In our quest to do all the fun things we could here in Sofia, Bulgaria, hiking to the Boyana waterfall was at the top of my list. Our hosts had mentioned it as a beautiful place to visit, as had several articles and blog posts I've found about the area. We made one attempt a few weeks ago but it was before we figured out the bus system and it took us almost an hour just to get to the trailhead from our apartment. When we saw a sign saying the waterfall was still 1 hour and 45 minutes away we turned back, determined to get there another day.
Another day came this past Saturday when we set out to conquer the hike to the waterfall. We took Smokey with us, filled up our water bottles at home, grabbed some snacks at the grocery store and set out. Here's our "before" picture as we left the apartment at about 8:30 in the morning.
By this time we had figured out the bus system and realized that with a less than 10 minutes bus ride we could shave off about 50 minutes of walking along city streets. It's a good thing we did this or we never would have made it to the waterfall. We still barely did! We actually weren't as efficient on this front as we could have been as we missed the stop where should have gotten off, rode way past it to the next one, decided to wait for another bus going back that direction (since it was uphill) then that one when way past the first stop (ugh) but at least then it was a level walk. All told we wasted about an extra 40 minutes by missing our first stop. Whoops! We had Smokey packed up in his backpack for the bus ride.
Our uphill ascent began at a cobblestone road that takes you up from the main road (where the bus runs) to the trailhead. Once on the trail, it is all in the woods so it is nice and shaded which we appreciated since it was about 85 degrees outside. (Why didn't we do this hike when we had 70-degree weather? I don't know!) Shortly after getting on the trail the aforementioned sign tells you that the "easier but longer" hike takes about an hour and forty-five minutes. We knew that would be pushing my capacity for hiking but we were determined to do it.
Y'all, it was hard. I am not a hiker by nature (Joel is though.) Despite having lost 60 pounds since my highest weight I am still rather out of shape. This hike pushed me to my absolute limit. We were getting passed left and right by groups of people ranging from young high school students to grandparents with small children. I took a page from the Little Engine That Could and just kept chugging along, albeit with frequent breaks. Smokey was an absolute champ and practically bounded the whole way up the mountain, only impeded by my slowness and need for rest.
Often our breaks were just random on the side of the trail as I struggled to catch my breath. After about 40 minutes Joel realized that part of the problem was I hadn't eaten anything yet that day. We usually eat from 11-5 but obviously should have made an exception for hiking earlier in the day. Once I had some food in me it was a bit easier, but not much. Occasionally there would be places to stop that had views of the most incredible vistas of the city.
This one was at about the halfway point. We chatted to a couple of people at this stopping point who said the hike was most definitely worth it, which helped me to keep pushing. At one point Joel said maybe we should just hike for two hours then turn around regardless of whether or not we were at the waterfall and I said, "Absolutely not. If I'm going to torture myself up a mountain for two hours I'm darn well going to see the waterfall at the end of it." (Although I might have used a stronger word than darn, sorry mom!)
Almost the entire hike was straight uphill until we got close to the end. The last 400 meters actually go back downhill. This annoyed me because surely there must be a better way to get there rather than this backtracking. But alas, we could only follow the trail that existed. After about 2 and a half hours of hiking with frequent stops, we finally made it! Thank goodness it absolutely was worth it.
Seriously, these pictures do the waterfall absolutely no justice. We found a place nearby to sit, rest, and eat some of the food we brought. We snacked on some Red Leicester cheese (a splurge at the grocery store but so worth it) and some salami. We also drank most of the water we had with us. That was probably our biggest mistake on this hike - we did not bring anywhere near enough water. We probably should have had about six times the amount we did. We briefly contemplated refilling them from the waterfall but didn't know enough about whether it was potable or not, and didn't see anyone else doing it so we decided not to risk it.
We also made sure Smokey got a snack and some water at this point. Hilariously, he refused to eat out of the little bowl we had for him, and would only eat when Joel hand fed him. What a prince!
So we could always remember this triumph, we asked a nearby family to take a picture of us at the waterfall. We are hot sweaty messes but we made it!
At this point, I thought the hard part was over. Going back down the mountain should be easy right? Well, it was definitely easier than going up, but I would not call it easy. We put Smokey in his backpack for the way down so he couldn't pull us off our balance. At some point, we took a wrong turn and ended up going down a different way than we went up. Remember at the beginning I said there was a "easier but longer" trail? Well, somehow we ended up going down the "shorter but steeper" trail which went faster but was killer on our thighs and calves. We didn't make any stops on the way down and it still took us about an hour and a half.
Plus at this point, we were both getting very thirsty and probably close to dangerously dehydrated. I really think the hike down would have been fine if we had enough water, but we didn't so it was rough. By the time we made it to the bus stop I was about ready to collapse! I am so glad we could take the bus for the last bit rather than walking another 50 minutes.
Once home we flopped on the couch and pretty much stayed there the rest of the night. I did peel myself off to take a shower and heat up some food in the microwave but that's about it. Oh, and to get water. Lots and lots and lots of water.
In the end, we decided that this particular hike was probably beyond our current skill level. But I don't regret doing it! The waterfall was worth seeing and the whole experience is motivating me to continue getting in better shape. I want to be someone who can make a hike like this easily, not the one panting on the side of the trail getting passed by people thirty years older than me. We'll have to see what kind of trails and hiking we can find when we get to Australia!