After arriving in Struga in a dream like state- an 11km downhill at 40kmph can do this to you- we sent Rhi (‘the chef’) to the shops to buy the ingredients for dinner and off we set to find the campsite for the night. Our new found friend Jonny had a ‘no campsite policy’ so Jimi had to regretfully inform him that we would be staying in a campsite as we had not had a shower for four days and needed one. Jonny replied with, “Ive not had a shower in a month.” I was shocked at this and we plodded on down the road to find the campsite. It was of course closed and there was a fence up so we could not even get in and sleep there free of charge. We circled the surrounding areas to find a wild camp spot and could not see anywhere apart from an old land fill site which had old bones which to our disgust were the size of human ones and we were a little worried about this spot! We decided it had gotten too dark and we could not find a spot so we agreed to get a room and set off in search…it was low season and we could not find one close. Just as we gave up hope, a Mercedes crawled along beside us and we were asked if we would like a room, €50, ‘no thank’s we said and carried on. A little down the road, a BMW pulled up and a man peered from the blacked out windows and said ‘room?’ we said we were looking for a camping spot and he said ‘come and stay in my house’. We were a little dubious about this but followed him anyway and trusted he would help us out with a little bit of grass to camp on. Further down the road, we pulled up outside a huge pink luxurious apartment block with a grass lawn and extravagant water features. Lovely we thought, we can camp on his lovely grass, perfect! He then said to us ‘ it’s far too cold to be outside, would you like to just have an apartment?’ We said we have no money and he said no its okay, you stay inside as its too cold outside.
A luxurious 5* apartment awaited us and he brought us towels and bedding and looked after us as we were his own! He explained there is only tourism there for two months of the year and so the apartments are empty and we may as well use them.A great nights sleep later we awoke to find I had my first puncture and we did not want to leave the luxury of the apartment and the beautiful hospitality of Aris who was so kind to us. We felt again its only a small act of kindness but can touch our hearts. We set off full of warmth- although still unclean as there was no running water- and feeling happy about the Macedonia and what it had to offer us.
After a little party on the pier we bid an emotional farewell to our new found friend Jonny and bid him a safe trip ahead.
Lake Ohrid is an extremely clear lake and we were told one of the clearest in the world, it was very cold as well. Rhi sat with the fish nibbling on her toes while Jimi had an Indian style bath and washed in the water.
We knew there was a large mountain ahead of us, we stuffed ourselves with bread and cheese and prepared for the climb to the other side of Macedonia. We started the climb and realised it would be tougher than all of the other climbs, so 3 hours later and ploughing on in the heat we decided to stop at a wood chopping clearing and camp there fore the night. Dinner was cooked and by the time it was dark and we had filled our hungry tummys, we were fast asleep by 8pm, resting our bodies for the next days climb.
We awoke to the screech of tyres and quickly got ready and found a man with an axe in the clearing close by, me and Jimi exchanged glances nervously but the little old man waved and said, “Good morning” (to our delight). The final climb to 2200 metres was a slow one as Rhi hadn’t slept much and had an upset stomach (either that or herEPO was running low). The view at the top was magnificent and well worth the 6 hour climb. We read the information at the top as we admired the view, only to realise where we camped in the national park was home to brown bears, Balkan lynx and Balkan chamois. Wow we thought we had a close shave there.
It took a mere 30 minutes to speed down the other side of the mountain and through the apple orchids which were abundant. We picked a few and they were some of the most delicious apples we had tasted, a great reward after our two days efforts. Rhi was still not feeling well and she decided the 30km to Bitola would be a little too much and decided to hitch a lift, so off she got into a transit van with a man and his wife and we cycled on. I of course took a picture of the van to be on the safe side. They were Macedonian Turks who ended up taking Rhi for coffee and cake, finally her Turkish language skills were coming into play.
Bitola greeted us with a bustle of three weddings and songs and dancing in the streets, Rhi found a hostel and we made traditional Macedonian sausage, egg and chips! We got talking to a Macedonian man in the hostel and he said, I cant believe you actually stayed in that national park, the locals don’t stay out there after dark as they are feared of the bears and wolves. ( I am so happy we did not know this before)
Macedonia had been an adventure and we were happy, we met Aris, and happily we didn’t meet the bears.