Possibly the most stunning place I've been

Trip Start Nov 15, 2005
Trip End Aug 15, 2008

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Flag of Macedonia  ,
Friday, July 28, 2006

The only thing that I didn't like was only doing this as a day trip, instead of spending the night as I could (and should) have done.

Getting a bus from Ohrid at a very civilised 10 in the morning, Jason (random australian I had met on the bus from Tirana) and I unfortunately didn't arrive in Prilep until 1 in the afternoon, so were left with the 10km walk to the monastery to do in the hottest part of the day. Ignoring the taxi drivers advice that getting to the trail head was "big problem", we set off in the direction of the large cross on the top of a hill in the distance. It seemed fairly logical, and it only took about half an hour to get there.
We were fortunate enough to meet a local tobacco farmer - walking through town, you see endless racks of tobacco leaves drying - who walked us to the (strangely hidden) beginning of the trail. Had it not been for him, we might well have gone down the route of the Polish group we met, who had set off for the cross on the hill and (carrying full backpacks) had ignored the dirt road leading around and simply tried to climb straight up. Apparently it had taken them a couple of hours, and wasn't even close to the monastery.

Instead, the trail was a fairly gentle incline along a ridge of mountains amidst the plains, and only took a couple of hours even in the heat. Despite the proximity to town, the trail seems very isolated because Prilep is mostly hidden from view by the hills of the first climb, and what you can see is miles and miles of wide open space backed by mountains. The ridge along which we climbed took us through increasingly strange and wonderful rock formations, though the monastery was entirely hidden from view the entire way, adding to the feeling of isolation. Eventually, just when we were wondering if we were ever going to get there (it was bloody hot, after all), we rounded a small ridge to find a monastery protected from the elements by a horseshoe of bare rock, looking out over the plains far below. Magnificent. Scrambling up the rock face behind the monastery (there was no path), we could see the ridge along which we had just walked, all the back to Prilep. We could only sit and admire, as we did for a good hour. I can understand why the monastery was built there, as the isolation gave the whole area such a sense of peace.

It was a shame to leave after such a short time, but we had a bus to catch. The walk back down took less than an hour, even pausing as we did to admire the tenacity of the incredibly devout tortoises on their way up the path. Who knew that tortoises lived atop fairly arid mountains?

For some reason the bus failed to show up on time. This led to us doing something I would never usually consider - taking a taxi. Frightening as the prospect of taking a 2 hour taxi ride is, they are oddly affordable here. As in, three of us got the taxi (we met an odd australian/macedonian man who bought us beer and then slept for most of the journey) and it cost the same as the bus would have done. And the bus would have had to pick up all the passengers from the previous bus, which we passed broken down by the side of the road along the way. I think we did fairly well, all things considered.
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