Monday, October 30, 2006

Macedonia

I guess I'm writing for the 2 or 3 fans I still have out there so I'll keep going.
Macedonia has been good to us, but at the same time, the place of all sorts of wierd twists and chaos. For some reason, Macedonia still requires us to get a visa and as I said before, the embassy staff were quite mean to us, refusing our visa application in Sofia and generally being grouchy and not the nicest in Belgrade. As it was we had a limited time available so entered on the 17th, the first day of our visa.
Macedonia managed to avoid the initial chaos of the breakup of Yugoslavia, having separated without starting any sort of war but as things have fallen apart in the region they have picked up their share of trouble too. Macedonia doesn't have the best of relations with Greece, as Greece has always objected to the use of the name Macedonia. Alexander the Great was from Macedonia not Greece, but that ancient Macedonia was located in what is present day Greece so the Greeks don't want anyone thinking that Macedonia deserves any land back. Northern and western Macedonia is also largely ethnically and historically Albanian, and after the chaos of Kosovo, many Kosovo Albanians fled to Macedonia and then started to cause trouble there too, such that there was a small civil "war" or something back in 2001. Albanian is now the second official language of Macedonia and things are more or less normal, though still divided along cultural lines.
Macedonian uses the cyrillic alphabet again and like in Bulgaria and Albania they nod to say no and shake their head to say yes. Yep, it's the opposite, but fortunately for us there are enough foreigners in the area that they are starting to change and it was never a problem for us and was actually pretty hard to notice in Bulgaria. They definately still do it in Albania though.
The number one attraction or location for tourists in Macedonia is Lake Ohrid. It's a very pretty lake, and I think I prefer lakes to oceans actually. They are quieter, calmer and don't smell as much. We were staying with a girl, Patty, from the Peace Corps in Struga, right by the lake. Very nice, and as it wasn't the touristy town Ohrid, we enjoyed the local activity. The area is mountainous and it was quite cold at night up there. Everyone in the villages is busy chopping wood for the rapidly approaching winter season and drying peppers or making their local food specialty, a pepper paste that they use for all sorts of stuff. Have I mentioned that I hate peppers. I'm in the wrong part of the world. Also, cheese here in Feta cheese by default and you have to specify if you want something else. We have been eating tons and tons of it too. Apples are also ubiquitous and we have been eating tons of them for the last few weeks.
We arranged to stay with Patty's friends in Prilep (right in the middle of the country) for a few days. Prilep itself is a pretty uninteresting mid-sized town with tons of drying tobacco everywhere, but just north of town is the Treskavec monastery on top of a mountain. The mountains are lacking in vegetation so it is more of a scramble over giant rocks than a walk in the woods. The mountain is a little under 2000m and stands alone so you can get nice views of the countryside from the monastery on top. It is supposed to be the oldest monastery in the Balkans, but I have no idea if that is true. There were a few local volunteers up there and one monk. We hiked the few hours to the top and stayed overnight but really we planned the whole thing wrong because it was so peaceful and quiet up there we should have stayed for at least a few days to rest and relax. Unfortunately, we had made other plans.
I have to remain cryptic at this point and say that some really wierd things happened in Prilep, because others are better left to tell the tale. From Prilep we took the train to Skopje, the capital where we were picked up by another host. How many of you guys would pick someone up from the train station and host them at the last minute because of a call from a guy that you don't know very well when that guy also doesn't know the people but knows Patty, who we stayed with for a few days? Not only that, but he met us for a few minutes, took us back to his flat, gave us the key, said "make yourselves at home" and left to go stay with his parents on the other side of the city! It's amazing what kind of hospitality we have been receiving lately. I can't imagine anyone doing that at home.
Stayed a couple days in Skopje to wander around and rest. I have been feeling quite lethargic lately and my stomach is a little off (but not in a normal off way) so we had hoped to be able to rest a bit. Skopje itself doesn't have much to see or do, so we decided to try to take some days off. At least you guys have weekends, we just never seem to get a day off out here. Sometimes we start a little later in the day, but there is always something to do or see. Our "day off" ended up with us getting a call from our next host, Fatmir, from Kosovo. He was passing through Skopje, wanted to meet us and ended up picking us up and taking us to Kosovo instead. But that is another story.
Ammon

1 Comments:

At 11:05 AM , Blogger huggybigbear said...

Hi Guys,
First Ammon, I am one of the truly die hard fans of your blogging. I usually re-read the posts, and look forward to hearing from each of you. I enjoyed your follow-up to Bree's rant, it was good to hear, and encouraging. You do realize that we will all laugh our arses off should you return, suddenly settle down, ect..... remember God has a sense of humour, sometimes twisted sense of humour, but definitely has one. So we reserve the right to support you to our full extent, smug in the belief that somehow, someway, life will take you on an adventure you weren't counting on. LOL.
Bree you youthful enthusiasm was very refreshing, it's true somedays for me feel very robotic, in that the days go very long (14hrs or more) so I get home eat, go to bed, get up for another cycle. But I do comfort mysefl in the knowledge that I am doing very much what I want to be doing, and because of me there are people who are alive that would not be otherwise. I really loved your post, and the responses it generated. I think pasometimes we become locked into the comfort zone, and worried about the change. Having moved as many time as we have (your Mom can elaborate), gives me a different perspective, moving is amazingly renewing. You get the opportunity to decide which part of you you wish to change and try to be that better person. Is your travel the same? Do you get to change what you don't like and keep what you do?
Maggie, sorry email coming.
Love and Bear Hugs to all of you
Shean

 

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