Winding through the Macedonian mountains in the night time rain was quite the experience. We consider ourselves pretty avid travelers, but Macedonia was a country we gave very little thought to. Especially because it was a last minute decision to divert from our original route and head south through this country.
Officially called the Republic of Macedonia, this tiny country is situated just north of Greece, east of Albania and somewhere to the south of where the f*ck am I. It’s home to about 2 million people and it’s absolutely beautiful. Like the rest of the former Yugoslavia, turmoil and political unrest was common for the better part of the 20th century.
Our goal to reach the pristine coast was not going to happen so we decided we would make it to Struga on Lake Ohrid. At first, being the tough headed cheap bastards that we are, we wanted to simply find a place to camp. Then the rain hit us and we wised up and decided we better arrive in town to try and find suitable accommodation.
The scenery was beautiful. The moonlight painted the mountain passes and the hill side towns that we drove through. It was Wednesday and there were parties going on seemingly at every town we went through. We would later find out these parties were most likely the Albanians that would cross the boarder to celebrate their weddings.
We arrived in Struga in complete shock. The town was super lively and picturesque with the lake and mountains situated at every corner. Per usual, we came in hot blasting music obnoxiously loud as we scoured for a place to stay. I’m sure it was a song from RythymX’s Long Overdue. Hotels were more expensive than we imagined so we took a local taxi driver up on his offer to rent out his house right in the thick of things. The house would not have been suitable for my mother. But for us, the price was right and there were no complaints. The bedsheets most certainly were dirty and bug infestations were almost guaranteed.
Team Baja Llama walked to the pier and cracked open a couple beers. We admired and watched the people enjoy their vacation. It seemed like a hotspot for Russians and former Soviet Union residents to come for the summer months and get amongst the lake life.
We went to bed early knowing the next day was going to be a long drive. We woke up and got our shit together to start the journey. JH and Jeff went inside a little tienda to try and fashion a makeshift flag pole for their Alabama Crimson Tide flag that had broken on the previous nights journey. As soon as that was set up, we were off and running. Our intended destination was Himare. The drive on Google said about 5.5 hours but we knew better. It actually took us 8-9 hours which was rubbish.
As we descended over the Albanian mountains, the summer heat was powerful. Our car was continuously sweltering and we were almost always drenched in back sweat. We heard roads in Albania are notoriously bad and they lived up to their billing. Not only were the road conditions terrible, but the layout and road planning was horrendous. But we finally made it to the coastal mountains and all the intense beauty made us forget about the road related headache. We stopped on a few mountainous perches for photo ops to get once in a life time pics for the Baja Llama website.
As we descended for the last time into Himare our excitement skyrocketed. We found this brilliant little hotel right on the beach for about 20$ USD per person. The lady that ran the joint with her husband was extremely nice and helpful. She offered to do our laundry and we happily accepted.
The ocean was just cold enough to be refreshing and warm enough to be comfortable so we threw our swimmers on and ran into the water. We ordered a few cold ones and went next door to enjoy some local seafood. Jeff had an important business call at 2am – so while everyone slept he stayed up to make sure he could be available. There was definitely talk of staying one more night, but the drive to Istanbul was far too long to extend our stay. Time was running out on Garrett to get him back in time for his flight to Lisbon. We woke up early planning to leave at a reasonable hour to hit the road. Unfortunately for everyone, the washing machine had some issues and half the clothes were still soaking wet. The other half wasn’t even washed. We waited and enjoyed the ocean as long as we could until we finally were able to gather our clothes and head south towards Greece.