Danny turns up before I leave, to say goodbye. He tells me there will be a large family gathering on the 16th to celebrate his latest grandchild’s circumcision (as is traditional in Muslim families). He also says that families aren’t as close now as they were before the war. I cycle away with the entire family waving me goodbye – Danny in his car, leading me through the village to the main road. From there it is an easy cycle to Dragash.
I am a little daunted by the Komoot map instructions which are telling me to follow a TRACK for 20miles into the mountains to cross into Macedonia – particularly as the weather has been bad. I get a lift from another ExPat Kosovan to Giloboçice where the guy in a restaurant is fairly clear that the border to Macedonia is closed. A motorcyclist had attempted the route only recently. I decide to go on to the furthest village of Restelice (where the asphalt road ends) anyway, to stay the night and ponder my options. It’s one of the highest villages around and I was interested to see it. The valley itself is beautiful, but filled with rubbish – plastic bottles, bags, bits of fabric – even a gutted jeep! I see a couple of cars stop, the drivers get out and open their boot and take out a couple of full bin bags and lob them over the edge of a drop. The river itself seems to be little more than a toilet –with more refuse caught up in branches and draped over rocks.
When I get to Restelice itself, with houses built on steep slopes -it’s like running the gauntlet. There’s a wedding going on in the village – I see three guys riding stout ponies all dressed up in traditional finery and the ponies themselves have glittery bridles and shiny decorations woven into their manes and tails. I didn’t get a photograph as I was too busy trying to negotiate the crowds and the riders trotted past very quickly. It looks like the entire village is out on the narrow streets – promenading or just sat along the edges. Not one woman over the age of about 15yrs of age has an uncovered head. I almost feel naked in one part of the town, with rows of young men ogling and calling out “Deutsch?” or “Where you from?” and then falling about laughing. It was actually quite uncomfortable.
I finally get a positive response to my request about camping or a place to sleep – a man tells me to wait while he fetches the owner of a hostel. A couple of children chat to me while I hang around – in pigeon French - including a girl who looks to be about 10yrs of age who lives in France normally, but her Kosovan parents are back (like so many) for the summer to meet up with the extended family. Eventually an old man wearing an embroidered ‘kufi’ cap and what looks like my Dad’s old second world war demob suit, smelling of alcohol, with a hacking cough turns up and opens an empty room where I am told I can leave my bicycle. This room is then locked while I am shown next door to another room with two made up single beds in – I can have either one. Bathroom is next door – he signs that I must remember to turn the lights off. The original guy who went to fetch him speaks rudimentary English and translates – I make it clear I want a key for the front door as I don’t want to be locked in! Reluctantly, the older man gives me one. When everyone leaves me to settle into the room – I realise I’ve no idea where to find this older man again in the morning (to pay him and return his keys – AND get Rowenna out of captivity) – he obviously doesn’t live in the building. I was going to go out and try and get a drink or something to eat – but the thought of facing the crowds of staring guys again is off putting, so I have an early night instead.