Three hundred and sixty five days of travel. Nine countries and fifteen thousand kilometers covered by bicycle, foot, ferry, train, mobylette and camel. More than four hundred journal entries. Fast approaching one hundred free-camps. I wanted adventure when we started this trip, and boy have we gotten it. Good lord. What a year it has been!
Today began like any other day, with one exception: we decided to forgo the alarm for our "trip birthday". We groggily awoke around 8am, not too much later than it normally goes off. So much for sleeping in! Upon opening the tent door, Tara called the morning to a halt so she could spend some time photographing the dewdrops in our vestibule.
As I lay in our sleeping bag, half-awake, I realized that it was loud outside! While Tara was busy snapping photos, I fished out our field recorder and captured the fervently chirping chorus of birds around us.
Done with our respective hobbies, we dragged ourselves out of our cozy home to begin the morning's chores. I slowly packed our belongings into their appropriate containers and bags, while Tara whipped up a batch of pancakes to celebrate.
At the very late hour of 11:00, we wheeled our bikes out of the field where we had spent the night. Through a grove of trees, and out to the road, just eight kilometers (into a headwind, of course) down the highway was the border with Serbia.
On our way, we stopped at a fuel station to spend the last of our Macedonian denari. We bought lots of juice, crackers, chocolate, packets of tissues, and a few small bags of pretzels. All told, less than 4€. Macedonia is cheap! Maybe we're still in the honeymoon stages but the incredible scenery, friendly people and budget friendly economy has officially won us over. With Serbia just down the road, we'll likely never know for sure. As it stands now, we have not one single complaint about this wonderful country.
Loaded down with snacks, we headed to the border where we crossed without event, save for the excitable, wink-happy Serbian guard who stamped our passports with gusto. Before we reached the border, I wondered aloud if we would still get excited about entering a new country after less than a week in Macedonia.
Crossing into Serbia wasn't much to write home about. In fact, we noticed very few immediate differences. I'm reaching when I say I think the cars seemed to be slightly newer. This plus a few more people and towns were the only real signs of change.
As we arrived on the outskirts of Vranje, Serbia (our destination for the day), we met some cycle tourists. Miroslav and George spoke French, so Tara did all the talking. They were on their way to do some herb collecting, asked about our trip and recommended a few good hostels in the area. Tara thought Miroslav looked just like Jafar from Aladdin when he is disguised as the old man!
There are many houses here built with the same junky bricks they had in Tunisia. Like Tunisia, almost all of them remain partially finished with no signs of completion in their future. We're not sure if people run out of money (or supplies?) mid-build, lose interest, or if the unfinished look is just Eastern European chic. At any rate, there are LOTS of these houses!
Well making up for the drab houses are Serbia's many adorable puppies and dogs. Unlike Greece's dogs, who are often gigantic and ferocious, these little dudes were all tiny and very sweet. My favorite was the one with the eye patch. He was very jumpy and playful; it was difficult to catch him standing still until he found a stick to chew on!
While I blithely snapped photos of my canine friends, Tara was holding my bike. As she waited, a police car pulled up. Then the cops got out and told her something in Serbian! She said, "I'm sorry, I don't speak Serbian!" and the officer said "Passports!" And so, she handed over our newly stamped passports and asked, "Is there a problem?" The cop responded with a "heh!" and went to his car.
When I walked up, he asked to see our camera. I felt simultaneously smug and a little sheepish knowing it was chock full of puppy photos and not deep dark Serbian military secrets. After I showed the officer how to look at the pictures, he laughed and handed the camera back to me.
When I returned to our bikes, the officers remained in their car with our passports, repeatedly flipping through them for at least ten minutes. Then, they exited the car, handed the passports back, and said a quick "Sorry" before leaving. We're not sure what foreign spies they were after, but we were obviously not them.
In Vranje, we stopped at the first ATM we saw and withdrew what we thought was a good amount of Serbian dinar. The first hotel we stopped at (which was a brick building that looked like a college dorm built in the 80s) wanted 50€ a night, or 5000 dinar! We passed, and wheeled our bikes to where Tara had seen a sign that said "hostel."
Sure enough, the small family-run hotel we arrived at was great. Only 20€ per night, a place for our bikes, and a wonderfully clean, modern room with a double bed and a hot shower. Even a good wi-fi connection included. Perfect! Many thanks must be given to Tara's grandma and grandpa for the generous donation they specifically sent for us to use for our one-year anniversary of being on the road. Thank you!
One year down, one year to go!