One thing I have learnt from this trip is that the learning experiences of travel are the people at least as much as the scenery.
I gave lifts to a couple of hitch-hikers during my drive. One was a woman of perhaps my own age, who nattered away to me in a cheerfully obscene mixture of Serbian and German – the phrase “Pička ti materina!” was cheerfully interjected at points where I wouldn’t have used it. Though actually, I wouldn’t ever use that phrase anyway. Then she told me that she was “in sex-business”, normally doing the rounds of the autobahns in Germany and the Netherlands, but back home in Macedonia and having a day of rather slim pickings. I made it clear that she was out of luck with me, and dropped her at the point I turned off the main road for Valandovo. (My spirit of scientific enquiry wishes in retrospect that I had asked the going rate.)
Later on, after we came down from our climb, Bekir told me more of his life story; Gastarbeiter in Germany, economic asylum seeker in Austria, then kicked out and back to Macedonia. His house was not large, he and his wife and two kids have no electricity (Mehmet, who you have seen in the picture at the charcoal kiln, has moved out and lives with his wife and two kids around the corner). But he had been reading the latest issue of the Macedonian weekly version of the main Turkish daily, Zaman, and was well up with the affairs of the world. Only at one point did our conversation falter, when he told me that he had served a prison sentence in his late teens; “Ich hab’ ein’ Mann getöt’,” he said, and his face broke. After a moment we carried on talking, but about something else.