Poo with a view!
What more could you want? A bit of forest shade, a nice breeze on a warm spring day and looking out over one of Europe's oldest lakes.
So it's no surprise that in a recent survey of the animals living in the Transboundary Prespa Park, at least 90% of bears said that the panoramic views were the best bit about living there. Closely followed by cross-border cooperation and honey.
I'm always a bit angsty but excited on this particular dirt road, as it was here that I first came face to face with a brown bear. It was the middle of an equally lovely spring day a couple of years ago, and my girlfriend and I were slowly climbing up Mt. Sfika on our mountain bikes, followed by our dog, Nefeli. None of us were talking as we huffed and puffed up the steep hill, not even Nefeli, who's normally quite verbose. And as we turned one of the many corners, there he was. About 30 metres in front of us, a huge adult male, lapping up the water from a puddle left by a recent storm.
Who knows who was more scared, us or him. But he certainly reacted quickest (to be fair, we just froze, so a slow loris would have looked exceptionally nimble...). His eyes shot open and with astonishing speed he threw his massive frame off the road and down a sharp descent through the trees. So not quite the gentle ride and picnic we'd set out on!
It's certainly rare for people to meet bears. Their senses are far superior to ours and they have no desire to risk a confrontation with humans, or other large carnivores. Ordinarily they'd move away as soon as they hear or smell something strange.
So what could explain this chance encounter? I suppose the wind might have been against us that day, carrying away the noise of our pedalling. And maybe he was an old-timer with dodgy ears, suffering from a nasty head cold. We'll never know.
Since then I've spent a lot of time on my bike in these mountains and it's never happened again. But I'd like to think that, two years later, it was the same big guy who took advantage of the view for his toilet stop yesterday.
Nefeli. Our intrepid companion.
The south-western sliver of Lesser Prespa Lake from our picnic spot, reached once we'd calmed down and cycled on. The Greek and Albanian border is more or less under the left part of the low clouds.