The Very Special Lake Ohrid

Trip Start Apr 25, 2012
Trip End May 12, 2012

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Bay of Bones Museum

Flag of Macedonia  , Ohrid,
Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Since I opted for the all day boat ride on Lake Ohrid today, I had to be out front by 8:30.  There were only 6 of us going:  Zoe, Lynne, Graeme, Vicki, Michael and I.  Sasha here at the hotel instructed us to go to the flagpole and there we were met by Zoran, our boat pilot/captain.  He walked us over to his boat and told us the first thing was to drink a salute to St Nicola so he poured us a little plastic cup of raki (that he had made himself) and we followed his example of offering a bit to the lake before drinking some ourselves.  I had to sip mine.  It was amber colored rather than clear and tasted a lot like brandy.  He also offered us some of his homemade white wine and said he would make us coffee later after one of our stops.

He told us quite a bit about the lake because he had worked as a biologist doing measurements or experiments.  The lake is extremely unusual in that it is only one of 2 in the world that does not freeze over and that is because it is fed almost completely by springs from an underground river that is at a constant 11 C temperature.  They have found this same temperature 78 meters below the lake surface in 2 places and that is where the springs feed the lake.  The lake also has some special endemic fish, including trout.  Some fish species have survived from the period of the dinosaurs - because of the lake not freezing and killing the fish during the ice ages.  The lake is also very clean and you could drink from it by taking water 30 cms below the surface.  Clean except for the plastic bottles and other garbage that is floating on top of it in places - put there by the Albanians says Zoran.  The lake is bordered by both countries, although Macedonia has more shoreline.

Zoran was a real character.  I don't know if it was the constant smoking, the raki and wine drinking, the hearty laugh, his smile with front teeth missing.  He had tons to tell us and he thoroughly seemed to enjoy being able to pass on all his knowledge about the lake and the area's history.  Someone asked about the snow on the mountains and he said it was gone by August and never really got much worse than what we saw.  Since the mountains had oaks, they wouldn't be able to survive in a lot of snow.  Zoran gave us an itinerary but I think I forgot it because I didn't really catch what we were going to see

First we stopped at the Bay of Bones where a prehistoric village was reconstructed on stilts above the water.  An area of water was enclosed around it where divers had found quite a bit of pottery and implements used by the early people.  It was fun to peek into the windows of the houses and see what they had:  beds with animal skins, cradles, looms, fireplaces and the window treatments were interesting in that they had a sort of slatted roll-up blind.  We could also walk up the hill to the Roman fort ruins and walk around to see the beautiful view of the dock and reconstructed houses/huts.  There were also some lovely pink flowers along the path up to the Roman reconstruction.

From there we followed the eastern side of the lake shore.  Zoran showed us a place where he had been seduced as a 14-year old by an 18-yr old Belgian girl.  He then told us that this area was restricted and people should not be there - such as his son who called to say hello from where he was setting up his grill and saw his father's boat.  Zoran told us that boats were not supposed to go close to the shore either because they would be fined - because they could endanger the fish that were spawning.  We saw some birds and Tito's villa as well as the prime minister's and the bodyguards' villas.  We saw the most expensive property on the shore.  We saw where Zoran has his property.  We saw where the wealthiest Macedonian with 50 million  euros has a house.  Zoran recommended that we stop in a fishing village and have lunch there but we opted to continue on to the Monastery of St Naum.

We went by another spot with holiday picnickers next to an old church of St Mary of the Mind.  Somehow there was a miracle that people made it there in a storm and a church was built by bringing all the materials there by boat.  There was another place - a beach where young people congregated where I think his son may have been as well.  Here I am confused but this was a kind of hippie haven where everyone shared with everyone else and the police looked the other way when people smoked pot.  He said in his judgment that pot was less harmful than raki. 

I can't remember if we went anywhere else.  It was a 31 km ride to St Naum's and after about 3 hours we got there.  The church itself is lovely on the exterior.  I really like the brick and stone work and the way the pieces are composed.  Zoran had special entree because his friend was there so the man spoke about the church and then Zoran translated into English in his big booming voice for us.  He kept on touching the icons and I wondered if that was really OK.  He got us permission to take photos even though it wasn't allowed.  I think of Zoran like Zorba the Greek - larger than life.  We saw the icons of Methodius and Naum was a disciple of Methodius.  Zoran also pushed aside the curtain of the iconostasis to show us the bones of Naum - or someone.  He showed us the grave of Naum where sick children were brought to be healed.  Naum was patron saint of the mentally ill.  And Zoran told us the story of the bear.  A farmer had 2 oxen and a bear ate one.  Naum convinced the bear to allow itself to be yoked and each year he helped plow the farmer's field so he could feed his family until his children were grown.

At this point we were getting a little rushed.  Zoran helped us get some fast food at some of the stands set up outside the Monastery that were serving food to the large number of holiday visitors since today was a holiday here.  We all got jumbo hamburgers for 90 dinars.  Zoran went back to his boat for lunch and we met him 45 minutes later to continue our trip back to Ohrid.  On the way back, he was much less talkative and he told us that it was because he was strongly affected by going to the monastery and seeing the icon of his family saint Nicola.  He also made the sign of the cross when we passed the shrine or special place dedicated to saint Nicola.  By then Zoran had drunk quite a bit of his wine and raki though and I thought he was a little worse off for it.  I forgot to mention that we didn't have any life vests and not even enough seat cushions to sit on for all of us.

I don't think any of us regretted the trip because the weather was great, the lake so beautiful - with reflections of the rocks, the villages, the green trees with bright new leaves.  It was quite idyllic and Zoran was a great Macedonian host with his wine, his raki; he made us coffee on his boat when we were somewhere and his larger-than-life stories and expansive friendliness.  It was a long day and we were glad to get back to shore around 6:30.  Especially since we didn't have the life vests.

I wasn't sure I would go out to dinner since I have so much food left but decided to go.  We ate at a place with a table right on the lake.  I had stuffed peppers and Macedonian red wine and both were good.  I am cutting this short here because there isn't much more of interest and I need to wash my hair before going to bed to get up early again to leave for Albania tomorrow.

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