We got up early to drive to Прилеп (Prilep) on Saturday. The van was packed and yet we kept picking up more people. It felt like back in Albuquerque when we would all pile into Micah’s van and head to the crag. A few windy hours later we made it to Prilep. It’s larger than I expected it to be. Nothing was overly out of the norm for the Balkans though except perhaps the paint splatters on one of the buildings.
Vlad’s son explained to me that the former prime minister of Macedonia was caught for having, with his cousin, stolen tons of money from the government. I’m looking into this online and I’m actually not finding anything on stealing from the government, but more about a major wiretapping scandal in which thousands of citizens were being wiretapped. For one reason or the other…perhaps both, this sparked the Colorful Revolution in which the Macedonians got to the streets and threw paint at a bunch of political buildings in protest. The paint still remains on this one particular building in Prilep over a year later.
So we got to our hostel in Prilep and met up with a gang of Slovanian climbers. They rented two giant vans and brought a whole posse to come boulder. We hopped in the van with them and headed up to the boulders overlooking the town.
It was cold! The wind was blowing. It was a bit of a project to make sure my hands stayed warm enough to boulder. The bouldering was good. I climbed a 6c. I think that’s good. Honestly I’m just not that into boulder. I don’t see it as an activity. It’s just a way to train in the gym. Either way it was fun for the day.
We headed back into town and then went out for dinner with the Slovanians. The start of the night was super fun…but then came the rakija. I felt very sober. I still don’t really understand this culture, so I am weary to make any claims about what I observed, but from what some of them told me and what I saw it seems that Slovanians think they are better than the other Balkan peoples. Coming to Macedonia is a way to flash their money around and act like assholes without repercussions. I’ll leave it at that. I guess the interesting thing is that I was speaking to one of Kristina’s cousins (a Macedonian) in Bitola and he explained that “well they are better than us”. I guess where I get lost is the notion of better. If I wanted to be a dick I could probably just start bragging about how much better America is, and how much better I am, but I don’t really see it that way. There are obviously reasons why living in one country rather than the other has perks, but to go to the extent of comparing yourself to those people and acting like a douche because of your self-proclaimed superiority? Ungh…I’ll stop now.
The next day we took a bus to Битола (Bitola). Kristina had been going to this town every summer since she was a little kid, however, it’s been 10 years since she’s been back to the country. We enjoyed walking around the town and visiting her family. It’s a very walkable town. Everyone just drinks coffee all day. As we were taking a walk through town I was trying to figure out why they all congregate at only a handful of cafes. It reminded me of penguins. Well anyway, my hypothesis is that the sun only hit one side of the street and I noticed that everyone was sun bathing. Perhaps in the summer the shady cafes get all their business!
We did’t do anything too crazy in Bitola, but it was fun to chill and Kristina was enjoying seeing her family. The pazar (market) was awesome. So much stuff. It was painful to not splurge, being that we were only going to be there one full day. At one point we were checking out pomegranates and two young gypsies boys walked up next to us. There hands were popping out as if they were ready to steal the walnuts from the large pile in front of them. The merchant started shouting at them and then shouted at their mother who was not far away, watching them. I’m getting good at identifying gypsies at this point. It’s not all that hard but takes a few days when you’re a foreigner. It’s really a bad self-feeding system going on. The women will have a bunch of children in order to use them to beg. The children disperse through the streets and they get way better income than an adult would. This just feeds the system though, because now you have these kids growing up in this lifestyle, not knowing anything else.
We bused from Bitola to Демир Капија (Demir Kapija) today. This is supposed to be our last stop in Macedonia, before Greece. It’s a very small town with a whole lot of nothing going on, but there is climbing here, so I’m hoping that it won’t be too cold tomorrow and that the sun will behave. We’re currently chilling at one of the only restaurants in town. We downed an epic salad with eggs, potatoes, hot peppers, tomatoes, cucumbers, feta…and now we’re sitting among the locals watching football and drinking beer. Aside from Kristina and I there are 14 men, one young boy and one woman. Kristina says we have an estrogen deficiency.
* * *
So the next morning we took a taxi to the climbing spot, which is located between two tunnels on the highway. It certainly isn’t the most aesthetic of places. I imagine that some of the trad climbing that leads up the mountains will be more beautiful, but this was nice in that it was quick and easy to get to sport climbing. The climbing is incredibly well documents, and by that I mean better than most anywhere else I’ve been, by this local guy Alex at his site campingmacedonia.com. We unfortunately didn’t get the chance to meet him but he and his wife were very friendly and helpful by phone and if I come again I’ll be sure to stay with them.
After a short day of climbing — the weather was good but the sun set at 4pm — we headed back to the salad restaurant. This guy is so weird. We said hi and then he sat down and watched soccer for an hour while we contemplated how we could order food without being rude. I forgot to mention this, but the day before Kristina wanted to ask for extra potatoes so she goes “Hey…is the kitchen still open?” to which he replied “Why wouldn’t it be?” and then walked away. So we finally got the salad again and this time with extra eggs and potatoes and we were hungry from climbing, all of this amounting to the salad being even better than the day before. Ah yeaahhh.
Next morning we packed up and Vlad picked us up. He needed to drive down from Skopje to Thessaloniki so we coordinated it such that he could pick us up on the way. I mostly wrote this paragraph just to segue into mentioning that as I was trying to leave the house I noticed a kitten scampering behind the couch. He came out and of course he was so damn cute. I was all of 10 seconds from adopting him when the sister from next door told me how cute she thought he was and how she feeds him every day. Okay. I can make it another day cat-adoption-free.