November 04, 2009

Check Out My Ride

As you can see from the countdown ticker on the right sidebar, our days are numbered here. The last holiday we got to celebrate in Macedonia was Halloween and we did it up in style with some friends at the Irish pub in the nearby city of Kumanovo. Jillian and I put our heads together and came up with the idea to dress me as Ernest Hemingway's Facebook page. As usual, Jillian wouldn't rest until all the details were exactly correct. So there I am in the picture; on my back was draped Ernest's wall, which included the status update, "Ernest Hemingway just shot an endangered animal," followed by a thumb pointed up and "Teddy Roosevelt likes this."

We traveled to Kumanovo from our town of Kriva Palanka with one of the local bus lines as we have so many other times. It was pretty typical. The back door wouldn't completely close, allowing a deathly cold draft to blow through the compartment while the heaters along the floor gave us the impression that our feet were badly sunburned. The driver took the corners way too fast. I held my breath with every oncoming headlight and ran through various, appropriate ideas for bus company slogans. "You'll appreciate life a lot more after riding with us" or "Less hungover drivers than any other fleet in Macedonia!" And so on.

Considering how much time we've spent on these buses, I feel as though I really haven't given them their due attention. During our time in Macedonia, we've both really grown to love not having a car and enjoyed getting around by bus. The buses in this country are frequent and on time. For whatever reason, the buses making the run out to Kriva Palanka are the oldest, most decrepit vehicles loitering around the Skopje bus station. I think I mentioned in a post some two years ago that the first time Jillian and I visited our town it was raining and the bus roof was leaking all over us. Merely a harbinger, folks.

For those of you who want to play along at home, go find an old dirty, smelly fold-out couch and take a two hour nap on it. You'll get the idea. Many of the seats on the bus are stuck in either in the fully upright or fully reclined position and as you lurch over every bump on long worn-out shocks, you can feel every spring in the seat. But perhaps the most charming aspect of these buses are the headrest covers and curtains. Intentionally designed to be removable for cleaning purposes, they clearly have never left the confines of the bus and thanks to years of smoke, sweat, and sunlight, they've taken on a generic snot color. The curtains, in particular are so bad they're funny, as if someone hung a dirty dishrag over the window.

Round, round, get around, I get around

At the front of the bus the driver has inevitably pulled the sun shield down as far is it will go and plastered his own decorations all over it. The exact placement of these decorations may vary, but the content rarely does. On any given bus at least two, if not all four, of the following are displayed: a religious icon, probably representing his mom's birthday; a "Women of Skopsko" (the beer) calendar from 2006; a photo of former communist leader Marshall Tito; and a no-smoking sign, under which plumes of smoke rise from the driver's cigarette.

Despite being only 60 miles from Skopje, it takes us over two hours to get there. Well, that's bound to happen when you spend the majority of your journey in first gear. The new buses that run from Skopje to Bulgaria or Istanbul cruise by us like we're standing still as we plod up the hills. The drivers are known to just throw it in neutral on the down slopes, actually killing the engine until absolutely necessary.

Will I miss these buses? Umm, no. But I'm glad to have had the experience. Unlike car-oriented America, Macedonia is very much a public transportation country and it was a fun two years, getting around by letting someone else do the driving. That we got to travel on the Kriva Palanka buses...well, that was just the icing on the cake. Or should I say, the sweat layer on the seat cover.


Brendan said...

Do you know Phil Lampron? I just ran into him in September, in Veles, while volunteering with Habitat for Humanity.


M said...

I came to check out the countdown clock- hard to believe it is reading 3 days now. I have enjoyed reading this blog these two years. Hope you will continuing to record your adventures here (or somewhere)!

Rebecca said...

Thank you for sharing your Peace Corps adventures. I've been reading your blog (I don't remember how I found it, though.) since your deployment and have enjoyed your tales tremendously. Dan, you are quite the talented writer. I hope writing is something that you wish to continue once you are back Stateside. Best of luck to you and Jillian.

I do have one question: What's going to become of your cute kitty?

Anonymous said...

As I am reading your incredible adventure, my eyes weld with tears just thinking --how could this beautiful people go through so much. I commend your work and your writing! Thank you for sharing your story. I look forward to reading so more..