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Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Vevcani Carnival 2012

Well, I've successfully survived Vevcani's carnival, and it was a blast!! Here's the video, although I suggest you watch it AFTER you read this.

Vevcani video
Ok, so this is just a preview : )

So our trip began with a 6hour bus ride down to the beautiful town of Ohrid:

 We stayed in an AMAZING place, called Villa Boban. The entire first day there, we basically just enjoyed our accommodations. We walked around the waterfront and ate at a fancy place, where I totally ordered a steak. We ate so much food and drank so much wine, we ended up in bed by 11.

The next morning, we decided to take ourselves on a walking tour through the old part of town. In Ohrid, there are 365 churches, one for every day of the year. While walking through the old part of town, you find churches on every corner!! Some are extremely old and tiny, while others are old and big. They are all elaborate and unique. Our personal favorite is this one:
Check out that view!!

Our walk took almost all day, and a lot of it was uphill, which made for quite a hike. Thankfully the weather was nice, and we had some excellent suggestions from the people who ran our Villa. We were able to find little hidden walkways and bridges that took us along the water. 
We ate, relaxed, took photos, and drank lots of coffee. By midday, we were pooped!! That night, we went out for another nice dinner in the old part of town, only to hit the hay early again. The next morning, we woke up to a snow storm.
This is the view from our villa. We were honestly shocked when we woke up, because we were supposed to head out to Vevcani that day!! We had at least a couple feet of snow, and the roads were COVERED in ice!! We went and spoke with the people running our villa, and we learned we were really going to have to be creative in getting to Vevcani. To make matters worse, Rob did NOT have appropriate shoes, so our host handed him some of his own Italian leather boots to borrow!! Sometimes, I'm just shocked by the hospitable people here!! 

Before you knew it, we were in an illegal taxi, hoping a ride into Struga. From there, we stood in the snow for about an hour, before a combi came and swooped us up!! We made it into Vevcani, but the bus was unable to properly take us up the hills leading into the village, because the ice was just too bad. At one point, the bus was spinning slightly on the ice, so the driver decided to back up and try and run it up the hill. didnt work. Regardless...we managed to walk the rest of the way.

Vevcani is built on the side of a mountain. For this reason, it provided some of the most breathtaking landscapes, but so of the most snow and ice I've ever encountered in my life. The temperature that day got down to -6 Fahrenheit. SO COLD!!!!

Anywho!! Once we got there, we had to find the other volunteers. I called Sara, and she said "We are drinking rakija with some trees." Intrigued, we decided to wander the village until we found them. The hills in the village were like veins in a body. They connected every inch of the community, but often times would lead us in complicated twists and turns that eventually lead us back to the same places we were before. We'd pass people in costumes, who were always in character, and we'd pass people going about their daily lives, just trying to shovel the snow from their doorsteps. We decided to wait on a corner, because we hear music approaching us. Eventually, we were hit with quite the crowd!!

The costumes follow a type of Pagan tradition. It's almost all men who participate. There are themes that follow the costumes...some of them being demons, some of the them extremely crude, and some of the mocking some present issue. Regardless of the costume, everyone was in character at all times. The monsters would come up and growl in your face, and even kids were involved!!

After a while of watching, we finally managed to find "the trees!!"

We continued the rest of the day, hanging out with the trees. We were also joined by walruses, Nazis, Osama, various devils/monsters, and the Taliban. We went around and visited numerous houses with these people. At each house, wine, rakija, beer, and brandy were served. Fresh cuts of meat and cheese were provided, along with some bread and fruit. Our visit to each house only lasted about 10 minutes at a time, if that.

Quite frankly, our entire experience was really quite remarkable!! I believe the only reason we were invited to become part of these peoples' lives on this day was because we spoke some Macedonian. Most of them knew who the Peace Corps was, and they loved the fact that we made it to their village for the event!! Throughout the day, I kept thinking "wow....this kind of stuff just doesnt happen."

By midday, most of the characters throughout the village gathered in the center, where they did a type of parade, where everyone pretty much danced around the center. This part last for hours, and the view of it all was amazing. In the very center, people were burning their masks and/or other parts of their costumes, which is part of the tradition. 

By the time the sun was going down, we were all feeling extremely tired, a little intoxicated, and very hungry. A few of us were invited to join one of the trees back to his house with some of the other characters from the day. Upon our arrival, we were greeted with more food and drinks. We spent hours at this house, and I once again found myself amazed at the hospitality. Where on earth can you find yourself in a village on the side of a mountain, eating homemade chicken with a local family and their friends?? They love sharing their lives and their culture, and sometimes you just have to soak it all in. 

My experience in Vevcani was one of the most unique I've ever had in my life. Even in writing this particular update, I find that words just cant do it justice. 

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