It was four thirty in the morning, and we were walking down the road, no telling how far we were from Skopje—or anything. I just wanted to sleep. The bus had dropped everyone off in the middle of nowhere instead of Skopje’s bus station. The driver had called his friend, a cab driver, to take us the rest of the way. It was par for the course for there to be some unexpected “tax,” some unexpected scam; it was too late for these things to be surprising.
Still, the scam pissed off Josh. We didn’t really have a choice, but somehow Josh chose anyway. He refused to be pushed into paying for a taxi, keeping his honor and money intact. But there was no telling how far we were from the city, how far away from the hostel, how far away we were from sleep. It had been a ten hour ride from Tirana to (almost) Skopje. Though the two cities were less than two hundred miles apart, the roads were bad, and the bus driver had spent the first forty minutes dropping off his first passenger in the opposite direction we were supposed to go.
But the bus ride was finished. Now, with giant traveler bags on our backs, it was about moving, completing the last leg of the journey. We were still walking when the call of prayer started. Despite our predicament, I felt happy and free—to be on an adventure, to be immersed in the unknown. It was still dark, but it’d be light soon.
Soon, Josh spoke up. “I think that’s the taxi guy driving by. I’m ready to pay.” We waved him down, and he started laughing. I couldn’t help smiling. “How much?” Josh asked. The man held up six fingers—three euros apiece. It was even less than our Albanian border bribe. “Well, that’s not bad,” Josh said. We got in the taxi, and he drove us to the hostel. A ten minute ride at a fast speed. It would’ve taken forever to get there on our own.
The unfriendly hostel worker showed us some flimsy looking bunk beds in a cold basement room. It was already past five, and we crashed immediately, recharging for tomorrow’s surprises.