In the far South of Bulgaria lies a stretch of mountains called the Rhodopes. Small villages remain in isolated pockets with dwindling populations. Huhla (Хухла) has a population of twenty people year round with empty buildings illustrating where the school and public houses once sat. Massive migration from rural areas to cities sparked a decline in village life following the fall of Communism in 1989, but some people persevere. A winding road through the town leads to a lookout and small chapel to Saint Elias stands guard over the rolling fields and forests. On July 20, a feast day is celebrated in honor of the saint, hoping to ward off storms and hail that would damage local crops. A depression nearby, not unlike a collapsed well, is said to be a tunnel to Greece or where in the old days deer would be sacrificed to the old gods to bring rain to parched lands. An herbalist’s house sits at the end of town where I have a standing offer to discuss the finer points of the local rakia once my Bulgarian improves. I am sure to return. We visited the town in search of a pumpkin to put inside banitsa, a lovely flaky pastry of infinite forms.
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