Citizens of Macedonia and Albania observe natural beauty in trip around Lake Ohrid and promote tolerance.
By Miki Trajkovski for Southeast European Times in Ohrid -- 31/10/12
Cyclists prepare to begin a bicycle tour around Lake Ohrid, which straddles the border of Macedonia and Albania. [Miki Trajkovski/SETimes]
Around 100 bicycle riders from Macedonia and Albania participated in a tour around Lake Ohrid on October 20th in an appeal for tolerance, mutual respect, a region with no borders and protection of natural resources.
The recreational cycling marathon began in Ohrid, and travelled through Struga to Lynn and Pogradec in Albania, before returning to the Macedonian part of the lake, which straddles the border of the two countries.
Zanko Golaboski, president of the Bicycle Club Zsh from Ohrid and organiser of the marathon, told SETimes he wanted the activity to encourage citizens from both sides of the lake to cross the border more frequently.
For decades, during Albania's communist period, border crossings were rare. More recently, border crossings required a passport, but in April the Albanian and Macedonian governments agreed to allow people to cross simply by showing an ID.
"The main goal of this tour was to promote the region as one without borders, because the border now can be crossed only with an ID," Golaboski said. "It is a great experience to see the lake from both the sides."
Ljupcho Mitreski, a member of the Bike Star cycling association from Skopje, said the event was productive because it gave Macedonian citizens a better understanding of Albania.
Some of the participants recalled a time when the border was closed, but now that people are able to move between the two countries freely, the area around the lake has become a tourist destination. The trip by car from Ohrid or Struga to Pogradec is less than an hour.
The bike tour covered about 100 kilometers and riders finished it in less than seven hours.
"We had [prejudice] about Albania," Mitreski said. "But after what we saw there, I can tell that those opinions are past. Pogradec is a lovely town, the people are friendly and welcoming. A lot of people come to Ohrid, but they’ve never seen the whole lake. That is why they have to see how the lake looks from the Albanian side and how it is to live there."
"Since I was a kid, I had a major wish to cross on the other side of the border, because I am part of that generation which lived in time when the border with Albania was closed," said Misho Tanevski, an Ohrid resident. "Pogradec is a beautiful town, which is developing rapidly. A lot of the people talk in Macedonian, and in the restaurants you can pay with denars, Macedonian currency."
Pogradec resident Faton Osmani said the bike tour showed that "although we live in different countries, there are a lot of things that connected us which makes us similar, for example the desire of communication and co-operation."
While participants said they enjoyed the scenery, they also made less-desirable observations, photographing garbage dumps that could be seen along the road and the lake.
Zhanko Golaboski told SETimes the group planned to contact local governments.
"We also want to shake up the public awareness of the importance of the clean and healthy living area," Golaboski said. "There are such beautiful places beside the lakes, and they are full with garbage. In the Albanian part I don’t like that on every 10 meters fishes are hunted, huge nets are thrown, and trout, plashica and eel are sold in aquariums beside the road."
The riders say that their next initiative would be to organize a cycling marathon around the three neighboring countries, Macedonia, Greece and Albania. They also hope to convince authorities to build a cycling path beside the lake, which will contribute to the development of tourism.