Having just returned from Lesvos,Greece 10 days earlier it was going to be interesting to compare the specialist birding trip that Mike N and myself had booked many months before. Hopefully I would surpass everything I achieved there and much more beyond as from a sheer cost point of view the difference was huge. We had agreed a price of 1380 euros for the trip and flights were a further £145 each so the total cost was around the £1350 mark, just a little bit cheaper than the trip we took with Sakertours to Hungary the previous year but around 3 times the cost of a week in Lesvos for one !
Flying Easyjet and paying a small surcharge gave us guaranteed cabin luggage space and a slightly bigger bag allowance with no weight limit restriction, only volume. I managed to cram in to my bag a 500mmf4, a 300mmf2.8, a 70-200, a 1D body, 1.4x 7 2.0xTC's plus an infra red remote control unit. My 5D camera body had to travel in my coat pocket. Mike took similar but he has a 600mm f4 which is bigger and heavier still.
As the departure date approached we were still pretty clueless as to what to expect as, to be honest, communication has been pretty poor and we had had to chase for information even to the extent of where we were staying and in which hotel. Compared to the efficiency of Sakertours it left us wondering if there would be anyone at the airport to meet us. We had paid a small deposit and the rest we would pay on arrival so at least we would still have the funds to do our own thing if things went wrong however that was not really something we thought would happen.
The essence of this trip though was more about taking the opportunities as they occur rather than visiting a series of fixed hides as we had done in Hungary. Each has it's own merit, although the latter, if done well might be preferable. You have to work a little harder for your shots but they are more likely to be unique unlike the production line stereo type of the former. Of course if you are using mobile hides you probably won't have anything like the same level of comfort of a fixed permanent hide but if done well it should be acceptable.
Anyway, as it happened our man was at the airport in Sofia to transfer us to our hotel in Bratsigovo, some 2 hours drive away. The heavens had opened and the roads flooded in places, it was dark so we had little clue as to our surrounds but we knew we were somewhere in the Rhodope Mountains in Southern Bulgaria. After a pre ordered meal of a tasty chicken stew that was sadly served cold plus a mountainous salad that was largely cubed cucumber and tomatoes with grated cheese over the top we had a couple of beers then hit our beds. An early start was planned for the following morning leaving at 6.15am which is the UK equivalent of 4.15am. Good job I had been trying to keep to the time zone since being in Lesvos and getting up at home around 6.00 am every day !