Biketour diary: The first week

9.7.Veles -Teovo

After Emil saw us off in Veles, we cycled a quiet road to Teovo, enjoying a dip in a beautiful and cool B… river on the way and again on reaching the village. In Teovo we slept in the charming village school (picture) which, unfortunately, isn’t being used as there are not enough children in the village. We cooked lunch in church kitchen where we had the luxury of eating out of plates and in the evening we were invited for rakija and meze (a range of cold snacks served with rakija) at a local’s house. Our hearts opened by rakija, we ended up singing songs from all over, with our hosts, a very musical family, taking the lead, singing beautiful Macedonian songs.

10.7.Teovo – Zrze
A very adventurous day, crossing a mountain. As Bojan, our co-ordinator for Macedonia put it, this day was a group effort – we took turns pulling and pushing trailers over a rugged mountain road where those of us who have mountain bikes developed a deeper appreciation for them. Arriving to village Strovija where a bunch of skiny kids stared at us, I was struck by the poverty of the people who admitted that they don’t always eat three times a day and at the same time plant their land with tobacco, which they then sell to tobacco companies. We bought some cheese for lunch from a local family but they gave us bunch of vegetables and vrganj mushrooms refusing to take any money for them. We also visited a wood workshop of Sulejman Jasari, a local artist who makes decorations for churches but also expresses his pacifist and humanistic ideas in his intricate wooden statues.
The mountain we had crossed was actually the door to Pelagonija region, a plain surrounded by mountains where we would be cycling for two days, riding over stretches of flat open space and attracting lots of attention in the villages we crossed. After a long day of bad roads we finished in great style, climbing up from village Zrze to Preobrazenje monastery above it. As you know, monks like to be left alone so they put monasteries in places only the most persistent will want to go to. Well, it’s fair to say that mountain road we had been going up earlier seemed like a game in comparison to the two final kilometres of steep uphill on a dirt road that took us up to the monastery. A quiet, dignified monk dressed in a long black robe showed the dirty, sweaty exhausted bunch of us around the monastery grounds and told us a bit about the monastery’s long history. It is actually weird that there is not a fortress at that place instead, as from there you have a clear view of whole Pelagonija. We cmped on monastery grounds after deciding that next day we would cycle 80 km to town of Bitola.

Zrze – Bitola
We continued cycling through Pelagonija, crossing 80 km of mostly flat road. I started to wave and greet every person I met and most of them replied with a smile but clearly curious about these funny cyclists passing through their villages where they rarely see a foreigner. Bojan confirmed that, out of towns, it was common to greet everyone and in fact, they might get insulted if you don’t, because, in his interpretation, Macedonia is so small that almost everyone is related.
We had a breakfast at a village of Debreste, where most of the population is Turkish and where we also saw water buffaloes, local animal that has almost disappeared in the region, but thanks to a handful of cattle-breeders, there is a small but significant population of about 30 animals. In Ivanovci we shortly visited one family to see how they prepare tobacco for drying. Lots of families in Pelagonija grow tobacco and we passed lots of tobacco fields and saw it in villages, drying along the walls of houses. The 80 km were not too hard to cycle, but some of us missed some signs so they made additional 15 km. In Bitola we slept in a student dorm and before collapsing into beds went for dinner at a lovely small restaurant where we tried some delicious (and very cheap!) local food.

Bitola – Pretor
After spending a part of the day in Bitola, we had an afternoon of cycling through wonderful hilly landscape, including speeding down a memorable downhill towards Prespansko lake where we set a camp in Pretor close to the beach.

Written by: Janja

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