Riding the Bus the Balkan Way
Trip Start Aug 09, 2009
108Trip End Oct 23, 2009
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After settling into my velour like seat contoured from years of fat asses crushing it into submission, I was overjoyed to see that the bus was airconditioned. But joy all too soon turned into aww crap as the air vents bathed us in cool air mixed with a noxious gasoline odor
This morning our gas reeking Mercedes luxury liner rolled out of Skopje on a main boulevard lined for miles with the typical concrete monstrosities that pass as apartment houses. Skopje doesn't see fit to hang street signs but where these streets cross, neat traffic signals count down the seconds until the light turns green. I don't think these devices would work back home in Atlanta since they would just be counting down the seconds until our inept motorists blow through the intersection before the light turns green, Every intersection from Buckhead to Grant Park would be crapped up with twisted metal and burnt rubber.
Dozens of overall clad workers wielding sickles and spades were weeding and edging the medians along the main drag
As our luxury liner decked out with cramped seats and dirty windows began winding its way up into the mountains, I noticed a few more things. First off, no bossy placard implores us to stand behind the white line or not talk to the driver. Imagine that, thousands of people a day travel down here without the nanny state telling them how to conduct themselves on a bus. From the rearview mirror dangled a beaded cross, a Jesus keychain and a "stuffed animal" Mickey D's box of french fries all attached to a dirty little cord. Macedonians can cross the white line and strike up a conversation with the driver but God forbid should they depart without Jesus and his french fries blessing their journey.
Joining a conga line of other cars and trucks in various states of disrepair is the only way up into the mountains above Skopje. Of course the speed is determined by the lowest common denominator which in our case was a beat up old Russian built Lada hauling a rooftop stack of ladders three times its length. I assume its faded pink paintjob was at one point a brilliant factory fresh stroke of communist red 30 years ago. Those lucky few ahead of the Lada were already out of sight well into the hills while the rest of us crept along in a cloud of greenhouse warming gases courtesy of the finest in Russian engineering.
The Lada finally crapped out in a huge cloud of black and blue smoke and now our Mercedes bus took the reigns as the lowest common denominator on this winding and twisting road
Somewhere close to Lake Ohrid the bus finally got up to speed as it bounced down a flat stretch like some rap video 1978 Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme on hydraulics. While hurtling towards Ohrid at our top speed of the morning, the driver flipped on the radio at full blast about fifteen minutes out.. A blaring radio seems to be a carefully followed ritual as every bur I have been on approaches the next stop.. Though fairly odd to me this system seems to make perfect sense to all involved down here.
Somewhere just outside Lake Ohrid obnoxiously loud gypsy pop washed over us from the tinny speaker up front and I could only smile knowing that yet another journey was thankfully coming to a close.