Bus-ing Round the Balkans travel blog

 

 


The air is filled with a loud hissing sound from the labouring aircon, although not quite loud enough to drown out the groaning of the engine, the squeaking of the suspension. The old bus seems to be protesting at every rotation of its wheels. I listen to the hissing from above my head and idly wonder if we're about to feature in the wildly less dramatic, sister film to Snakes on a Plane: Snakes on a Bus.

I'm beginning to feel sick from the stench of exhaust fumes that permeates the interior of the bus, and I can feel my body jolting along as we hit pothole after pothole, my head resting on my bag. At least its padded back makes for a good pillow, I think to myself. More to the point, at least I'm not on another kombi!

We stop. Too early for us to have reached Bitola. I sit up to look out the window; the other passengers crane their necks to see what's going on. Not wanting to miss anything I put my glasses back on. In the road ahead of us sits a police officer on a moped, blocking our way. Behind him, school children are running along the road. Like cross country, only much, much worse. It must be nearly 30 C outside.

After a while we slowly move off, following behind a police vehicle which is bringing up the rear of the running children. I lie back down, nothing to see. Certainly not out of these filthy windows.

The temperature inside the bus is creeping up, starting to get uncomfortable. I remember the kombi ride from Skopje and shudder. As if he's read my mind the driver cranks up the aircon. It's cool on my back, but the sound of a hundred angry snakes hissing at me keeps me from dozing off.

Ninety minutes have passed since we left Ohrid; we can't have too much further left to go, so I sit up and begin watching out the window. The lush green of the rolling mountains continues uninterrupted either side of the bus: no signs of so much as a single home yet.

Gradually we begin to pass more and more signs of human development. I spot a sign announcing Bitola and begin to pay more attention. Commercial premises, construction sites, unfinished roads, blocks of flats, a horse and cart all pass by my window.

We draw nearer to the centre and I notice a tank outside. Then an anti aircraft gun. I don't remember this from when I checked the FCO website on Macedonia. The word "Muzej" is painted on an adjacent building - another military museum. No need to panic.

We pull into the bus station and I stumble off the bus, my legs reluctant to obey. Grabbing my backpack I head into the ticket office, check the timetables for my onward journey to Skopje in a few days, then take a deep breath and head out the doors into the potential shark pit of the taxi rank.

Twenty minutes later I'm in my latest hotel room, gazing at the mountains out of the window. I wonder how long I would have to stay in Macedonia before I stopped being wowed by its natural beauty.

I flick through the TV channels, listening out for English. CNN seems to be my only option. I leave it on in the background while I unpack. News item after news item concludes, the newsreader and special reporters unceasingly dramatic and negative in their hyperbole. I'm left with the strong impression that the end of days are upon us.

Oh well, at least I'm somewhere warm and beautiful. I lie back on the bed and fall asleep. I'll worry about the end of civilisation later.

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