Day 15: Friday, 28 April – Sofia, Bulgaria (42.6966° N, 23.3354° E)

We have repositioned again, this time, to Europe proper, finally. Leaving TLV at o-dark-thirty for a quick two hour & thirty minute flight northwestly, across the Mediterranean blue sea, here to Sofia, Bulgaria (SOF).

Two weeks ago, in San Francisco, none of our Teams had ever met each other before. Today, they are comrades-in-arms, lifetime friends. That’s neat.

First, the Old News–at least to us. After Peer Review & Road Official scoring procedures, here’s what we know about Leg 5, the Israel-Palestine Territory two-day Par 3:
10th Place: Mom’s on the Run
9th Place: Free 2B
8th Place: Hem & Haw
7th Place: Look, Squirrel!
6th Place: Cubs Fans with 1,430 points

And just two scavenges, of various points, separated the top 5 Teams on the Israel-Palestine leg.
5th Place: Team Rayven, completed 25 scavenges for 1,500 points.
4th Place: Lawyers w/o Borders also completed 25 scavenges for 1,515 points.
3rd Place: Order & Chaos did 26 scavenges earning 1,550 points
And there was a tie for first with two Teams that teamed up during the leg completing 27 scavenges for 1,575 points each – Teams Trip Tellers & Bar Setters!

Congrats to all. And there has been a shuffle of the leader board too. Please click here to view the newly minted Official Leaderboard following Leg #5, the top three podium-leaning Teams are:
3rd Place: Trip Tellers at 45 points
2nd Place: Lawyers w/o Borders at 33 points
1st Place: Order & Chaos at 23 points

Three-Things I Learned from the Israel-Palestine Territory Par 3 Leg: analysis, takeaways and fact-checks.
1 – We have a serious competition…1st place can be had by any of the top three Teams…just 12 points separates them…
2 – Teams loved visiting historic sites in both Israel & the Palestine Territory…and they gained a real-time, facts on ground perspective of the reality of the two states. Eyes have been opened, wide. They also know what it is like to feel like second class citizens with all the abrupt security they faced during their two day stay.
3 – Shit happens. No matter how well you plan, check & double-check. But solutions are there for those looking for them.

One-Minute Interview with Mom’s on the Run.

One-Minute Interview with Leg 5 Co-Winners, Bar Setters:

Six Balkans Leg Scavenges:
● Earn the US$250 “country bagging bounty” for doing a scavenge in Albania.
● Attend a professional futbol game.
Michelin Star Challenge…how many stars can you collect eating in the Balkans.
● Be a street performer in a square with a donation hat. We want video!
● Visit the Rila Monastery frescoes in Bulgaria.
● Go for a swim in Adriatic.

So, two-weeks into our master class in perfecting the art of travel, Europe usually brings them to their final exam. Not so this year, more a mid-term, where all their skills they have learned can come together (or not) while their situational awareness is peaking & their acquired Travel IQ ready for action. Well, that’s the hope anyway…There have been numerous travel lessons learned along the way:

In San Francisco, they learned to hit the ground running with an element of surprise in a gritty urban adventure. And to better get to know their Teammate.

In Seoul, the where fish-out-of-water bleary-eyed & jet-lagged travelers in a hustling & bustling Asian megalopolis, when the competitive juices kicked in. The language barriers were challenging along with detoxing from their comfortable worlds. Some did better than others.

In Uzbekistan, over three days they dealt with navigating a classic travelers triangle, the logistics of getting from here to there during an significant global holiday event, perhaps even finding an alternate stay for one-night…along with conquering the unique cultural nuances that is this special nation.

In Tbilisi, they learned more about team dynamics with some off-kilter seat-of-the-pants challenges…

In Israel & the Palestine Territories, they took another old world adventure with a decidedly unique twist where things are done differently. Dealing with Bonus scavenges & the logistical differences of travel between two polar opposites–during another national holiday, or mourning period, depending on your prospective.

Now for another big practem exam. The Big multi-country adventure of the Par 6 Balkan leg: Over 140 scavenges with 19 Bonuses spread across seven nations, a couple Team Challenges & a whole lotta good eating; five exciting days of buses, trains, ferries, trams, bikes & funiculars; diverse country stops over 1,400km (870 miles) lay between them here in Sofia and there in Zagreb. Oh yea, did I mention May Day!?

Teams were given $100 each to cover their best-guess transpo costs & told that they would be required to secure their own lodgings for three nights–Saturday (29 April), Sunday (30 April), & Monday (1 May)…all depending on their risk/reward course of action. We will see them Tuesday at 9:00PM in the lobby of our Zagreb, Croatia hotel.

The Balkans will be a long, 5 day & challenging Par 6. The ultimate travel test of skill, flexibility, travel IQ and stamina. This leg will require Teams to figure out a land based strategy that will take them from here in Sofia (Friday) to there in Zagreb, Croatia by Tuesday, 2 May at 21:00 (9:00PM). Now in between here & there are seven possible countries laden with scavenge points: Bulgaria, Serbia, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Montgrengo, Albania, Northern Macedonia, and Croatia. Teams only Mandatory stipulation, is that they must visit Sarajevo. So, the way I see it, there are possible northern & southern route strategies for them to consider. But that’s their challenge, not mine, I know what I would do based on the scavenge points, sites to see & experiences to be had. But whichever route they choose, it will be a fast & furious fun-filled few days. Oh yes, did I mention the internationally recognized May Day (aka Labour day) holiday on 1 May? No, I did not. Good luck all.

The northern route…is a choice.
Teams Hem & Haw, Rayvens & Cubs Fans…in group study session!

Good luck to everyone, be safe, be smart. And don’t get too greedy!

More tomorrow…

Finally, remember that The Global Scavenger Hunt has always been about more than traveling around the world competing for The World’s Greatest Travelers crown in the world travel championship… it is about helping others help themselves through the GreatEscape Foundation. This year, to celebrate our event’s 16th edition, we aim to fund two schools in places that really need them. Co-ed elementary schools at that. So, if you have it in your heart to not eat lunch out this week and make a small one-time $25 online donation during the 2023 event, we know a lot of kids needing an education that would thank you. Thank you all because we know that every little bit helps a lot. (FYI: All individual donation names will be put in a hat, and on 5 May, we will select a winner for a fun special prize—it will be worth much more than your $25+ donation!). Thank you!

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