Guess who's back?! Guest number 8! After crushing a chunk of the Alps with Nil and Marie over the summer of 2018, they allowed me back on their 'postmodern pilgrimage'. I strategically waited for spring to make its entrance with more sun, higher temperatures and less snow before I joined 2PVA in Northern-Macedonia this time. But can you imagine them doing all these Balkan countries in winter time!? It still blows my mind.
Anyway, it was good to meet them in Skopje in good spirits and with fresh smelling feet (for the time being). We started hiking late in the day of my arrival at the gorgeous Matka canyon, just outside of Skopje. This is also where we picked up our stray-dog for the next 24 hours, not Nil and Marie's first as you might know if you've been following their trip! Matka, as we called him, was a worthy companion, chasing off wildlife, never complaining, crashing and sleeping wherever we would pause. Until a thunderstorm rumbled in the distance and poor Matka panicked and ran away from us... Never to be seen again. His paws will always leave traces in our hearts. ;)
Onwards through the Macedonian forests, filled with age-old oak and bear tracks. And then little towns, with each one or more mosques. The singing of the Muezzin, the beating on the bedugduring the ramadan-period: it adds a lot of un-European flavour, which I like. People aren't used to hikers and we're soon surrounded by a dozen kids looking to be entertained. Not long after we are generously invited for coffee by their parents.
Nil and Marie have become expert navigators, using satellite photo's to figure out their own route. Sometimes this means hiking straight up a 45` angle ski slope, sometimes bush wacking, sometimes crossing a refuse-dump whilst being barked at by a pack of 35 stray dogs (none though as tough as Matka!), sometimes crossing paths with (rather imposing) shepherding dogs in the middle of the mountains... never a dull moment!
Oh and about those bear tracks... A few years back whilst hiking on the Continental Divide Trail I had a black bear stick its head in my tent, leaving me severely shaken. Now, imagine this scenario: after a day of hiking amongst bear scat and paw-markings as big as 2 large hands 2PVA and I set up camp. I wake up in the middle of the night, in my little Zpacks Solplex tent, and hear large branches snap and I hear the rustling of leafs on the ground. Clearly a large animal is moving through the woods. The dogs at the farm a couple hundred meters away are going mental and are barking their heads of. In my mind a mental picture forms of a bear sneaking around our camp fire for scraps of our diner. Then I hear sniffing and snorting only just outside my tent. I mean, surely there wouldn't be ANY doubt in your mind that the biggest bear of Macedonia has decided to pay you a visit?! Well, next morning I use whatever boy-scout skills I might have and look for tracks around the tent... I felt so stupid finding out that... all this time: it was a horse! Roaming wild and free, nibbling at the grass patch around my tent.
From what I have seen of Macedonia, it's a beautiful country, not in a super spectacular way, but definitely worth a visit! I spent the last few days in Ohrid, a town with lots of history beautifully situated at a clear lake. Good food, friendly people, not so bad! Nil and Marie took a slightly longer route and arrive a little later. We share a last lunch with a view over the lake, contemplating the scorching heat that they're about to face in Greece in the summer and all the other adventures that await them. For me, it's back to my desk job until I find another opportunity to break out of that (rather lovely!) prison. Who knows it'll be with 2PVA again? Third time's a charm after all! Until then, why don't you keep them company for a while?
< Read Jesse's first article