To Kyunstendil and into Macedonia

27 Apr

On the road to Kyunstedil there are red and white woolen dangles, hung on branches to celebrate the beginning of spring. There are excited dogs, red-eyed fox f—ing mountain scavengers snapping at my ankles. There are ruined train stations and half demolished factories, wild hills and cold winds.

The hills were steep but very long. I remember the steady effort of the uphills, having to remember to take water because the air was too cold to be thirsty. As I sped and curved downhill the cold air gave me brain freeze and knee freeze, the sweat soaked fleece turned breathtakingly cold against my torso so that I shouted out with teeth clenched all the way down.

That night I shared a bed with Ozan, the 23yr old Baklama player, the Turkish diplomat’s son, the EVS volunteer working to help the local gypsy community – those ejected from France. That night we headed out and made the best of quiet Kyunstendil. We drank a few 100ml glasses of whiskey – did you know Bulgarians invented yoghurt? – and took a couple of soggy chip butty kebabs afterwards.

Next day and up to the teetering Bulgaria-Macedonia borderpost, where I stopped for lunch. Inside the cafe a fat bald man who dominated the place burst into laughter when I asked for the menu. Meanwhile his female associate, Helena, helped me order up some lunch. I sat inside and heard him boast, moan and generally entertain himself (sound familiar?).

“He doesn’t have the money, he has spent it. I send Carlos to him! I find a witness for everything. I have witness lawyers! Eye witness!” He says in a fat shouty voice, then laughs.

Helena gives me her card as they leave, in case I need anything in Macedonia. Fat Man says goodbye with “I have travelled everywhere. 3 years I go, I went to China.” And laughs.

Once they’re gone, I sit by the coal heater to dry out my fleece and gloves and take off my shoes. It feels great to take off my shoes. Soon I’m told to put my shoes back on because the smell is offending the only other customer.

On the road down in Macedonia, into Kumanovo, there are spring water fountains and rickety bridges crossing the river the road runs along. There are wild bushy riverbanks and villages that climb the hills, and down in the valleys it was warmer. And I didn’t get jumped by any dogs.

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