Crossing the Styx

Wednesday I woke up early and shared a cab with other travelers from the hostel to the bus stop at the Skopje City Mall. There I met up with Aleksandra, a fellow couchsurfer, for an afternoon hike through Matka Canyon. We took the #60 bus all the way to the end of the line, then began our arduous trek up the mountainside. The heat made the trip a bit difficult, but it was actually a little cooler than most recent days. Along the way there were several natural springs with which to fill up our water bottles. Eventually we made it to a monastery on the edge of the mountainside. Aleksandra informed me that the monastery was built in the 14th century when the Ottomans were pushing Islam, making other religions difficult to practice.

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The monastery itself was incredibly peaceful. The courtyard area was grassy and shaded, making an excellent place to stop for lunch for about an hour. The mountains here are mostly on an incredibly steep incline, and I attempted to venture out onto the rocks behind the monastery. I didn’t go too far, as Aleksandra deemed it unsafe and requested I return to solid ground. After lunch we made our way down the mountain via another path, much steeper and rockier than the trail up. Upon reaching the bottom we found ourselves on the side of the lake opposite the restaurant and kayak dock. Then came my favorite part: to cross the lake (narrow at this point), I had to take a hammer and bang it on a metal plate nailed to a tree. This would summon the ferryman from the other side to pick us up and take us back for 35 Denar. The whole experience had a deathly feel to it – like we were summoning Hades to transport us through the River Styx to the underworld. We even had to pay him the toll for his services.

The rest of the day was quite relaxing. I mostly stayed in the hostel, catching up on sleep. I have been so busy with meeting people lately that I haven’t had a day to relax in quite some time. I also felt I should relax my budget, having blown it the day before. In the evening several of the other travelers in the hostel and I drank some beers until well past midnight, at which point I decided to get some sleep (or try, I didn’t actually get to sleep until 0400).

Yesterday I met with Lola again for breakfast/lunch at a cafe/restaurant in the city center called Trend. I originally mistook the serving sizes, in grams, for the price, in Denar. After noticing my mistake I realized the place wasn’t as horrendously expensive after all. Following lunch we found a sweets shop and had some more tri leçe. It wasn’t as good as in Prizren, but still delicious. After finishing we ordered some gelato and took a walk through the city park, right by the Philip II of Macedonia Stadium. We sat for about three hours on a park bench and talked about nothing in particular. It’s a shame that these days will be coming to an end rather soon.

I returned to the hostel about 1600 and again took it easy the rest of the day. I self-diagnosed myself with tendinopathy in my right foot. The top of it had been sore for a few days, but last night it reached a zenith. I could feel AND hear the tendons moving in ways they shouldn’t anytime I bent my foot. I tried to stay off of it as much as possible, and it seems to have helped quite a bit. Today it feels much better – not perfect, but hopefully better enough to walk without the throbbing pain.

I am heading into town soon for lunch. This hostel is awesome (I should know, I’ve stayed here for quite some time), but still a bit of a walk to the city center. After lunch I need to find a post office and mail out these postcards I picked up in Kosovo but was unable to mail during my short stay there. At some point I really need to check the buses into Niš, Serbia. I don’t know how long I will stay in Serbia, as I want to visit Bulgaria before heading back to Romania. I am quite anxious to see Romania again, as it was one of my favorite countries last year. Also, as summer comes to an end, so will the vast multitude of travelers with which I am able to make friends along the way. And I still have Moldova and Ukraine to see before the end of September! I may try to find a workaway host and hunker down for the winter months, before continuing on to India and Asia, but I really have no idea what is going to happen even in the next few days. I guess spontaneity put the joy in traveling.

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