The spirit of Macedonia

Manas and Anu savour the joys of country living as they head deeper into Macedonia. This is how the experience unfolded for them…

Our entry into Peshtani was not in the best of spirits. Perhaps it was also inertia catching up- a fatigue resulting from so many days of being on the road and the recent high temperature ordeals. We were really just content being indoors, surfing the TV and being with each other without any task list in between. That evening we crossed the front street to admire the lake Ohrid. It looked as if the sky had bled red, orange and purple as the darker clouds marked deep scratches. We had a spot of rain that afternoon and the temperature was more bearable. At a neighbourhood we had a dish of fresh catch of the lake and the local Macedonian beer. Nicola was our waiter- a 70 year old gentleman, jolly as a young boy and energetic enough to manage all the 15 plus tables independently by himself. “A guy at his age having to work” I commented under my breath… “Yet the efficiency with which he does his job” Anu pointed out. The Macedonians were among the friendliest people we encountered during our trip.

Peshtani still had a touristic feel to it- and we were hungering for a truly remote village experience. Our research paid off- we located our next destination- a beautiful home tucked into the folds of the Baba mountain about 3 hours away from Peshtani: Villa Raskrsnica. This forest home was in the little village of Brajcino Prespa in the midst of the Pelister national park- just what we needed… solitude and nature!

Villa Raskrsnica turned out to be a 4 hour ride- we rode alongside the gigiantic Lake Ohrid till almost the border of Albania and then snaked inland along route R2332. Excellent choice because the road was a biker’s dream- magnificent views, serious ascent and descent and tons of hairpins. The only issue: temperature of 44 degrees- the hottest for Macedonia in the last few years. We laboured on till we reached the village of Odmarlishte Carino and took the sharp turn into route R1307. And our jaws dropped- stretched below us was the blue-green ocean. But hey Macedonia is supposed to be a landlocked country right? “Welcome to Lake Prespa”the sign said… we drunk-in the sight. The air had cooled down, the mountains were behind us and stretched as far as the eyes could see was the Lake Prespa. It was again one of those moments- when you close your eyes and say “Thank you!”

We travelled along the lake Prespa for almost an hour. The Baba mountain towered over us and we were soon in the region of the Pelister National Park. Huge trees, green mountains, birds and small villages greeted us as we rode through the narrow country lanes. The forests became more and more dense; it made a thick canopy and the road tunnelled its way through this dense vegetation. Nearby were road signs for bear, cattle and animals… this was really remote and we barely passed a handful of cars for most of our journey.

The village of Brajcino was not even listed on our GPS. I had to feed the latitude coordinates into the navigation to figure out the road. We finally turned yet another corner, crossed yet another narrow bridge and reached a sort of clearing- the “centrum” of our village Brajcino. The village itself was a scattering of steep roofs and log cabins hastily put together. We continued along the broken mountain path- and there it finally was… Villa Raskrsnica.

I loved its looks- set against the backdrop of the mountain ranges, the house nearly backed into the jungle- and it was a pretty sight to see the stone and wood and the shaded porch was an amazingly welcome sight after the demanding ride through uncertain terrains.

Milka welcomed us into her home. Nearly 70 years of age, she was a hard-as-nails lady. Looking at the corners of her mouth and her eyes, you could see the steel in them. I guess the land demands such people. Life at the farm is not easy- it is backbreaking work from morning till late night. We got along really well with Milka. She and her husband had lived and worked in western Europe- but the call of the roots is hard to ignore. They found their little paradise here. A few years back when Milka’s husband died, she carried on with the farm. Her son and grandson visit often from the neighboring city but she manages the everyday affairs of the farm independently. The land, the crops, the animals and also maintaining the house- it left her with little time for anything else. The bed and breakfast setup provides her with the people connection “It is my window to the world” she says.

Milka’s son Chris was a gifted artist- but he was also a man of the world. We got along really well- and hung out together for long hours, sharing about our lives and worlds with each other. “Brajcino used to be a village of 800 people until 3 or 4 decades back- now there are only 40”said Kris. Unemployment and lack of opportunities had forced the youngsters to move out; few oldies remain and many homes are not really lived-in. It was a story by now familiar to me from my previous discussions with some other hosts.

“But today evening you must come to the village fest” he said… there you will see the other side of our life. Thus it came about that the village of Brajcino Prespa witnessed Indian participation at their annual village fest for the first time in its history. This fest was held at the school grounds and from far away we could hear the sounds of Macedonian songs and music. “You say it’s a village of 40 and yet there must be 500+ people here” I nudged the guy next to me. “These are our villagers who have come from all over the world for this day” he said… taking me by the elbow to introduce me to some of the folks. Indeed, there was a parliamentarian from Canada, a hotelier from Los Angles, a group of people from Australia and multitude of people from closer in Europe… and so on.

The music picked up a lively gait, a few oldies held hands and started their traditional folk dance. They may have lived all their lives in foreign lands but their roots ran deep- or at least their music. Soon others joined in (including Anu of course); by now it was a train of people dancing with joined hands.

And thus it was… that under the stars and the bright moon, we came a little closer to the Macedonians. There was joy, there was sorrow but above all there was hope in their ancient melody as the drum beats continued their hypnotic rhythm into the night.

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