Friday, July 23, 2010

Cleaning up Shabla

One of the partners I used to work for used to say that being a lawyer is much the same as being the guy with the circus who follows around the elephants and shovels up their shit. It’s been a long time since I’ve gone around cleaning up shit, but that’s exactly what I spent much of the past week doing. I charged exactly $275 an hour less than I used to charge, and I wore a swimsuit rather than a coat and tie. I wore sandals instead of dress shoes, and, instead of an office or a courthouse, my work was done on the beach and dunes and in the marsh. It wasn’t a mentally challenging exercise, but the oppressive heat and constant bending and stooping to pick up garbage provided more than enough of a physical challenge.

We were in Shabla, picking up the trash locals had long considered part of the area landscape. As frustrating and infuriating as it was to see all the trash strewn on the beach and in the marshes (we filled upwards of 700 bags with garbage and with more time and manpower could have filled ten times that many), it was encouraging and rewarding to work with the other volunteers who came from all around Bulgaria to join the effort. We worked hard and played hard, shared our frustrations and laughter, and forged new friendships. More than anything, we had fun.

The experience also reinforced something I often forget. After everyone else had slipped off to bed and I was tending to the bonfire we built nightly, I looked out to the sea. Having been focused on the fire to that point, I was amazed to see the waves crashing in were glowing blue. Upon closer inspection, so were parts of the sand which had been touched by the water. It’s possible I’d seen it before somewhere, but I was really entranced by the phosphorescent sea (this phenomenon is caused by bioluminescent dinoflagellates). And that’s when I was reminded that some people get it, and some people don’t. Most of us waste too much time working with those who don't get it, and not enough time working with those who do. It was nice to spend five days working with a group of people who do get it.

From a distance, the area looks pristine.

Up close, however, things don't look so pretty.

Here is the crew getting some last minute instructions.

And in action.

It was too late to do anything to save this Harbor Porpoise ...

or this dolphin.

But we did see some live Bottle-nosed Dolphins and plenty of other things worth trying to protect, such as Great Cormorants,

European Bee-eaters,

Red-backed Shrikes,

Lesser Gray Shrikes,

Pied Wheatears,

Tawny Pipits,

White Wagtails,

Callandra Larks,

and many other critters.

In July, much of Bulgaria is a seemingly never-ending field of sunflowers. The area around Shabla is no different.

As a reward for our hard work, we were treated to a trip to the Yailata National Archaeological Reserve. Located 1.5 kilometers south of the village of Kamen Bryag, Yailata is one of the more interesting places I've visited along the Bulgarian coast. In addition to ruins of a stronghold dating back to Roman and Byzantine times, the reserve is home to approximately 40 caves which were once part of an ancient cave settlement.

Most of the caves are dug into vertical cliffs hanging over the sea. Here is a shot of the sea looking out from one of the caves.

And here are some shots of the surrounding cliffs.


  1. You are really such a good photographer. You probably already know all about shutterfly, but just in case you don't Valerie has made a wonderful coffee table book from the pix we took in Bulgaria and Greece. Another daughter made a great book of her wedding pictures, and my point is you could make such a beautiful book of sites in Bulgaria that people would probably buy yours!! Please keep are leading a very interesting life!

  2. Ha ha. I'm not sure about that, but thanks for the compliment. :)

  3. Excellent pictures ! I've been reading your blog since about the time you started it. Joining the Peace Corps has always been in the back of my mind.

  4. I love that area and I'm glad you could manage to present it just the way it looks like.Good job Brian:)))

  5. Hi Brian
    The wife and I have a holiday place in Shabla, do you think you could arrange the next clean up for just before our next visit, we will let you know the dates.

    Seriously though, well done all involved. I will keep an eye on this blog just in case you have some sort of volunteer effort in this area that coincides with our being there. We would love to spend some time with people who get it.

    Cheers Fred

  6. Thanks, Fred. There will be another cleanup effort this year. When I know the specific dates, I will post them.

  7. By the By, you should try to visit Yailata in May. It's not easy to get it dead right but at this time of year Yailata very green and lush and is covered in Paeonia peregrina and Asphodiline lutea among other plants.

    It is a magical and beautiful place at any time but this time is the best.

    Cheers Fred.