Happy Memorial Day! I got up early so I could have time for breakfast before I had to leave for the bus. I got to the bus station and purchased my ticket no problem. I was told the bus would either take 3.5-4 hours or 4.5-5 hours, I couldn’t remember. We just entered Macedonia and it’s been almost 4.5 hours so I guess it’s the latter. Struga, where I have to get off and catch a taxi is only 7 miles from here so hopefully not too much longer. I’m annoyed though cuz I didn’t get a stamp in my passport for leaving Albania or entering Macedonia. Stupid 😉
When I got off the bus in Struga there were two other guys going to Ohrid so we shared a cab. One was from Hong Kong and one was from Ohrid so he communicated with the driver for us. I didn’t have any Macedonian money so I asked if we could stop at an atm so I could be able to pay (I was the last one getting off- the hostel was about 6 miles outside of Ohrid). The guy said the driver would and reconfirmed when he got out. Then we dropped off the guy from Hong Kong at his hotel and then we headed to my hostel. As we were approaching I asked again about the “bankomat” and you could tell from his expression that he had forgotten. At this point the only things around were hotels but he stopped and asked some workers if there was an atm around. They of course said no the only ones were in Ohrid where we just came from. The driver didn’t speak great English so we tried to figure out how I was going pay him. I had a €50 bill but he didn’t have enough change (the ride was supposed to be €6) and 200 Albanian leks which is $1.50 so he didn’t want that. He said he’d take me back to Ohrid but it would then cost €10 which I didn’t want to do because it had technically been his fault that he forgot. We got to my hostel and the driver talked to the owner and decided she would pay him and I’d just pay her back. I felt bad for inconveniencing her but I had no other choice.
I didn’t realize when booking that the hostel was so far away from the city and probably wouldn’t have stayed here had I known, but too late now. The hostel is situated in the hill above the lake so it’s a beautiful place! But the vibe is much more chill out and slow than I would prefer. I met Lara when I arrived, a girl from Istanbul who is volunteering at the hostel and she showed me around and explained how to get into the city. There’s a bus every “20ish” minutes and costs 30 denar. Which would be great if I had 30 denar lol but I figured I’d ask to borrow it tomorrow and then pay them back when I got money. Tatiana, the owner, will provide dinner if you want for €8 which seemed a bit expensive but seeing as I had no money to go anywhere else (there’s a few restaurants at the bottom of the hill) I accepted.
Lara and Laura (girl from Germany- also volunteering) asked me to go to the lake with them around 4:15 but Tatiana had told me dinner would be between 5 and 6 so I had to decline as I didn’t want to miss dinner! I hadn’t had a real meal since breakfast, only little snacks on the bus so I wasn’t about to miss dinner!
Since I was the only one who wanted dinner, I ate with Tatiana, her husband and another guy working (not volunteering) at the hostel. We started with “salad”- cucumbers with garlic and olive oil. I was skeptical as I don’t like cucumbers but took some as not to be rude. Of course they were delicious so I’m glad there’s another vegetable I like! During salad, Andon (Tatiana’s husband) brought out the rakija and explained that the first course of dinner is always salad and rakija. And of course you have to take 2 shots of rakija (although you sip them, not shoot them) because you have 2 legs…if you only take 1, you’ll be stumbling around supposedly. They get homemade rakija from their friends and this one is made out of grape. This has probably been one of the best rakija’s I’ve had, but that’s not saying much lol after salad and rakija, we had something like a bean stew with ham and sausage (they had confirmed I ate meat before and I said yes because it generally means a more interesting meal). Again, delicious!! Probably worth the €8! And they always made sure my cup was full of beer- I love these people! Definitely worth the €8 😉 and it was fun to have the chance to talk to Tatiana and Andon about owning and running the hostel. They’re currently building more rooms (all on their own by hand) because they’re full throughout most of the summer.
After we finished eating, Lara, Laura, Maksim (another guy working at the hostel) and Martin (Tatiana and Andon’s son) returned from the lake so we all hung out. George, a guy from London and my roommate, joined us (he had been in Ohrid all day trying to get his atm card back- the atm ate it after he waited too long to make a selection- to no avail) and as some of them cooked, we hung out and talked about our travels. When their dinner was ready, they invited me to join them as they’d made a lot and I gave their dish a try (potatoes, tomatoes, cheese thing). Not as good as Tatiana’s, but still good. Then the rakija was brought out again >_< Macedonians sure love their rakija. I only had 1 shot this time, so I hope I’m not stumbling around later.
George and I called it a night around 11 and headed to bed. There are 4 beds in our room- 1 bunk bed (George is on the bottom) and 2 singles (I’m in one)- and it’s just the two of us so it’s nice to have the extra room (it’s a pretty small room).
Today ended up being a very lazy day. It was sprinkling in the morning so George and I hung out in the under cover common garden area. I wanted to head to the city and everyone talked about going in the early afternoon (after they had finished their chores) so I figured I’d just wait for them so I’d be with someone who knew how to get into the city. Of course early afternoon ended up being almost 5pm so I really just sat around on my phone, watching the kittens (how have I not mentioned there are 2 ADORABLE one and a half month old kittens here?? To say I’m in heaven is an understatement) and chatting with the others all day. And I got to Skype with Erika 🙂 Around 4 Laura was hungry and was going to walk down to the market at the bottom of the hill and said if I wanted to come she’d buy me something and I could pay her back when I got money. I quickly said yes as all I’d had to eat was a clif bar and a bag of chips. We got a few little snacks and then sat by the lake and ate them until it started to sprinkle again.
When we got back to the hostel, Lara and Maksim were ready to head to the city so I went with them to see the city and buy stuff for dinner. When we got to the bottom of the hill we ran into Sam, one of my roommates from Novi Sad who had just gotten to Ohrid and was heading to the hostel! Told you, the Balkans are a small world. We decided to try hitch hiking as it’s generally pretty easy around the Balkans, but we had no luck (since there were 3 of us, we didn’t fit in a lot of the cars easily, which is why I’m telling myself no one stopped) but then a taxi came so we just jumped in that. Maksim offered to walk me around the city, show me the lake and grab a tea, but it was clear Lara was hungry and as the weather wasn’t great, we just went to the grocery store and atm.
Lara loves to cook, so she cooks for everyone who wants dinner and then we just split the cost. Tonight we were having chicken and bulgur (kinda like rice as there was no couscous) and wine of course. We ended up eating at about 9 as the kitchen appliances aren’t the best (2 camping stoves and a microwave oven) so it takes a while for everything to cook. Sam, George, Maksim, Lara, Laura and I ate dinner together and it was a really nice time. Dinner again was delicious and it was really nice to have 2 home cooked dinners in a row.
After dinner we just hung out and drank wine until it was time to go to bed. Sam and Jessie (guy from Finland) joined our room so now it’s a full house and you can tell lol there’s backpacks and clothes and shit everywhere. But it’s part of the charm of hostel life 😉
I had decided to take the 1245 bus to Skopje and I had no idea how long it would take me to get to the bus station so I got up and had breakfast (I bought a yogurt yesterday) and decided I would leave around 11 just to be safe. I got packed up and said my goodbyes (these might have been the hardest ones- everyone was so nice and hospitable here) then headed down the hill. This is the first time where I’ll admit that having a backpack (instead of a suitcase) would have been easier. So all of you who thought I was crazy for taking a suitcase (Jeff, Erika, Laura) you can kinda say I told you so now 😉 but I made it down the hill just fine carrying my suitcase (kickboxing has paid off!).
I planned to take the local bus to the big bus station, but it appeared like I had just missed it and a taxi pulled up right then so I gave in and took the easier, more expensive route. But it paid off because I started talking to the taxi driver and told him I was heading to Skopje and he made a call to a colleague and told me he’d take me to Struga where I could take a minibus for only 400 denar. I was told by Martin that the big greyhound buses would be 500 denar so if it worked out, this would be a much better deal- cheaper, faster and more comfortable. Of course, I had my doubts, but Fimi (taxi driver- we were on a first name basis, why would he lie to me?!) wouldn’t really take no for an answer so I decided to just go with it and see what happened. He brought me to Struga, showed me the ticket office and then helped me onto the bus. It was 400 denar and was leaving in 5 minutes (at noon) so it appears to all be working! Sometimes taking a taxi pays off 😉
On the minibus, there was a man up front with the driver and one other woman in the back with me. Her name is Olga and we started talking and she was really nice. She is Albanian by heritage but was born and raised in Struga and now lives with her daughter and husband in Tetov. She said that Albanians make up 30% of Macedonia but that they don’t have the same rights as Macedonians and that the government is very corrupt. About 15 minutes into the drive, we came upon a car accident where a car was flipped upside down in the field next to the road. The traffic was blocked and the ambulance showed up about 5 minutes after we had stopped. Most everyone got out of their cars and ran to the ambulance and Olga said that they were all going to see if they could help. As Olga said, the government isn’t that great and the accident had actually occurred before we even left Struga so it took the ambulance over 20 minutes to get to the scene and to make up for the shitty government the citizens all help each other out. Luckily it looked like everyone was alive, just bruised and scraped up and soon we were back on our way.
Olga then offered to connect me to her wifi hotspot, which was really nice! Of course, she’s not going the whole way with me, but it was nice to have internet for a little. Olga got off in Tetov so it was just me. We ended up stopping for a bathroom/coffee break a little while later and Olga had told me before she left that we’d be there about 5-10 minutes since the driver didn’t speak English well. I bought some Burek (my new favorite) and used the bathroom and then it was back on the bus.