After a year and a half on the road, here we are in Macedonia!
Well, for some months it has to be called Republic of North Macedonia (or North Macedonia to the friends). Earlier, you found the country under the name FYROM for Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. If the change is made for a name a little nicer, it mostly puts an end to a conflict with Greece since 1991 and behind this information a priori anecdotal lies the possibility, in the long term, to join the European Union and NATO.
Our route to Macedonia was very "Western" since from Kosovo we crossed the border near Skopje and we left the country on the shores of Lake Ohrid, South-West of the country, to return to Albania. As a result, we have the impression of having had a slightly biased vision of Macedonia since we mostly crossed the area close to Albania where many Albanians live. Yes, in addition to the Slavic Orthodox Macedonian people, the country has large Albanian, Turkish and Rom minorities.
Download our GPX itinerary in Macedonia
Skopje surprised us. We only glimpsed it and did not really take the time to really explore it, but in comparison with the other capitals of the former Yugoslavia, it gave us the impressions of a modern and developed city.
Living in town, it is probably a big city rather pleasant, especially as nature is accessible all around. After catching up with Jesse in Skopje, we went to the Matka Canyon. Only 15 km from the city center, the land opens onto this lush canyon. For our first night, we camped on the heights among the ruins of a church. In this Ramadan period, the muezzin resounded more than usual and, at nightfall, the drummers animated all the surroundings.
Jesse, round two
For the second time, Jesse has joined us from the Netherlands. Nothing very comparable in Macedonia with the Italian Alps that we had explored together in August 2018 but it was great to share new aspects of our adventure with him. Our route from Skopje to Lake Ohrid has led us to meet people more often, even though for us, Serbo-Croat is less conducive to talk than Italian. We were unfortunately not invited to sleep at the inhabitant, in fact the only time this happened, our camp was already set up. With Jesse, we have definitely made our most beautiful bivouacs in Macedonia! He tells you his own experience in an article.
Our second night together, however, almost went wrong. On a plateau, we find the ideal place to set up the tent. As soon as the tents have been pitched, a great flock of sheep came in our direction. It was going down to the village a little further. Soon, eight dogs calmly encircle us. They wear these necklaces of peaks, supposed to protect them from the attacks of wolves. It was still far from the Kangals, the shepherds of Anatolia, we will probably meet in Turkey, but they were still mastiffs. They were not aggressive but at eight to three, they did not need to show off. Nil caught a stick, their attitude changed and became more threatening.
They are not stray dogs, they are sheepdogs, trained to defend the flock, trained to kill, wolves for example but all that threatens the sheep in general. We needed to react quickly. Well. We bet they were well trained and are not just bloodthirsty beasts. We all three entered the tent and waited. The dogs lied in a circle around the tent. A few minutes later, the shepherd arrived and delivered us!
A great fright and a warning: it seems that it will be worse in Greece...
The threat barely removed, a new arrival, descending from the mountain riding, a storm of hail!
In deep S**t
In Macedonia, as in many Balkan countries, the management (or non-management) of waste has depressed us. Open dumps, wild or organized, in sumptuous places, it was difficult to remain indifferent.
One time in particular, we felt really silly lugging our full 1KG FOR THE PLANET bags for two days. On the map and satellite imagery, we thought our route would take us through a stone quarry (Nil loves quarries, did you know?). No quarry but a huge landfill, rather organized: the plastic here, the textile there... After escaping a few dozen stray dogs, it is in the sector of building materials that Nil found himself wading in sandals in an unidentified liquid and I sank myself up to mid-calves in a mixture that looked vaguely like plaster and that went into my shoes from above. An experience that we would have rather avoided and that put in front of us the announced disaster that awaits us and our planet.
Mavrovo National Park
If you have ever considered visiting Macedonia, you have heard of Mavrovo National Park, the largest in the country. We were rather disappointed to find that a ski resort disfigured the park and that, as in the rest of the country, litter was invading nature. The day we arrived at the edge of Lake Mavrovo, we came out of this hellish dump and dreamed only of one thing: to take a bath to clean all those sticky things in which we were entangled. What a disappointment to find only a muddy water reservoir where garbage was floating! We stayed dirty for a few more hours until we found a warm shower.
Ohrid, the pearl of the Balkans
Fortunately, the Lake Ohrid was there to reconcile us with a Macedonia that could have left us almost indifferent. It is true, we did not make really remarkable meetings, the landscapes did not blow us up and to crown it all, the climate was not extremely lenient with us, we had a lot of rain.
Lake Ohrid, the oldest lake in Europe and one of the deepest, straddles Macedonia and Albania and it was there that we had to cross the border to go back to Albania. It's also where we left Jesse after a week together. The lake has been declared a World Heritage Site for its exceptional natural character, as its crystal clear waters are home to rare flora and fauna. We spent a few days in the city of Ohrid on the shore of the lake. With its small beaches and Byzantine monasteries, it is the tourist capital of the country.
We skirted the lake until we reached the Albanian border, sometimes climbing the heights, crossing old villages in their juice, there were hot days but the lake always welcomed us for a swim at the end of the day.
This crossing of Macedonia has been rather brief but it ended in beauty and we are very excited to find our beloved Albania!
Talk to you soon!
Marie & Nil