Wednesday, 30 April 2008

Pilgrimage from Stenje to Gollomboc 28/04/08

Waking to a beautiful day is always a nice feeling and to top it off the view over the lake from our hotel room is fantastic.

We wander down for breakfast and get into some serious discussions. We have a choice to make. Go round the lake to the north through Bitola, or go round the lake to the south through Albania. There are many good reasons not to go through Albania…it is more hilly, we don’t have any Albanian money (and the villages we will pass through are only tiny so there isn’t likely to be anywhere to get any), we are not entirely sure of the distances involved, people say it isn’t safe, and we don’t have a map…

But it still seems like the best option to me :) Even though I can see why Sabine has her doubts. And after the last couple of days her biggest concern is the hills!

We come to a compromise that if we can find a map in the town we are in then we will head south, otherwise Bitola it is.

Not to anyone’s surprise there’s no map. We are heading north…

As we start walking Sabine makes a comment about being a bit disappointed about not taking the “adventurous route”.

“So let’s make the gods decide…do u want to flip a coin?”

“Yeah sure, why not!”

There isn’t a coin to be found anywhere so Sabine breaks a stick.

“Short stick we go north, long stick south”


As the stick starts coming out of her hands Sabine lets out a squeal of dismay. It is the long stick :) The gods have spoken! Albania here we come!

Half an hour later we are at the border. The exact line being marked by the road turning from tar to dirt…I love Albania!

Making good time through the hills we decide to stop for breakfast. I can see Sabine has really gotten into the pilgrim spirit as she orders a raki :) It was only polite to join her ;)

The meal is divine but when we go to pay the bill comes to €20! I have spent two weeks in Albania before and apart from in Tirana I have never been charged close to this! I ask to see the bill and as I start flicking through previous orders to get a better idea of the prices other people pay the first thing I notice is that they have charged us 50 for raki and everyone else 40.

“Why is our raki 50?”

“You got different raki, this one here”

“Hmmmm” My suspicions are aroused…

After further inspection I can see that the fish normally ranges from 300-450 per serving. We got charged 800!

“But you got special fish!”

I’m not convinced. We only pay €14 and leave it at that. They don’t seem very happy but we all smile, say “thank you” and wish each other the best.

I have to admit though that it is possible they weren’t trying to rip us off but merely assumed that since we were tourists we wanted the best of everything. If this is the case then we can all just put it down to cultural misunderstandings. I should no better than to order a meal without checking the price, even if it is in a small cafĂ© in the middle of Albania. And they will soon learn that serving up their best produce, when it hasn’t been specifically asked for, to people walking in off the street with a backpack probably isn’t the best idea either :)

The walk around the lake is stunning! Why are there no tourists here???

Our stroll around the lake comes to an abrupt halt as the road ends but luckily here is a young boy there who speaks English. We tell him where we want to go and he points up this little road out the back of his village…


Seems like a good option to us so off we go. Funnily enough when we agreed to come to Albania the idea was we would be fine as long as we didn’t leave the lake. And here we were leaving the lake and sure enough the road was almost vertical!

We make slow progress but on reaching the top it is well worth it. We are greeted with one of the nicest views I have had on the whole pilgrimage. Looking straight across we can see Macedonia while looking slightly south I get my first ever glimpse of Greece. And there’s not a soul on the lake. It’s Magical!

Sure enough, as we try to navigate our way south, the track ends. Here we are, once again in the middle of nowhere making our own way through the bush. The view keeps us in good spirits though, and the foliage isn’t thick so the walking is still easy.

A road appears below us and an hour later we are once again on the right track.

We follow it until dark and set up camp. Trying to work out how far we have to go till Greece is nearly impossible without a map. I don’t believe that four days into the pilgrimage I still don’t have a one!!!

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