Macedonia here I come!!!
I wake, roll over, glance out the window…my spirits are raised immensely; there is nothing but blue sky! Suddenly my head doesn’t feel so blocked up :) It’s going to be a great day!
Ziux switches on the TV and I chuckle to myself as the weather report shows that it is still raining everywhere. It’s good to know that some things are the same everywhere in the world…weathermen almost always get it wrong ;)
I’m happy again as I wonder off down the road. It’s around 20kms to the border and I’m content to just stroll along enjoying the scenery.
I arrive in Perrenjas, the last major town before the border, and before long have a swarm of kids following me around. They are well impressed with my video camera, but unfortunately like most Albanians, when I turn it on they freeze like statues. It is a shame because they are real characters.
Finding a nice little restaurant I seat myself for my last Albanian meal. A woman appears and seats herself across from me. She speaks perfect English and was obviously happy to have a chance to practice. The waiter turns up to take my order and I’m told “there isn’t a menu, but what would you like”?
I’ve had this conversation a couple of times before and it never seems to go anywhere, I ask the woman across from me to order anything. Her smile broadens and explains that she’s just ordered me an Albanian specialty…a dish with hot yoghurt, cheese and meat. Mmmm mmmm, hot yoghurt and meat, sounds delicious! :(
Sure enough I’m presented with a bowl full of bright white soup and a big chunk of meat in the middle. But funnily enough it tastes great!
The last 8kms to the border are all uphill. I struggle to reach the top and finally clear the summit to get my first look at Macedonia. It’s beautiful! I’m staring down at a big lake surrounded by snow-capped mountains…
I start to feel a bit sad that I’m leaving Albania. From my short stay I would rate them as the most generous people in Europe. My time spent here has been great. A big “thanks” to all of you :)
The border post comes into sight and I get a little buzz of excitement from knowing that I’m about to walk into another unknown country. Then suddenly I feel a light “tap tap” on my head. No way!!! I glance up and sure enough the whole sky is once again covered in dark ominous clouds. Where the fuck did they come from!??
The rain manages to hold off till I’m about 3kms in to Macedonia, and then it lets me have it :(
Spotting a little shed on the side of the road I run for cover. I sit there cold and wet, looking at my map wondering where I’m going to be able to find a hotel. The nearest big town, Struga, is less than 10kms so worst case scenario I have another two hours walking.
I wait, silently hoping the rain will ease off. As darkness descends I realize I will have to make a move, it’s not getting any better :(
Packing my bag I notice the rosary beads I was given at Medugorje, which had been tied to my bag, had fallen off. Is this a sign that Mary has abandoned me??? I’m hoping not…
I don all my rain gear and head off, spirits dampened greatly. The road is narrow and if the puddle next to me is too big and I can’t step aside, the cars come awfully close. All of a sudden a horn blears violently from behind. Instinct tells me it’s not the usual “toot toot” of someone saying “gday” and I jump off the road. I was just in time! A car was overtaking a truck and there wasn’t enough room for the three of us!
I walk and walk, thinking that I had been spoilt in Albania as a pilgrim. It was rare to go a kilometer along a main road without finding a hotel or restaurant and now there was absolutely nothing!
Then to top off a perfect evening, a big German Shepherd starts barking wildly from across the road. I can see its eyes gleaming back at me in the torchlight as it runs back and forth along the ditch separating us. Looking ahead I spot the driveway, there is no gate!!! I’m in trouble! The monopod I normally use to fend off wild dogs safely hidden away from the rain with my camera. Looking at my empty hands I start to feel a bit helpless…
Frantically I look around for a weapon. Eyeing a small stick, I grab it figuring it would have to do. I’m out of time; my adversary, growling menacingly, has started to cross the road. Turning my headlamp on high beam in the hope of blinding it, I charge forward. The ploy works and the dog runs for cover. I breathe a sigh of relief…
This pilgrim lives to walk another day :)
A couple of hundred meters down the road another wild dog appears. It gives a couple of half-hearted barks then ignores me. Even so, if there are a lot of roaming dogs around I need to arm myself a bit better. I find a big stick for one hand, a rock for the other and carry on.
I must look a sight; the poncho over my pack makes me look like a hunchback, it is dark, I am dripping wet, armed to the teeth and wondering aimlessly along the side of the road. The good news though, with the stick in my hand the cars are now giving me a wide berth ;)
Finally, Strugra appears and I see the welcoming lights of a hotel sign. The four stars underneath the name are a bit daunting but I go for a look anyway.
The doorman opens the door with a big smile and the receptionist rushes over as well. They are obviously not very busy. The price is only €30, a great deal in anyone’s language for a four star hotel, but being the cheapskate I am I ask if there is a cheaper hotel nearby. After quickly conferring with each other they say I can stay for €25. How could I resist! It even comes with breakfast :)
I crank the A/C to 30° and take a shower. I’m now in heaven!
I have a wonderful meal at the restaurant downstairs and being a Friday night, wonder if I should go out for a drink. I head back to my room and as I lie on my bed to consider my options I drift off to sleep…