Heaven had no ski lifts. Heaven had no piste maps, queues or cafes. But Heaven did have a dull, groaning, grinding Bulgarian Army Tank.
It was a roaring metal dragon that broke the silence of the dark green forest with its black smoke fumes and crunching tracks that clunked and bashed through the foot-deep snow.
Heaven lies on the border of Bulgaria and Greece in the Rodopi mountain range, once a part of the Iron Curtain and a strategic point for the former communist countries. This is why there is an army base on the highest of the mountains, known as Golyam Perelik (2,191 m) with large guns pointing at the neighbours, Greece. These mountains have been worn away by the elements over thousands of years and are more rolling and curvaceous than their angular Alpine brothers. In a great geographical twist, the nearby Aegean Sea sends warm, wet air northwards to crash into the Rodopis, dropping fresh, crisp snow and blanketting the slopes, the trees and the guns of the Bulgarian Army in a beautiful, deep, dry powder, perfect for snowboarding.
This is why we had come here - deep powder in an untouched wilderness. Heaven. But with big guns. Our local contact and fellow snowboarder, Dancho had warned us with his usual seriousness about this place. We would bribe the guards a dollar a day to be on the mountain, effectively trespassing on a strategic Army Base, and we would stay in a hut that would be normally used for visiting officers. We must not be seen by any high ranking officers, and we must leave if anyone told us to. We take our own food and stay away from the other soldiers. We must be careful, especially at night, for there are wild bears and wolves here. But it wasn't the guns, the wolves or the sub-zero conditions that would be the danger... that turned out to be our own stupidity that turned Heaven into a small slice of Hell...
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