As the sun cast rays of warmth through the hostel’s common room windows, I sat comfortably, deep in conversation with a kaleidoscopic assortment of other intrepid souls with whom I’d started to bond: the Macedonian brothers who own the Lake Ohrid Hostel, an Italian backpacker from Bologna, an American girl riding her bicycle through Europe and an English couple whom I would meet again in Albania. Keen for adventure, my ears sprung to life when mention was made of a semi-remote village tucked into the mountains on the other side of Lake Ohrid. “It’s beautiful; worth the effort of the journey,” relayed one of the group’s lively contributors.
If there was effort involved, then it sounded like an adventure I was ready to undertake. Without questioning the group, I consulted my infallible guidebook and discerned the most appropriate route - a befitting journey for the following day.
Getting to Vevčani
With paucity in Macedonian language skills, I managed - mostly by using an international form of sign language created for monolingual travellers - to get into a shared taxi, destination: Struga. Although not my final destination, I knew that from Struga I would somehow find my way to the village of intrigue. Overflowing with milk and honey is that which had been promised; expectations were thus high. With plenty of leg space, sitting in the back of the 1980s model russet colored sedan, I cherished my seat at the window: as I turned the silver handle partly attached to the door’s vinyl interior, the window opened and fresh air straight off Lake Ohrid rushed through my blonde locks. The genial smile and kindred eyes I saw directed at me in the rearview mirror induced a fleeting moment of contentment.
Before long, I was traveling through mountain roads on my way to the promised land.
After paying the driver and thanking him and the other passengers for their company, I walked a short distance before stumbling across a meager bus station. Written in Macedonia’s adopted version of Cyrillic, discerning the destination written on each bus required linguistic ability, which I was lacking. Thanks to my ‘ingenuity’, the local to whom I showed ‘Vevčani’ - which I’d scribbled on a scrap of paper at the hostel - led me to the bus I needed. Before long, I was traveling through mountain roads on my way to the promised land.
According to Lonely Planet’s newest edition of the Eastern European series, buses run hourly between Struga and Vevčani.
The Town and its History
Lined by wooden houses with enduring traditional Macedonian features, arriving in Vevčani resembled stepping back in time: its origins, thanks to local archaeological finds, have been linked to the third century BC. Proliferated with cobblestone paths, rustic wooden houses exhibiting verandahs jutting into the street and various panoramas of Lake Ohrid, it is not surprising locals declared Vevčani a republic following the dissolution of Yugoslavia. I was bemused to learn that townsfolk went so far as to create passports and a ‘national’ flag, although no officialdom was ever initiated. Despite its allurement as a destination off the beaten track, walking through the winsome village revealed a beating heart and living soul: villagers smiled as they passed, carrying their shopping and tending to their children and animals. Littered with churches, chapels and a monastery, discerning the ecclesiastical inclination of villagers is simple: Christianity has prevailed.
What To Do
Common is the lament from people unfamiliar with bucolic life: ‘there is absolutely nothing to do here.’ They lack imagination, and most likely haven’t visited Vevčani. Just like a child in a sweet shop, the excitement at being surrounded by natural beauty bubbled forth: despite the steep incline, my legs swept me up the hill to the point of entry of the springs. Famous to Macedonians, the series of approximately eleven springs bubble down the side of Mount Jablanice, converging at various points and delivering pure mountain water to the lakes below. Crisscrossing the springs on wooden footbridges was tranquil; the sound of babbling water cascading over rocks and the crisp, fresh mountain air filling my overworked lungs heightened the sensation.
Aside from nature immersion and hiking, if visiting in winter, one can participate in The Carnival of Vevčani - a ritualistic masked and gowned affair steeped in pagan ritual, practiced for the last 140 years. It is a celebration of the new year, according to the Julian calendar, and welcomes visitors from all over Europe and the world. If neither of these activities inspire wanderlust, then perhaps food will.
My seated composure became evocative of detachment from reality, as I philosophised over life: Mine, at that point in time, was great.
After appeasing my inner naturalist by walking a distance up the mountain, hunger urges commenced and sent me in search of food. Pansion Kutmičevica had been suggested as a suitable lunch venue by another traveler, mostly because of its sweeping valley views and open verandah setting. After being escorted by the genial English speaking host to the only table on the verandah, ordering my meal and sitting back to relax, serenity emerged: there was nowhere else I’d have preferred to be. I had unobstructed views of the valley and the shores of Lake Ohrid.
My appetite was healthy after the morning’s activities. The aroma of roasting herbs and spices began wafting from the kitchen, out the door and directly up my nostrils, inducing uncontrollable salivation; thankfully, I was alone on the verandah. The genial waiter laid a plate brimming with food before me, and I thanked him. I then proceeded to devour the country meal - comprising locally sourced baked vegetables and roast meat - within minutes. Afterwards, my seated composure became evocative of detachment from reality, as I philosophised over life: mine, at that point in time, was great.
What Not To Do
After lunch, as I waited for the bus back to Struga - sitting at a park bench - a gentle odd sensation began gnawing inside my lower abdomen. I assumed a cramp from all the walking and peeled back the pages of my Maeve Binchy paperback, seamlessly engrossing myself in a new chapter. Sometime later, during a momentary literary hiatus, I glanced sideways: I’d been joined on the bench by an elderly Macedonian woman, who was midway through chewing a mouthful of her homemade salad sandwich. It was in this instant that the gnawing turned into cramps which I passed off as trapped wind. Throwing caution to the external wind, I nodded and smiled courteously at my co-bench dweller, then proceeded to let the cramps escape as nature had intended: silently, and idealistically without odor, as flatulence.
The hope of initiating a new friendship disappeared before my eyes. I could feel my face flush with redness, enveloping not only my expression of shock but also my humility and pride; my bus stop bench buddy was unimpressed. Her face contorted – understandably – into shapes indicative of antipathy, repulsion and disgust: through squinting eyes, and frowning lips, she uttered Macedonian words I didn’t need a translator to comprehend. Nodding her well-combed grey-haired head from side to side, she marched back to town, never again to be seen in my presence. As she walked away, the gravity of my predicament materialised: the flatulence I’d tried to pass with discerning and finesse had misfired. More accurately, it had fired with a little too much ammunition, causing me to shit my pants. I’d misread the cramps, and foolishly trusted my instincts. That which I had thought to be wind was, in effect, remnants of my lunch which had emerged erroneously on a park bench onto near-white shorts.
Carrying my tiny daypack at backside level, I marched into the nearest restaurant and bluntly asked for “the bathroom?”
Noting my distress, the busty young woman pointed to a secluded area far from the seated customers. I entered the bathroom, stripped off, and did what any other 26 year old public-pant-pooper would do: I turned the hand basin into my own personal shower, and literally washed the shit out of my pants. Thanks to Spanish manufacturing, the fabric utilised to construct my shorts was hardy; the brown stain - the size of a grape - was only partially visible. Unfortunately, its location was not ideal. Picking my pride up off the floor, I continued to carry my daypack waist level at rear, looping my hands through its arms. It didn’t move, until I got on the bus.
As I’d offended the only other potential passenger, I traveled alone back to Struga. I watched the bus driver’s face with intent throughout the thirty minute ride; there’d been no nostril twitching, so I was safe. The only shared taxi I could find back to Ohrid already contained two moderately oversized backseat passengers; the front was occupied, too. I squashed myself uncomfortably between the door and a corpulent thigh, prayed, and held my cheeks as close together as muscularly possible. Had I emitted an aroma, it would have been hard pressed to overcome the sweaty stench spiralling through the tepid air of the poorly ventilated sedan. Needless to say, shortly after arriving back at the hostel, I lunged into the shower - fully clothed - and drowned the impurities of the day. My underwear were sent to their eternal resting place, inside a trash can.
Never assume cramps are only wind, always know the location of the nearest toilet, avoid wearing light colours when traveling and always carry a change of clothing and a spare roll of toilet paper on long day trips.
Of the many things to do in Vevcani, pooing one’s pants should never make it on to the list: it’s unattractive, embarrassing, and frowned upon by little old Macedonian ladies. ‘Stained’ memories of the journey to this bucolic Macedonian town will permanently be etched into the confines of my mind. Therefore, following these simple rules will help avoid calamitous shame and embarrassment: never assume cramps are only wind, always know the location of the nearest toilet, avoid wearing light colours when traveling and always carry a change of clothing and a spare roll of toilet paper on long day trips.
For flights to and from Macedonia, consult the following search engines:
There are regular bus services from Struga to Vevčani (and back) that depart every hour on the hour.
The author stayed at Sunny Lake Hostel in Ohrid.
Accommodation options throughout Macedonia can be searched using the following websites:
The currency utilised in Macedonia is the Macedonian Denar. Please refer to the following website for current and up to date exchange rates:
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