Ahoy. To get from Bulgaria to Varna we had three options: Overland Turkey, overland Romania, Moldova, Ukraine and Russia or straight over the Black Sea by ferry. We chose the third option. We researched the ferry connection before we started the trip. On the internet it is hard to find reliable, up to date information about it. The only two things we knew were that there is a ferry from Varna, Bulgaria to Poti in Georgia and that there is no fixed schedule.
It wasn’t until we reached Varna that we found out more about the sea crossing. The owner of our hostel in Varna helped us to contact the ferry company. After a few confusing phone calls we found out that the ferry runs once a week, takes about 55 hours and that it is not possible to make ticket reservations. The tickets cost around 100 Euro per person including a cabin and three meals a day. The guy on the phone told us in broken English to be at the port before 09.00 am on the day of departure.
As the man said, we rolled our bikes through the front gate of the port a bit before 09.00 am on the 7th of September. Behind the gate at the side of the street we encountered a group of travellers sitting in the morning sun. After talking for a few minutes we found out that each one of us has had the same confusing phone calls with the guy from the ferry company. Soon an old black car arrived. A man with greasy black hair, glasses and a phone pressed between his shoulder and ear got out. He looked very busy and stressed, we were sure that this has to be the guy we have all been phoning over the last few days. After he finished his phone call he quickly told us to meet him on the second floor of a nearby building in an hour. Before he finished the sentence his phone rang again and he drove of.
After a complicated ticket purchase in a sketchy office on the second floor we found out that the ship wasn’t going to leave for another five hours. We watched how they loaded the huge cargo ship, played cards, snacked, drank coffee from the coffee vending machine and got to know our fellow passengers. In total there were 10 passengers: Aline and Lukas from Germany who travel around Europe by a 1978 bus for one year, Jésus, who is kind of a all time traveller/freelance Spanish proofreader, Gilles and Antonin, who are travelling by bike from France, Jakob und Hannah, a young couple from Berlin and Paul from Cologne. Poor penniless Paul didn’t have enough cash to buy the ferry ticket and didn’t know that we get three meals per day on the boat. He had a lot of food and the rest of us had some spare Bulgarian bills and coins, the perfect match.
Once we were on the boat we observed the crew pulling up big cardboard boxes from the port. We guessed the packages must be filled with food and were amused when we saw them unwrapping cigarets and booze. There was more booze than all passengers and the crew could consume over the space of 55 hours! How exciting.
The ship is predominantly a cargo ship, with enough room for a few persistent travellers on the side. The ship is powered by two 4000 hp motors and is run from purely crude oil. It burns 25 cubic metres of crude oil per hour, Incredible! Electricity is powered primarily by a 1 Megawatt generator, and is Norwegian built in 1978 (everybody who knows me will probably have noticed that Matt wrote this paragraph, haha).
On the first evening we were sitting on the deck, watching the sunset. After knowing each other for 12 hours it already felt like a group of old friends. Non of us 10 passengers has ever been in Georgia. We were all connected by this magic feeling of embarking into the unknown.
Matt and I were tired so we went back into our cabin early that night. Soon I realised that I was too excited to sleep so I went for a stroll around the boat. Our cargo ship wasn’t lit up like a modern passenger ferry, it was all dark and quiet. As I came around a corner a saw Gill and Antonin smoking in the light of an open cabin window. The tall hairy man in the cabin introduced himself as Vadili and offered me an ice tea. I accepted and as I took a sip. Strangest ice tea I have ever tasted, I thought to myself and looked up to Vadilli. With a big grin on his face he said: “Maybe also some Vodka in there”. We all laughed and had a second glass. Vadilli has been working on this ship for seven years. There are two crews for the boat and they rotate once a month. For Vadilli this means one month straight of work and then one month recovery.
All of a sudden we heard someone shouting something about a super moon. We went to the front of the ship and were absolutely blown away by the huge orange glowing circle that rised at the horizon. It was the first moon rise I have ever seen in my life and it would be followed by two more over the next two days on the boat.
In the 70 hours on a boat there was not really that much to do. The three days on the ship were structured by sunrise, breakfast, dolphin chasing, lunch, swimming in the little sea water pool on the upper deck, dinner, playing cards, sun set, listening to Aline and Lukas who playing the guitar, moon rise, some beers and then sleep. There was nothing else. No wifi. Nowhere to go. Nothing to see except waterline horizon in every direction. It is crazy what a situation like this does to a group of ten people who haven’t known each other before.
When we docked in the port of Poti in Georgia we were all a bit nostalgic and agreed that we could easily spend some more days on the ship. We decided to travel to the city centre all together. Aline and Lukas gave the backpackers a lift and us cyclists followed them by bike. We exchanged phone numbers, hugged and promised to try and all meet up in Tblitsi, Georgias capital city again.
It would have been cheaper to fly from Bulgaria to Georgia or take a two day bus through Turkey, but the difficulty with transporting bikes in planes or buses led us to cross the Black Sea by ship. It seems as if sometimes the longer, less obvious way has more to offer. So far, this has certainly been one of the most unique, mentally refreshing and simply beautiful experiences we have had.
Matt and Jasi