If I had a super power it would undoubtedly be shapeshifting. Not only is it ridiculously easy to deceive people, escape social situations and go to the bathroom without paying for entry, but it would give you access to such a wealth of talents and customs. Kevin, the American I met in Ohrid, would fulfil his childhood dreams with the ability to fly. Speaking of dreams, we’re now in Macedonia’s capital and you really have to blink twice or three times to believe it’s real.
Skopje is recovering from an earthquake in 2008, and instead of revitalizing the city, the government chose to install hundreds of statues in an effort to boost tourism and the economy. In a sense, it worked, because people come here to see the statues, but the city is missing vital infrastructure and is resultantly the weirdest place I’ve visited. Hence I will ladle out my multicolored brain casserole with respect to the kitchen it was cooked in.
The city is strangely bleak, very quiet and creepy as hell. We decide we may as well engage in some typical tourist behaviour and give the lonely statues some attention. There are just so many of them that none seem to stick out. I’m reminded of Syndrome, the grossly misunderstood villain of The Incredibles, who says with a snicker, “When everyone’s super…no one is.”
The buildings are cheaply renovated with unstable foundations, cheap finishes, wires sticking out and surveillance cameras at every corner. Mother Theresa was born here, and if you walk past her house there’s a mosque at the rear. The long-standing feud with Greece means everyone wants a wedge of fame and the rights to the name. Bit of a circular blame game if you’re asking me—rarely worthwhile as I’m grossly uneducated in Macedonian politics. Just here for a good time, folks! says the ignorant tourist.
I spot a Snapchat flavoured ice cream which I’m sure tastes like dry-roasted youth and saucy unsolicited self-portraits. I try to avoid the kebab stand with flies that buzz buzz buzz in circles around a greasy meat cylinder. A pair of grimy hands carves off a piece to taste and I cast a worrying glance and shimmy away from my bold counterpart who ingests the indeterminate animal. Lunch is bread and oily baked beans that make my stomach scream. I approve the purchase of an antique match case for a girl Kevin’s seeing and I say he can light the fire of their love with it and serenade her with The Doors.
The city‘s pride and joy is a monument of Alexander the Great in the very centre, whose face appears on tourist mugs and magnets and tees. We take tips off Zoran, a friendly local guide whose loose dentures I try not to stare at. We had planned to do a walking tour but there were only two attendees and I was one of them. A furious ticket officer reprimands us for dodging the bus fare and we don’t repeat our mistake on the cable car to the top of the mountain. There’s a damp, grey view and an Australian in a pink t-shirt who offers me a taste of mint-flavoured Sprite (spoiler alert: it’s minty).
Both our left ankles ache in the same place after the hike in Ohrid which means it’s beer o’clock. We’re both quiet people so there are long periods of silence between topics. I splash out on a delicious $4 strawberry daiquiri, and we crack table peanuts like monkeys and avoid the rain.
In the morning we venture into the local markets near the Old Bazaar and try a creamy, rich Turkish coffee. I buy a shirt for the heck of it and haven’t worn it once. After Kevin leaves, I take a prime opportunity to do nothing in the place where there’s nothing to do except look at statues. I play Jenga with the guy that works at the hostel since there are no other guests. His dessert is digestive biscuit and milk soup and what an ingenious meal it is!
By far the most interesting city I’ve been to, it’s a very confused and confusing place bogged by political turmoil and halted in disbelief. The streets, although sparsely populated by people, are haunted by statues. Maybe this is a Medusa situation, and if so, I am offfffffff, preferably in eagle form.
Фраза на денот: Honestly what is going on
Музика на местото: Quiche Lorraine - The B-52’s
Fun bit of trivia: when the founders of Ohrid spotted a lake they said Oh, Rid! (Which translates directly to Oh, Lake). In authentic Mia humour, I’m prone to taking the joke too far and preceding every new discovery with “Oh!”
At the Macedonian border, the bus parks with the wheels straddling a narrow passageway, so the guards can check if any immigrants have strapped themselves to the underside of the vehicle. The other passengers are far too calm considering the loud and forceful ushering and lack of instruction.
The policeman plunges an arm into my hiking pack and rummages around, retrieving my bottle of women’s multivitamins.
“Droogs?” He asks, twisting open the child-proof seal and sniffing the contents.
“Yes. Droogs,” I explain, “Vitamins.”
I’m using my best poker face. Lady Gaga’s is probably better but these are dangerous times! The policeman is now shaking my rolls of camera film and extracting a half-eaten jar of peanut butter from beneath a mound of clothes.
“OK,” he decides, pointing me back in the direction of the bus. I scramble legs and eggs and other limbs to reorganize my backpack and heave it back into the luggage compartment. Should’ve set some cooked spaghetti loose in there for him.
I arrive in Ohrid in the pitch dark to a hostel owner who insists I chill out immediately. I enjoy a nutritious meal of adzuki beans, frozen peas and peanut butter and half participate in a conversation with a condescending American who calls me “babe” and immediately regrets it. There’s a British guy who’s far too excited for his illegal rave in Montenegro and that’s my cue to leave.
I jump in on hiking plans with instant hostel friends before we introduce ourselves. As it turns out, all of us have names ending in “-ia”. Except you, Kevin. The next morning we climb dragon ridge mountains that overlook vast, smooth lakes on either side and knit together Greece, Macedonia and Albania. We power up and stumble down jagged rocky peaks, following the lollipop sticks on each hump.
We take turns falling over on the steep descent and twist an ankle or four. We’re able to refill our bottles at a fresh water spring and speak to a local gentleman and lady, who have no idea what we say but seem to enjoy the encounter. The vegetable patches in the village below the mountains are luscious and fruitful. We feast on overhanging plums of orange, yellow and purple, fresh figs, bulbous juicy tomatoes and blackberries.
We drop the idea of hitchhiking after a telling sniff and settle on a 1€ taxi back to the town. We grab beers and the best falafel pitas for 1.50€, and chat to the a chirpy girl with a piercing between her eyes about Berlin, teaching English in Cambodia and what it’s like to completely run out of money. I listen to the British guy tell the story of his first ecstasy experience and hear about the illegal rave for the third time. Oh, Joy.
Фраза на денот: Do not refer to me as “babe”. Babe is a pig. I am a lady
Музика на местото: Time Out For Fun - DEVO
Two kookaburras are onboard a rickety bus to Albania, beaks deep in novels and legs longing to stretch. When we drive through tunnels, the book folk narrow their eyes and sigh whilst the kindle holders carry on.
In Shkodër, we enter a church with rainbow candy windows, passing sickly stray dogs scratching and shaking on street corners. Inappropriate me struggles to stifle laughter at an ancient church-goer aboard a mobility scooter. Instead of reversing out, he bumps into the pews with an echoey screech and a staccato “ooh”.
Our hostel has orange and yellow bedsheets and a cat called One-Eyed Willie. The floaty girl at reception organises our overnight trip to Theth, and the following morning we collect our egg and tomato sandwiches and climb aboard a sunny orange shuttle bus. Cows are blocking the road and horse-drawn utes pass us on their daily commute. Staircases to nowhere extend from hollow, half-finished houses. It’s an unconventional, mismatched amalgam of pastel colour palettes, farm animals and shops full of organised rubbish.
We make unexpected pit stops for coffee, snacks and a large bag of flour that’s heaved into the back next to the hiking packs. The flour is dropped off at a restaurant where we stop for a bathroom break and a construction worker asks if I’m German.
“No, Australian,” I say.
“Ahh, Austria!“ he replies enthusiastically, to which I resign to giving an equally enthusiastic thumbs up and jazzy nod of the head.
By the time we reach the top, the sleepy mountain range is wide awake. Melba and I decide that in respect to Theth, here forth the word ‘Yes’ will be superseded by ‘Yeth.’ We choose a six-hour hike to the Blue Eye, drop our overnight gear at the guest house and begin our walk after a delectable glass of fresh plum juice.
The loud Americans a few steps ahead of us share their laminated map and give us confused instructions towards the waterfall. We’re guided by cow bells, piggy smells and spotty intuition. There’s shared suffering in puffing up the hills, dwarfed by toblerone peaks that cast shadows on dry meadows and artery streams. I dunk my head in the river because it’s fricken hot hot hot and my whole body won’t fit.
Melba’s scaring me with talk of ticks and leeches and Lyme disease and malaria mosquitoes. We hear no voices, only our hurried footsteps ploughing the crunchy trail and is it too quiet? Chasing the sun home, we decide that two or more instances of verbalized doubt mean we’ve taken a wrong turn. But Goonies never say die! A caterpillar crawl across bronze pipes leads us back to civilized fields and the warm wooden lodges. With flailing lactic limbs, we exude loud sighs of relief.
When we return, the Albanian guests are playing badminton and gathering around a campfire. We indulge in a hearty dinner of whole trout with potatoes (vegetable soup for me), soft local cheese, salad and pumpkin pancake pie washed down with a compulsory shot of eye-watering rakija. The handsome German couple at our table are eager to join the dancing circle of linked hands and quick steps. We pick at the leftovers of our meal and politely decline the smiles and gestures followed by feigned sorrow.
Tripping over feet and with a bout of rakija-inspired confidence, I’m thrust into the middle and forced to embarrass everyone with my western dance moves. The Albanian flag is pumping up and down at the front of the conga line, held with pride by the jolliest of them all. I attempt the traditional dancing and fancy footwork and experiment with some krumping.
One of the most peaceful sleeps is interrupted by a sunrise alarm that leads me to an underwhelming sky but an ache of pride for making it out of bed. Thank you to Jason for the beautiful meme. I’m feeling independent so Melba and I take some time alone and meet for the mid-morning shuttle. Off we head along another painful rocky road that’s missing marshmallows.
“You want coffee?” The driver asks the eight of us.
“No thank you,” I say. The rest of the passengers shake their heads and scan each other’s faces.
“Ok. We stop,” says the driver, and enjoys not only an espresso but a full seated meal before we continue the journey.
We lose our way to Tirana, and a lady on the street guides us a few hundred metres to the bus stop. We thank her whole-heartedly and she says it’s nothing, even though her bus is seconds from departing. In Sydney you’d probably receive a gruff grunt and “ah, I dunno I’m a tourist too.” In summary, Albanians are the best.
We take turns trundling Melba’s broken suitcase through humid air and loud car horns in the direction of a bed and breakfast in Albania’s capital. Never thought I’d be one to advocate hostels in place of private rooms but here we are. Ratty eight-bed dorm, sign me up! It’s not that I enjoy being grotty so much as I like forgetting that I have to be clean.
Fraza e ditës: Are we lost? No…
Kënga e vendit: Valle Kosovare - Shpat Kasapi