Dirtbag’s not dead!|Iskren “Iso” Hristov


Dirtbag’s not dead! In fact, he’s home in Bulgaria for a while, very much alive and kicking.

Meet my unknown buddy Iskren “Iso” Hristov who has found his way to traveling, geting in touch with people and experiencing amazing things by means of climbing. A month ago he just came back from his last trip to Turkey, where he spent three months volunteering at one of the best climbing camps around Antalya.

This “dirtbag” word got quite popular in the last years and everybody is talking about them – the new beatniks, the modern hippies that seem to follow their dreams not caring about the mainstream lifestyle standards. They travel a lot, have immodest amounts of fun and even beautiful girls are seen around them. The normal holiday saving people are watching enviously, unable to understand how is it possible – having all these opportunities without being a working slave first.

Once I used to see climbers who don’t push themselves hard enough as losers. I remember adopting such stereotypes and applying them to people with different motivation like my friend Iso for example. “What a flabby piece of shit,” I was thinking…

…and I was so wrong!

Now, after many days out – rock climbing and thousands of work hours at the gym, I already know how irreplaceable these guys are, how much color they add. I learned to understand their bohemian mindset and feel blessed with their presence in the community. If I imagine the world without these climbing hedonists who put just as much pressure on themselves as they feel it, without a trace of conformity, I see a very boring place. Discovering this truth, I realized my love for people like the good old Iso and all the other true believers who are always around, no matter what. They will help you organize every good competition, they will fill the vacant seats in the car for every trip and if they have two cold beers, they will share with whoever has none. I also remember, years ago at the gym’s backroom, common friends commenting about the hero of the interview below: “He is like a cockroach,” the friend said; “if there is a nuclear blast on us, Iso would be the only survivor. We will be evaporated and gone but he will still come to the gym, looking for something.” That’s priceless so I’ll give you a chance to meet him.

Iso spreading love in Turkey

AP: I know you didn’t exactly “stay” somewhere, you worked and climbed, but where did you live during these months in Turkey?

Iso: I stayed and worked as a volunteer in Josito guesthouse camp, two kilometers from the village of Geyikbayiri. It might be the best from all the camping places. Geri from Balkan Vagabondz gave me some contacts and everything happened more than easy. Last year I spent a month at Kezban (another camping ground) and just saw the potential of those places. You can stay there up to three months without a visa if you are a EU member. Josito is the most advanced of them all – showers, washing machine, library, games and wi-fi – dirtbagging in the 20th century! This camp is best suited for people with a lower comfort threshold.

AP: What’s your type of climbing? Tell us what you love to do and why?

Iso: I am a boulder climber and the social environment is what really makes me love it.

AP: Do you see yourself as an athlete?

Iso: No, I am not an athlete for sure. I see myself as a person, gifted with the opportunity to explore new places and relationships, which will not be possible at its best without climbing in the “wild nature”.

AP: What’s the reason you leave so many things behind and go tripping? Why does a man quit his job, leave his house and everything to go somewhere and work for food?

Iso: The reason behind my choice is pretty simple. I was too tired and decided that I need some rest from the ordinary everyday stuff  I was doing. Working just for accommodation makes it even better and just as my friend Toni says: “The borders are only in your head!”

AP: What’s your precious? Is there anything that can anchor you in one place for good?

Iso: Yeah, there are some things for sure but the time for them is not now. Or if I get anchored it won’t be for a long time. Now I gotta check more and more places!

AP: Did you happen to belay for food there?

Iso: No, I was feeling like a Turkish sultan. I was close with the chef you know, haha.

AP: What happened with your dog during the trip? Are you a stonehearted asshole who left his puppy along with everything else?

Iso: Hmm, not exactly a stonehearted asshole but let’s say that I left a lot of things behind. Leyla started the trip with me in Turkey and then my friend Alex took over, she was safe the whole time. Now I am back.

AP: Is that a part of your climbing lifestyle or just an adventure? Maybe both?

Iso: Definitely both. Usually, I travel a lot all year round, but not for such a long period as in Turkey.

AP: How much time did you have for climbing?

Iso: I could climb every day. My schedule was one day work – one day off and even during the working days I was free from 11 am to 5 pm. You wake up at 8 and by 9 you are already at the crag. Bit by bit you start to take it easy, you enjoy your coffee and climb later. It almost doesn’t rain there, and even during the winter time you have to hide from the sun. Perfect conditions.

Iso doing what he loves: bouldering!

AP: Did you meet many cool people on this trip, as expected? In fact, what were your expectations and did you fulfill them?

Iso: Yeah, I met so many cool people from all over the world – from England, Austria, Sweden, The Netherlands, Tasmania, Syria, Iran, and many many more.  You just meet people there! I should mention Oliver and Patric from the UK – colorful people who have been tripping for a year and eight months now. They came directly from Yangshuo, China. Later, I met Jai and Marie from Australia – very good guys.

AP: I just labeled you a “dirtbag”. What are you an adventurer, a curious vagabond or a simple botcher who likes to climb?

Iso: I think that every dirtbag is kind of a botcher. To be honest, I am mostly a botcher in a dirtbaggy way.

AP: Among the crags/sectors you’ve visited, which one got your attention the most? Tell me about your favorite places in this part of Turkey, why do you like them?

Iso: Hmm, let me see. I really liked Trebena, Sarcit, Magara, Anatolia, Alabalik balkon 4.  These are all five-star crags with easy access, long routes (endurance climbing – definitely not my style) or long bouldery routes, there is something for everyone, from 5a to 8b+. There is one more crag at about 30-40 minutes driving distance from Josito – it's called Citibi. It’s the best crag I have ever seen. Huge potential, long bouldery climbing on tufas, pinches, crimps and no parasite moves. It’s an athletic style at Citibi, but no easy climbs there, haha.

AP: How hard did you climb? Were your skills enough to build a good perspective for the place or the climbing potential is, so to say, bigger than you?

Iso:  Yeeah, I improved my onsight skills; Geyikbayiri is a perfect place for that. I saw that Turkey’s potential is huge. There is so much rock, so many undeveloped areas with beautiful, clean and solid lines. I think that Turkey can be the new Spain.

AP: What were your problems there?

Iso: I had only one problem – finding quality bud.

AP: Was it worth it?

Iso: Def it was worth it. I will do it again.

AP: What do you work right now?

Iso: I am doing almost the same things. I work part time at Boulderland, Sofia, where I coach kids for comps, routesett etc. I am also setting for different comps in Bulgaria. So, once more the dirtbag has a job.

AP: Do you plan to continue this kind of travel or you’re fed up and looking for something different?

Iso: Of course I will continue, but it all depends on the gypsy offer. It has to be a good gypsy one because the gypsy blood runs in every dirtbag veins.

AP: One last question: How many nights a week do you crash on somebody’s couch?

Iso: Despite the fact that I do it often, it happened only several times in Turkey. That’s all I have to say, the rest is a secret, haha.

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