the figures of Santa Claus and a herd of dwarfs. Sheets of pastry, a type of stalactites, were hanging above our heads as the guide told us that the Show White has opted to inhabit the neighbouring cave that bears her name.

In close proximity to the Yagodina cave, is the ill-boding Devil's throat. One of the phenomena of the Trigrad's gorge, it contains a hall big enough to house the Saint Alexander Nevsky Cathedral in Sofia! Legend has it that it was namely here that, overcome with grief, Orpheus ventured himself to the land of the dead to attempt to bring his beloved Eurydice back to life.

"Locals say that nothing returns once it has entered the underground labyrinth," said the guide to the tourists who were brave enough to venture into the cave.

But not me.

It is believed that Orpheus' singing and playing were so beautiful that animals, trees and rocks moved about him in dance. The Rhodopi is the birthplace of Orpheus and in some ways is still a haunting and mysterious place. Not only with its caves, but also with its highland scenery. (Wonder why the beautiful legend of the most popular and fascinating mythical figures of the Thracians failed to inspire Bulgarian tour operators and officials as it did their Greek neighbors....)

So I headed for the mount next to the nearby Haramijska cave. Though climbing proved more difficult than I expected - the height of the rocks reach 250 meters at places, the thought of my friends inside the cave made me feel much better.

Quenching their thirst for extreme adventures, they climbed up to the entrance of the cave, squeezed through its labyrinth and dived into the underground 180-meter long cavern. The tour takes no less than five hours at a price of 25-30 levs. All of it under the guidance of experienced mountain rescue team, who even issue the brave guys a certificate to prove their courage.

The sharp opposition of up vs down, high vs low that I see in the Rhodopi mountain range becomes even clearer up there on the mount next to the Haramijska cave. It is the same exhilaration and Orpheus-like magic that I felt walking in the slopes of Mt. Persenk (2091m), on top of the stunning natural rock arches of the Wonder bridges (as high as 40m/131 ft.) and on top of the 150-stair ladder that leads to the Uholyuvitsa cave.

Where the view is one in a million, and never to be forgotten.

* yagoda - Bulgarian for strawberry
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