Naked in Bulgaria
When you reach a certain age, it can feel like many of your “firsts” are over – first car, first love, first home, first stamp in your passport, first time talking all night and watching the sun come up. I think that’s why we write bucket lists – a list of “firsts” we still want to do or see in our lifetime.
And then there are the “firsts” you weren’t expecting and never wrote on any list. My time in Bulgaria has added a few surprising “firsts”, including getting naked in public!
It was Monday morning and our track activity was described as “a meditative walk around the lake and enjoy the mineral baths”. It sounded like the perfect way to start the week.
Leaving at 7am, we drove to Pancharevo Lake, a man-made lake 12 kms outside of Sofia. As we started walking around the lake, our guide, Asen, stopped at a trail and said, “now we begin the silent hike”.
Hike? Umm, I thought we were doing a walk?!
Turns out we were going to walk up the mountain for a lovely view of the lake. (Reminder – traveling involves constant adjustments to your expectations…)
We were encouraged to not talk – simply follow the path and enjoy being in nature. As a single gal, I often walk/hike alone so I’m quite comfortable with silence and soaking up my surroundings.
As we walked along, I quickly found myself at the back of the group, alone. I have a naturally slower gait but I also enjoy taking my time to look at the flowers, appreciating the sunshine breaking through tall tree branches, stopping to listen to the birds sing, and simply standing still for a few deep breathes and feeling my heart beat in the coolness of a forest.
I eventually got to the end of the trail, where the group was posing for photos, enjoying the scenery and popping open a bottle to celebrate a friend’s birthday. From our vantage point, we looked across the lake, over the mountains and back towards the city. One lone red kayak was a tiny dot below, quietly slipping through the water.
The group was more boisterous on the way down, until we got to the mineral baths and were informed it was mandatory to be nude.
Wait – what?!
Surely a bathing suit is fine?
Oh no, you must be naked to enter the healing waters.
We hesitated, looking around at people we’ve known for just over three months and still had eight months travelling together. Were we really ready to see each other naked?
Our guide noticed our reluctance and said, “don’t worry – there’s a boys side and a girls side”. Well, that’s a bit better.
We looked at each other and said “…when in Bulgaria…” and off we went.
Agreeing there would be no mention of tattoos seen or any other discussion about what may or may not be about to happen, 14 girls stripped down and we walked through the door to the mineral baths.
Now you might be thinking – okay, no big deal, just make a bee-line for the pool and jump in.
Oh, no, no, no – there is a full process and a very stern lady to make sure we followed procedure (and continually “shhhh” our nervous laughter).
You start with a shower, then walk over to the 37 degree mineral bath, where you stay for five to ten minutes (there’s a light that goes on/off to keep track of time). Then out for a full body exfoliating scrub, back in the shower and then over to the 42 degree mineral bath for another five minute soak. Back out, scrub again, back in shower….so basically, a whole bunch of walking around naked!
Fortunately, there were several (naked) Bulgarian women in the baths so it felt more normal – although I don’t know if it ever really feels normal to be naked in front of so many friends and strangers.
As we tried to quickly dress and get outside to cool down, I felt more connected to these women I’m travelling with for a year.
None of us were comfortable being naked, all of us have things about our bodies we’re learning to love, and each of us embraced a new cultural tradition.
Getting naked with friends and strangers wasn’t on anyone’s bucket list for this year and I’m pretty sure it was a first for everyone!
And I guess that’s the beauty of this journey – we have our own agenda but sometimes you’ll be asked to do something way outside your comfort zone and you’ll have to choose.
Will you try the wild and crazy thing or will you play it safe?
Sometimes I choose wild and crazy (skydiving in New Zealand – yes!) and sometimes I choose safe (white water rafting in Bulgaria – no!) But on this day, I chose to be vulnerable and not take life so seriously.
And now I can scratch off “get naked in public” from future bucket lists!
Your turn – what wild and crazy thing have you done that you never thought you’d do?!