Wednesday, 30 April 2008

Pilgrimage from Galioica National Park to Stenje 27/04/08

It was freezing last night!

Sabine’s sleeping bag is only designed for summer so she didn’t get much sleep. I’m amazed though that she is still in such good spirits. Only two days into it we have already taken numerous wrong turns, gotten snowed on, been kept awake all night by loud music, then ended up lost in the mountains…

The joys of a pilgrimage :)

Continuing our way south, our track once again comes to an abrupt halt! We still haven’t come across the other road we are looking for but one thing I have learnt the hard way many times before, and still forget continuously, is that tourist maps offer a guide only. They are not to be taken literally :)

So knowing that east is the direction we want to go, the compass comes out once again and we start making our own track up the mountain next to us. With our packs it’s a big struggle to make it to the top, but exhausted we finally succeed. The view is not what we were hoping for! To the east are mountains, mountains and more mountains! Where is the lake???

Spotting what appears to be a main road off to the west, it seems like the only logical choice…not the choice I would have made if I were on my own (me of course preferring irrational and illogical choices like trying to make my own track through 20kms of national park), but a good choice none the less :)

One of the traits of my pilgrimage so far has been to continue on a set course, way beyond what most people would consider practical, just because that’s the course I’ve decided to take. A fine example would be when I was in Italy I tried to scale a 10m high cliff with my 25kg pack on my back, just to save myself walking 3kms back the way I had come. Needless to say I only made it half way up and after risking my life had to backtrack the 3kms anyway :) That is definitely one advantage with having a walking partner, the decisions remain reasonably sane…reasonably ;)

Slowly we make our way over to the road, sometimes finding little tracks to follow, sometimes making our own. Arriving, it is a relief to once again be on a definite trail. Continuing south, and in much better spirits we are happy just to walk and enjoy the scenery.

One of the most surprising things about this national park is the lack of life. We haven’t seen a single living thing other than insects and birds…apart from being lost it‘s amazing.

I keep hoping that the track will turn east but to no avail. As we go farther and farther south a huge snowcapped mountain looms up before us. After a quick look at the map we realize that we can see Albania! I start to think this isn’t such a bad thing. I loved walking through Albania last year and given the opportunity would happily do it again. And we have now tried twice to make it to Bitola with little success, so maybe the gods are telling us something ;)

About 1pm, much to our relief, we finally come across signs of civilization…a brand new hiking hut. No people, but at least we know that if we are still wondering around up here come summer someone will be likely to find us :)

Eating the last of our nuts and cheese we realize that it is going to be very unpleasant if we gave to stay another night up here. I’m still hungry and we are out of food :(

Two hours later, we stagger out of the national park to the sight we have been waiting for since yesterday…Lake Prespa! Finally!!!

As we are sitting there enjoying the view three carloads of people turn up. It just so happens that it is the Park Ranger showing some German businessmen around. He is very interested in hearing our story as he is trying to promote the park as a tourist destination.

I show him the map and explain that we wanted to take the road from Ramne to Istok…

“Hahahahaha, yes that’s a mistake. That isn’t a road”

“No kidding!!!”

It turns out the village we can see below us has a restaurant and hotel. With any luck this will be our home for the night. It only looks about 3kms away but as we start to wind our way down the mountain we realize that it is about 10kms!

We are exhausted! We have been walking now for about 8 hour straight. In the mountains we could only stop for about ten minutes at a time, any more than that and we froze to death…

My legs are hurting. My back is hurting. My hips are hurting. My shoulders are hurting. My stomach is grumbling. And my feet are killing me!

As I sit down to rest I hear some people speaking English above me. Two minutes later Sabine rides past on a motorcycle. “See you at the restaurant” she yells as she wizzes by…

I don’t blame her… :)

I have to admit, the plan was to take it easy for the first couple of days but pilgrimages being pilgrimages plans don’t often work out. The last two days have been bloody hard work!

An hour and a half later I make it to the restaurant, and true to her word Sabine is there waiting for me. So are the two bikers that picked her up. They are on a journey riding from the U.K to the Black Sea. We all sit round, have a well earned beer and a huge feed. Life is good once again.

Afterwards we stagger down to the hotel, Sabine crashes out within two minutes of getting a room and leaves me to fend for myself in the bar downstairs.

It isn’t long before one of the locals takes it upon himself to ensure that I’m having a good time. For the next half an hour I stand there listening to his drunken ramblings, all in Macedonian of course. I soon realize why his mate is sleeping face down on the table across from us… ;)

The only useful thing I find out is that it’s only 4kms to the Albanian border...will that be where the road takes us?

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