You are using an older browser version. Please use a supported version for the best MSN experience.

5 O'Clock Somewhere: Don't Agree to One Last Adventure with Vlad

The Huffington Post The Huffington Post 3/11/2015 Roads & Kingdoms

This post is from Roads & Kingdoms' Five O'Clock Somewhere series: daily dispatches at cocktail hour from around the world. Find more food and travel storytelling at Roads & Kingdoms.
By Janelle Bitker
Rakija Outside of Bitola
I didn't think twice when my host Vlad suggested we go see "the real Macedonia," a mountainous 40-person village approximately 10 miles outside Bitola. I did think twice when I noticed his home had no plumbing, missing walls, and questionable electricity, but my thoughts were far too late.
Blue-eyed, red-faced Vlad explained winter was particularly cold and cruel. He hadn't had the time to fix up the tiny abode, but he did have time to hunt boar. He promised "real Macedonian goulash"--none of that Hungarian stuff--and many, many shots of rakija. He delivered on the latter: lukewarm swigs of sweet, plum-scented brandy that go down like nothing. Then he fell asleep standing up; his slab of boar still defrosting on the kitchen table.
The next morning, Vlad looked too apologetic to ignore. We sat on the open-air second floor and watched the sun rise over little huts stacked against rolling green hills. He finally served that promised goulash and produced a bottle of rakija, because in the real Macedonia, it's never too early to start drinking. With hunger subsided and cheeks rosy, I agreed to one last Vlad adventure before civilization: an innocent hike to an abandoned monastery followed by "a place for coffee."
Hours later, I reached the top of a grassy hill. The only thing in sight was a tiny cabin, with a rainbow-painted partial picket fence and stacks of firewood. We descended--a downward sprint turned slide--and met several friendly faces from neighboring villages.
"What is this place?" I asked.
"Heaven," they said.
rakija outside bitola © Provided by The Huffington Post rakija outside bitola
It was a house built collectively more than 30 years ago, owned by no one and for the use of everyone. Locals trekked there daily to sit in the sun, sip on the purest-tasting mountain spring water, and, naturally, compare raijkas. I found everyone darling and hilarious. More rajika. Group photos. Laughter. More rajika. Eventually, Vlad suggested we just spend the night in Heaven; he would run back to his house, grab some fish to cook on the fire, and we'd delight under the too-perfect stars until the too-perfect sunrise.
It was 3 pm and he was off, and soon, everyone else was off, too. I sat in complete silence, breathing in the idyllic surroundings and slowly sobering up when I realized, as the sun began to set, that Vlad probably wasn't coming back.
With the last of the day's light, I scoured the house's interior: old photos, pots, a fireplace, a scratchy blanket. No food, no books, nothing to do but fuel the fire and gaze up at those too-perfect stars. A bottle of homemade, unfiltered wine lulled me into an early and deep sleep as I assured myself that, even if Vlad never returned, someone else would.
Vlad did return. I woke up to his even more apologetic face peering at me through a dirty window. This time, he did not request one last adventure before my return to Bitola. He took fish out of his backpack--I hadn't eaten since the morning prior--but they had rotted. As it turned out, he suffered quite the night as well, passing out in the middle of the trail before stumbling home, drinking more rajika and falling asleep again. Shockingly, when I finally said goodbye to Vlad, he didn't offer more rajika.
You can explore more dispatches from the Five O'Clock Somewhere series here and see Roads & Kingdom's Breakfast series here.


More from Huffington Post

The Huffington Post
The Huffington Post
image beaconimage beaconimage beacon