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A scary shortcut to the sea

I was working in Sofia, Bulgaria, with the International Labor Organization, a special fund of the U.N. My assignment was to train three Bulgarian colleagues in the basics of management information systems.

At the end of my first year, I had a chance to stay a second year. No home leave allowed. I told this to my mother living in New York. With her adventurous spirit and the prospect of us not getting together for more than two years, she made a decision. She would come to Bulgaria, in spite of the Cold War and a grueling airplane trip.

She arrived soon thereafter, none the worse for wear, and settled into a spare room in my apartment. We spent some time in Sofia seeing the sights, which were truly amazing, including an enormous display of the moon landing the previous July. The American embassy did a terrific job of providing photos and stories of the event.

After several days in the capital, I told mom that I planned to take us to see the Black Sea. She was enjoying all of this. Her previous travel experience included trips to Bear Mountain and Connecticut.

On a lovely sunny day, we took off headed east for the beach at Varna on the Black Sea. In the previous year, I had driven to many towns, including Varna, a beautiful beach town on the sea very popular with Scandinavians and other Europeans. Just to have a look at new areas and also to save some miles, I plotted a new route.

The scenery was varied and beautiful, with forests and mountains, and we stopped at the town of Sliven for a nice lunch. We were over halfway to the coast and I decided to try my new route “a la shortcut” to the sea. Well ... “beware of what you wish for” maybe fits here.

At first, and for several miles, the paving-stone road was regular and even. Then the road turned to packed dirt, and in a few more miles we were deep in a kind of open country. I was not happy. In a bit we saw a farm and a farmer standing in front of his land. It’s hard to imagine the drop-jawed look we aliens got.

With my little Bulgarian and much hand-waving sign language, smiling, and thank you, he sent us on our way again to the sea — I hoped.

We began to climb, a good sign, because I knew it was mountainous before coming to the sea. We soon drove through a lush forest, and I began to feel a bit more confident. Up, up we climbed, and then we drove into a clearing surrounded by trees. It was an apparent dead end.

I turned to mom. Before I could say a word of confidence (of which I had little or none) four soldiers with Kalashnikovs aimed at us stepped out of the woods. Mom turned ashen, and I had a thought of how my body would be shipped back to the States.

Again, with a little Bulgarian, much hand waving and even more smiling, I indicated we were not about to run the secret border crossing we had come across but wanted to swim in their lovely Black Sea. My mother smiled some more. The four lowered their guns. After a lot of smirking and head shaking, they sent me to a proper road again.

Mother, you never blamed me, but I hope to truly be forgiven for my dopey blunder.

Harvey Rupp lives in Ashland.

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