I say to myself, "Let's find new places and experience Macedonia beyond urban Skopje." My destination will be Lake Matka. It's about 20 kilometers from Skopje.
|Hydro-electric plants. New on the left and older on right.|
Before human times, the river Treska has been gouging a pathway through mountain ridges. I’m told the rocky masses consist of thick layers of carbonate and slate carbonate stone.
Looking up through the grooves is like seeing back into a billion years. Punctuating the facade are caves. Several are among the largest and deepest in the Balkans and Europe.
Getting here has been an adventure.
While I had the bus number, I did not know where to catch it. At the bus station, I scurry from one staging area to another. I decide to take a short-cut around a high fence.
But then, a guard yells, “Not this way. No one is allowed.” Or at least, that’s what I think he is saying since, of course, he is speaking Macedonian and I’m not.
My time is running out. I have just 5 minutes to find the platform for bus 60. “Take a deep breath, Jud,” I say to myself. “Remember, it’s all an adventure.”
I ask a man for directions thinking how grateful I am for learning those Macedonian words. He points over there and I arrive just as the last passengers are climbing aboard. I’m meant to take this trip.
Inside the bus is crowed and becoming more so when others join us at stops along the way. I notice a baba and her grandson. He’s older than my grandson, Max. He's maybe three.
The boy's face is fixed towards the smudgy windows. When you’re three, there’s a lot to see. It's a parade of new sights. With wide eye wonder, he's enjoying the crowded bus more than anyone. I think.
The bus takes a long time to wind through the streets of Skopje. Slowly the concrete gives way to fields of green and newly turned soil. Our road narrows. We creep through several villages and come to a dead end. “Are we at Matka,” I ask the driver? He nods a da.
I hop off my bus. My first impressions are of sounds and colors.
River Treska roars down a steep hill. Even though a new hydro plant has nearly tripled output to 9.6 MW of electricity, the river still thunders with energy.
They tell me competitive kayak racing takes place here. I believe it. My nephew Garth would love it.
I wander closer. I feel the coolness of the mountain stream. The color is amazing. It’s a deep turquoise even on this gray day. Maybe I’ll try capturing the tone in a watercolor. I’m mesmerized.
Overhead in trees, birds compete with their own territorial sounds. I smile to myself when I spot a little bird with a big song and snap a picture.
It’s great to be surrounded by nature.
A narrow path follows the river hugging the mountain side. I see that it’s been equipped with new guard rails. Since Macedonia has been featured in western publications, including the New York Times, tourist preparations are everywhere. I even saw construction for a new Hilton Hotel in Skopje. It won't be long....
I learn that Matka is the Macedonian word for womb. Is it like a place of birth or rebirth? What's the mythology behind the naming of this place?
Locals say they don’t know of any kind of mythology. For them it’s just a nice place to go with family and friends. “We go there to get away from the concrete and heat of Skopje.”
Still I think it’s a pity because such beauty deserves a legend or at least a good story.
It's having an affect on me. I’m feeling rejuvenated. Like the little boy on the bus, my senses are seeing colors and hearing sounds as if for the first time. For me Matka is becoming a special place.
I continue my stroll to an ancient Monastery – St Andrews. It was built at the end of the 14th century. I'm intrigued by the decorative brick work and try to imagine workmen who laid the bricks for the glory of God and probably the King too.
A little further on is a cafe attached to a small hotel. Seeing it and comparing it to photos from the Internet, I realize it too has been rejuvenated.
I check out the menu – ones in English – and sit down for a snack. It's a lovely place available only to those who walk the path.
In the distance, I hear afternoon thunder. I check the bus schedule and realize one will be leaving in about a half hour. If I hurry, I can catch it.
But still on my way back, I pause to take a few more mental impressions. The lure of this place does rejuvenate even without a legend. Matka - I won't forget you.
PS As I was ending my experience, I came upon this trio.
It's an electronic world too....