We left the flat grounds of Albania behind, ready to enter the mountainous terrain of Macedonia. After an ice cold beauty wash in the river and some fresh coffee, we started climbing away from the hotel backyard where we slept. We shared this with Georges, a fellow cycler who was on his way from England to Greece. We couldn’t cycle together since he was on a tight schedule, with no more than 5 days to reach Athens. Halfway up the mountain we were delighted to discover a watering hose with the same icy riverwater where we washed off the sweat and created goosebumps instead. While Mr. Flavour Saver serenaded the local cashier, we spent our last Albanian Lek on miraculously discounted food supplies.
Panting from exhaustion, we crossed the border on top of the mountain pass, with a beautiful view over lake Ohrid. The chilly mountain winds forced us for the first time in our windstoppers and hoping for warmer temperatures we rode down to 900 meters above sea level. We found an acceptable temperature near the lake, where our tent was put up under the watchful eye of a herd of sheep and their big black shepherd dog.
After a swim in the lake we met Dave and Jacqueline in Ohrid. This Dutch couple was so kind to treat us to a round of Macedonian Rakia to help our lunch settle. Our throats didn’t get a chance to dry as we were invited for drinks and music by a crazy captain who goes by the name of Draga. This sailor makes his own rakia and the instant one lets his guard down he’ll be tricked into boarding the boat. Before realizing it you and your three friends will be stranded with a stomach full of hard liquor and sleeping on a random beach at the far side of lake Ohrid.
To anyone that knows us a little it will be quite obvious that we fell for this ‘trap’ with open eyes, ears and throats. We accepted to take the water taxi to the other side, throwing all other plans overboard. Draga’s plans also had to be adjusted, as after feeding us his own kind of moonshine we insisted that we could let the boat drag us while we body-surfed around it. As he didn’t stand completely behind this idea, we repayed him with some singalong guitar tunes from Mr. Flavour Saver and all was forgotten. We fell asleep on the shore of lake Ohrid, where Bobbie (a stray dog) kept watch during the night until we were awoken by splashes of the waves on our faces.
The next day the Rakia was exiled from our bodies even more quickly than it came in in the first place, having to climb 17 kilometer, over another mountain pass on 1600m. Not wanting to carry too much weight up the hill, we found ourselves really hungry as we reached the top. Yuri and Stef decided to listen to their stomachs instead of waiting and cycled ahead in search for food. Leaving direction arrows behind, they guided Oli and Anton towards a village near another lake. The lakeside was filled with apple trees bearing countless apples, ripe for the picking. We needn’t explain we filled our bags until they were bursting with food that fits right in our budget. These fruits were sweet as honey, fit perfectly in one hand and the crackling sound of taking a bite from these red spheroids was truly satisfying.
Not being used to cold temperatures after the seemingly endless summer, we found ourselves awake in the middle of the night to reposition ourselves in our sleeping bags to stay warm in our hammocks. In exchange for the cold nights we got the best sunny cycling weather during the day. We enjoyed the Macedonian countryside, containing long, lush green stretches of uncultivated terrain, whereas in Albania you couldn’t cycle one kilometer from Skhoder to Tirane without seeing a house or shop along the road. Now we enjoyed both, we are already looking forward to what Greece will put on our plates!