Micki leads us out to where his car is parked. I hop in the front and MacKay gets the back. We take the first right, head passed the fortress and are almost immediately out of the city into some countryside.
Micki is a chill mofo, he’s curious about our thoughts on Skopje. We tell him about our walkabout through the main downtown statues, Old Bazaar and Fortress. He’s shaking his head at the mention of the statues, bridge and galleons in the river, “All of the new buildings and the statues. Mixed feelings about all of that for Macedonians, you know. Lots of money put into it. Lots of money that could solve other problems.” “Ya, I hear that. It is lavish. Maybe they’re hoping to elevate tourism in the city and bring more money in that way.” “Yes, but that also has it’s problems.” “Oh, of course. We enjoyed the Old Bazaar area the most. The rest was a little forced.” “Exactly. It’s not necessary. The culture is there, let it be.”
We start asking about other things to do in the area. We’re a little torn on if we should be heading South to Ohrid or North into Kosovo. “Yes, that is tough. Both are really great. I drove some Dutch guys into Kosovo the other day. Prizren. Beautiful city. Much better than the capital. So that is an option. But also, Ohrid is a lovely place with lots of history. I don’t think you can make a bad decision. Do either one. Or both.” “True. We’ll have a few drinks later and figure it out.” “There. Good plan.”
We pull off the highway by a wide river running through tall cliffs on either side. The scenery is a dream bucket. A road wiggles it’s way down to the river and follows it up to what looks like a dam. Micki pulls over to drop us off.
“So people usually spend about 3 hours. Hiking around. Take a boat to some caves. Sit and have food or maybe coffee by the river.” “Ok, that sounds good.” “Yes. So it’s 1420 now. I will be back at 1720?” “Yep. That’ll work.” He hands us a business card, “Here’s my card if you want earlier or later, just call or message me.” “Ok perfect. See you in three. Thanks Micki!” “Nothing.”
We step out and the air is noticeable cooler here. Fresh from the river water. The foliage is dense by tall, stony cliffs. It feels like a totally new country. Digging this already. Let’s take a looksy.
We get passed the dam and the river opens up a bit. There are some buildings in the distance to walk to. Looks like some boats to rent. An old stone church, St Andrew’s Monastery from the 14th century. This is cool, glad we came out here. Also, it’s just nice to be out of the city and into some countryside. There’s a restaurant and a hotel here too. Should be easy to kill the day in this beauty.
St Andrew’s Monastery
“Hike along the cliff face and come back for a boat ride to the caves?” “Bueno.” We get started through the woods up a path alongside the river. It follows a jagged cut-out along the cliff walls with a nice descent into the river below. This’ll do nicely.
Looking back on the restaurant and hotel
Boats come and go up the river as we walk through the woods beside. A number of people have rented kayaks and are dodging the wake. That would be a fun idea too. Although last time I had the displeasure of spending any time in a MacKayak it was a total clusterfuck.
Some pics from our cliff-side scoot
We get a good distance in and decide to spin back to base if we wanna have time for a boat ride to the caves.
We get to the dock and ask the local goose what the deal is. Works out to less than ten bucks. We’re in.
It’s a nice ride up the canyon on the water. Peaceful. There’s a local couple and a small family on the boat with us. We lean back and take it in. Wave to the passing boats. This was a good call.
Our captain spins up an expert docking of the boat, drifting over to a small wooden staircase on the cliff side. We hop off and make our way up the steep steps.
Captain Dude goes over to an old machine, fenced in by the rock wall. He has to start a generator, presumably for the lights in the cave.
He points in and says we have 15 minutes. There are some slippery steps leading down into the joint.
Well this is cool. The walls look like they’re dripping rock. They have the resemblance of botched campfire marshmallows. Do they make marshmallow vodka in here?
Ooooh trippy colors!
The caves aren’t too extensive and easily traversable in 15 minutes. At the back of them the reflection on a pool of water makes it look super deep.
Not nearly as impressive as the massive caves we visited in Vietnam, but still pretty neat.
We make our way back out, following the sound of the generator.
Good view from up here at the cave entrance. Sun’s hitting the canyon just right.
We help the couple from the boat snap some canyon shots together and make our way back down.
Quick boat selfie before we take off again
Captain Dude takes us up the canyon a bit passed the caves and pulls over to the cliff walls to point something out. Looks like a crack in the rocks. He hasn’t spoken the whole time and suddenly he drops some perfect English on us.
“There’s a spring here that connects to the cave you were just in. See where water is blue and turquoise. Scuba divers have not reached the bottom yet. 800 meters in and 240 down so far. Still lots left to explore here.” “That’s cool. Also sounds terrifying.” “Ha. Yes I think so.”
Perfect English Captain Dude whirls us around and hits the motor back towards the monastery. It’s a relaxing early evening water jaunt.
Thanks for the boats Admiral Goose Bro!
Well after a cliff strut and boats to the caves we still have an hour and a half to kill here. Hard to believe you can get up late, get breakfast in Alexander Da G’s square, walk around a fortress, have a few beer in the Old Bazaar, get to the canyon, hike, take a boat to the caves and then still have time for more brain suds by the monastery all in one afternoon. Skopje is great.
Zlaten Dab Chillin
Alright, where are we going here
We get back to the hotel and ask for a romantic table overlooking the water. There’s a whole row of them and we get a sweet spot between some posh older folks and a travelling couple. We get a round of Macedonian brewskis and toss some food in.
The Zlaten Dab is about as nondescript a national lager as every other one world wide but it’s sure hitting the spot right now.
An interesting couple next to us in tattered garb and both sporting dreadlockeds are rolling smokes on the table. They’re both lighting up after their meal. They almost immediately start apologizing to us for smoking. “No it’s totally fine. Really. Where are you guys from?” “From England but living in Berlin, Germany.” “Oh beautiful. I bet that makes a good hub to travel from.” “Yes, exactly it does.”
Their names are Tom and Aefa. They ask what we’re up to and we tell them about our trip. They tell us that they’re supposed to be done theirs but screwed up, missed their flight and then had to book another last minute one at exorbitant cost. “We’ve definitely been there before. Sorry to hear that.” “Yes well, we got to come see this pretty canyon so not all bad.” “There ya go.”
The food arrives and Tom and Aefa bow out. Oooooh nummy times.
We finish things up and get back down to the entrance to meet Micki. He’s not here yet. We lean on a fence and look around while we wait.
Looks like they do competitive kayaking here?
Suns getting low and still no sign of Micki. Been close to an hour now, may have to give him a call.