Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Adventure in Macedonia

Well, rather than write about New Year Resolutions (which I don't make anyway) & looking back introspectively on the past year, which I don't think would do me any good, I'm going to write about our ski trip over new year. Actually that's not even true. The ski trip was great & all it should be, even if Mavrovo isn't the new Aspen (darling). In fact it's not the new anything, but quite fun to be in a sleepy resort before it's developed (if it ever does) with runs to ourselves, not many lifts and barely any foreigners (barring Albanians who like us, had crossed the mountain divide to get there )

No, actually I'm going to tell you about the journey home. It was epic. It was also peculiarly British in a way, not only because, er, we were all British in our party, but also becasue we had all the conditions neccessary that are supposed to 'bring out the best' in us, that ol' Bulldog spirit. If it still exists.

Namely; a crisis or two, having to 'make do', making the best of a bad situation, lots of inclement weather, and the need to 'be prepared'.
Gosh I feel I've slipped back to the 1940s already.

1. The crisis; as we prepared to leave, packing the car in heavy snow which had begun falling 12 hrs earlier (& wd continue unabated for the next 36 hrs) our friends discovered that they couldn't close their back passenger door. The lock/hinge/cable was rusted/broken/a goner.

2. Making Do. We immediately looked for rope & concocted an elaborate door-holding mehcanism with a lot of rope, many mutterings & a few boy scout knots. So far so good. Oh and mum had to sit in the back and hold the door handle for grim death (scuse the pun) all the way home. This plan was devised by the men of our party.

3. Crisis number 2. Our smugness, at both families being in necessary 4 wheel drive vehicles which could tackle any conditions (as opposed to cosmetic Chelsea Tractors) with snow chains tucked reassuringly under the seat, quickly evaporated when our car temperature guage shot up to red, 15 minutes into our journey. Our heating wasn't working either....We ground to a steaming halt, opposite a father & son ,who looked on with interest as we all got out, peered under the bonnet & disappeared in a haze of hissing steam.

4. Making the best of a bad situation; one mum & 5 kids were driven off in the 'Dodgy Door' car to a cafe to keep warm, whilst 3 of us remained to pool our mechanical knowledge & wonder what to do.

We got out the thermoses.

Meanwhile this father & son ambled over, & the father proceeded (in English) to run through all the possibilities of what it might be, thermostat, frozen pipe, leaking radiator, showed us how to check whether it was the thermostat, & eventually we all plumped for leaking radiator. The son reappeared from his chalet which we had stopped outside with a TESCO bowl of hot water & poured in SIX litres... So there was a leak..... We had stopped opposite a family who drive to Macedonia from England to stay in the father-in-lawas 40 yr old chalet. They were leaving the next day. They must have been 3 of the only other foreign tourists in Mavrovo & we pulled up next them. And they spoke English, and they understood cars. Fantastic.

"So how come you know so much about cars," we asked?

"Growing up with a constant supply of crap cars" he replied (ah, a man after us 'NGO vehicle owners' hearts. I SO need to go on a car mechanics course. Maybe that should be my New Year's resolution....)

"Thanks so much for helping us" I said, effusively.

"That's ok," he replied "I came out to get my car & you're blocking me in".

5. Inclement weather. Snowed all the way. Drove on snow packed MAIN roads. Took 6 hrs to do a 2 hr stretch. Decided to abandon the journey in Ohrid near the Macedonian/Albanian border as it was getting dark, the roads were icy & snowy. No grit, a few snow ploughs, but not making many inroads in to the snow. There were mountains to climb. The road up to the border was steep, tortuous & too treacherous to tackle. Sounds dramatic but police were turning back cars which didn't have snow chains on.

6. Making the best of a bad situation. We extended our holiday by a day, had a superb all evening snowball fight in the gorgeous pitcuresque, snow covered town of Ohrid (not as horrid as it sounds, especially not if the you have a Macedonian accent)

7. Being prepared. We filled our thermoses with hot water from the hotel dining room, in full on British Blyton style, for the next day's 'snowy adventure'.

8. Inclement weather. Next day still snowing, more driving on snow covered roads. Stopped to put snow chains on. 40 minutes later. Still trying to put snow chains on. Two cars, two different designs, one set of intsructions.

9. Making do. We made do. We got them on. After a fashion. Somehow. Not as easy as it looks. When did you ever use them in Britain? One lot was colour coded, one lot you drove 'onto' them. Well that's what we did anyway.

10. Making the best of a bad situation. How come all these Albanians, from their 'mediterranean' country, have all got snow chains , I mused as car after snow chained car crunched past us. Of course. Guys were standing by the road selling boxes of snow chains. Enterprising. The police were stopping cars & not letting them proceed unless they had snow chains.

We crossed the border and drove back down the pass and lo & behold, Albania you surprise us once more. You may not have continous electricity or water supply but you have snow ploughs. it was just as snowy but the rds the Albanian side had been completely cleared. This also being Albania, when we got out to remove our snow chains we were mobbed by guys wresting the chains from us, we thought they were trying to nick them at 1st, so a slight tug of war ensued, which actually continued when the real reason emerged. They were providing a wholly undesired service of removing them for us & then demanding money for having helped us.

Welcome back!

We rolled into our 'street which has no name', up to our villa which has no number & into our icy flat, after taking 13 hrs to do a 5 hr journey (Travel time.) Total A to B time was 31 hrs.

Half an hour later the power went off for an hour. It came on again & went off again for another hour. Ah, it's good to be home. Continuous electricity and central heating in Macedonia, a rapidly receding memory.

But still a good time was had by all. I'm not going to let a few power cuts rob me of those good memories.

I should take a leaf out of my children's book. They slip so seamlessly from one situation to another, from exigency to ease with such nonchalonce. They were sitting on the floor doing a 200 piece Christmas Beano puzzle. As the lights went out, there wasn't so much as a murmur, they simply put on their torches which they had to hand and carried on with the puzzle, peering more closely at the pieces.


Tessa said...

Now that's what I call LIVING! Right on the edge. A real adventure - and infinitely preferable to spending nearly 5 hours squished into a seat on Easy Jet with a 'snack pack' while breathing great lungfuls of other people's germs.

Can't wait to read more of your wonderful tales of life in that distant place!

Potty Mummy said...

It may be inconvenient but it cetainly isn't boring Paradise. (As spending 2 days with my in-laws was...)

DogLover said...

If the radiator of the car was leaking, didn't you have to fill it up continuously?

I used to suffer from broken-down cars that gave that sort of problem. I found it infinitely tedious and I would have left you to it and hitched a lift with someone with a reliable car ... !

Paradise Lost In Translation said...

Thanks Tessa, yes it was fun!
PM, I know, I'm always seem to be caught in that life's never dull, 'what an interesting experience' scenario, but soemtimes I crave a little mundaneness! But no on this occasion it was exciting & fun!

DL, strangely no. It was registering full & could then be driven for 5 hrs without being filled again, but it did take 6 litres of water! That's why we weren't entirely sure what the cause was. Oh, & reliable cars are very hard to come by in Macedonia. Unlike Albania, Macedonia is still full of Yugos & Ladas.

Iota said...

Never a dull moment...

Millennium Housewife said...

Blitz spirit is built right in there!

Wife in Hong Kong said...

I am inspired to pass on an award for being such a charming blogger which you can pick up over at mine. Happy New Year!

http://reluctantmemsahib.wordpress.com said...

you ok? you're too quiet x