Part of a cycling trip with my friend Hannes from Greece to Slovenia passing through Macedonia, Albania, Montenegro and Croatia.

(North) Macedonia

The trip started in Greece (Thessaloniki) but about the only thing we did there was heading straight to Macedonia. No, wait a second, we also rode on something that resembled a highway more than anything else for about two kilometres and we were hit by a heat-wave. Temperatures are above 40°C and I pay for it with total exhaustion on the first day. We basically go from supermarket to supermarket; they are always cool and they have cool drinks.

We begin our visit to Macedonia by lying on the beach, Lake Dojran straddles the border, looks inaccessible on the Greek side but has a nice and popular beach on the Macedonian side. We are paying tribute to the heat by adapting our travel pattern. We rise early, go for a few hours, rest during the warmest hours and go again for some time in the late afternoon. I got scared today, I realize that despite the heat I had no sweat on my skin, no nothing. When I noticed that, I feared I might suffer a heatstroke but on reflection there is an easy explanation, the sweat is just drying instantly.

I enjoy cycling trips very much; they are a great way to enjoy the landscape but they are always less than ideal to tell stories about. Usually we choose a route that bypasses big cities and focuses more on the countryside, but no one wants to listen to “and then another beautiful mountain appeared”. We are usually self-sufficient carrying a tent, cooking equipment and prefer to sleep somewhere in the nature instead of campsites. But this also limits our interaction with the local population.

We found a wonderful place to pitch our tent. We rode up 15km on a depopulated plateau, there is a little stream and it is a bit lower than the road so passing cars (of which there are very few) cannot see us. But we have taken water at a fateful spring, it’s not clean. Hannes is the first to fall ill, I’m following a bit later. The night is not nice and the next morning we decide to see a doctor, we change our route and go down from the plateau again to Kavadarci, I take my bags but everything else we leave with the tent. Hospital is the same word in Macedonian as in Russian, just the stress is on a different syllable, making it sound different. After I realize that, everyone understands me. The doctor does only speak a few words of English but we soon get an agreement that the vomitus is the problem. He gives us a prescription. I have no memory of us paying something to the doctor. We take an easy rest day even sleeping at a hotel. The next day we sleep long and start late. Another beautiful place to camp, shortly below a pass, this time we carry good drinking water. As we cross the pass the next morning, I feel weak, no energy, my body still needs more time to fully recover.

The dogs seem dangerous, we wake up in the middle of the night by their lour barking. I’m terrified, it feels as they are right next to us, as if they might just bite right into our tent. Because of the heat and no danger of rain, we have put up our inner tent only. We switch on some light but it doesn’t help, the inner tent just reflects the lights, glows brightly but doesn’t reveal anything around us. We slowly open the tent and peak outside; now the light helps. It is less dangerous than it seemed, we are indeed surrounded by five or six dogs but they have kept a respectful distance of about five metres. What to do? The dogs don’t stop barking. Some small stones are lying at the entrance and we throw them at the dogs. They leave. We go out and collect some more stones, they will come handy as the dogs come back another time.  

Lake Ohrid is 2-5 million years old. As an ancient lake it has a remarkable fauna with some endemic species. It is also very beautiful, with nice beaches and monasteries. At lake Ohrid we get relief from the heat, the first normal day after temperatures above 40°C every day.