Kavadarci, 4 December 2019 (MIA) – They say that you keep coming back to the places you love. Although I’ve been part of four four-wheeled off-road adventures through Tikvesh, this year, I came for the fifth time.
Around 200 participants were riding in some 80 SUVs. This time, however, we had a bit of an updated travel route, so this posed an additional challenge to being part of this “SUV Squad.”
Once again, as if following some unwritten rule, we journalists found ourselves in the SUV leading the pack: a 52-year-old Land Rover. To have the best view and take the best photos.
Janche Markushev takes the wheel again. He’s a man who knows every nook and cranny of this region – thanks to his 30-year log truck-driving experience across these wild mountain roads.
He is said to know the way wilderness breathes, and that he could find his way out of this woodsy maze with a blindfold over his eyes.
Of course, some show-offs overtook us and drove past. They ended up waiting at the first intersection, though, not knowing where to go next without getting lost in this expanse full of flora and fauna.
“I’m a mountain boy,” our driver said, obviously in a good mood. “I was born in Mariovo, in the village of Rozhden, better known as the birthplace of Dosta Rozhdenka from Stale Popov’s novel [Krpen zivot].
“I lived here until I was 18. It pains me to see such a beautiful region being so abandoned.
“Back when there were people in these ten or so villages under Kozhuf Mountain, there weren’t any roads, or water, or power.
“Now we have everything, including phone and internet lines, but nobody lives here other than old people like my parents.”
Driving an old jeep over potholes in the name of health tourism
Kavadarci’s “Tribor” off-road club organized this event, which is slowly but surely turning into a tradition.
Older and newer models of terrain vehicles sat under the open sky in the paddock.
Their owners regard them as veritable pets, bragging about their performances every chance they get during breaks, and even while driving around the breathtaking landscapes painted by Mother Nature this time of year.
They’re priceless to the owners, no matter if they are old models and serve as proof of how the automobile industry has developed over the years, or new models flaunting their brand new, automatic features.
Everything has a beauty of its own, including the comfort of the “beastly” airplane-like machines, and the noises and jumps produced by the older “dragons” with bad shock absorbers, “perfect for health tourism,” as we joked.
Many poets and writers have tried to capture nature in spring, summer, fall, and winter.
One often wonders if it’s better to be caressed by the green, awakened nature in spring; or the summer sunshine; or golden autumn leaves, or snowflakes in winter.
To a true nature lover, any time of year is perfect to be part of nature. Devote only a little time to nature, and it gives you a lot of positive energy, pleasure, and happiness in return.
I loved the empire of colors dancing before my eyes. Yellow, brown, green, and every shade in between. Art.
Markushev showed us traces of wild hogs searching for food.
Then he told us where the thick ferns are, there used to be planting grounds for the tastiest mountain potatoes – the taste of which people can’t forget even to this day.
Setting one foot on Macedonian, and one foot on Greek soil
After our breakfast of traditional Tikvesh pishii [fried dough], we set off from Kavadarci. We passed the Vitachevo plateau and Mushov Grob, then crossed the village of Mrezhichko, reaching Majden, near the world-renowned Alshar mine, and the country’s future border with Greece.
Through the locality of Mala Krusha, we reached Tribor, the border between the municipalities of Kavadarci and Prilep. We took pictures on the hill overseeing Vitolishte.
After entertaining the idea of visiting neighbors for some coffee and jokes, because we already had some Tikvesh wine and homemade schnapps, we decided to carry on towards the Golem Kozjak watchtower instead.
Too bad it’s in ruins, with nothing left but rocks and handwritten numbers and letters as silent testimonials of old times.
The Macedonian flag was flown, a toast was given, some photos were taken of the trenches, memorials of wars past.
We proudly posed with one foot on Macedonian soil and the other foot on Greek soil. We glanced towards the European Union through the broken window.
So close, yet so far away for us.
And this kindly shepherd herding his sheep alongside his big guard dogs was postcard-perfect, too. A real sight to see.
I don’t know who was happier to see whom; was it us for having this close encounter with their meek kind, or was it them for our breaking up their monotony?
Pepi Ganchev, the organizer of the event, said: “At our participants’ request, this year’s ride route was longer and more challenging. Also far more impressive, and definitely more of a thrill.
“A day full of such lovely moments can make a man think that he just woke up from a fascinating dream. But this magic doesn’t disappear when you wake up. It goes on and on.”
Others were saying that Macedonians often holiday in other countries, which is all fine and dandy, but it’s also good to explore one’s homeland and enjoy the beauty of nature nearby.
“That’s precisely our goal: to take delight in the beauty of this region and show it off to nature lovers,” they said.
No longer (almost) the only woman at Off-Road Kozhuf
On our way back through Tribor, we couldn’t help but bring up once more the lack of awareness by those who cut trees in the forest several years ago, doubling the damage by leaving the felled trees behind.
It was so sad to see these rotten logs in the wilderness. They could’ve been used to warm up some low-income family in cold winter nights, or make some little girl happy, some little girl who yearns for light and warmth, like the one in “The Little Match Girl.”
Instead of going straight back home as we used to during previous trips, this time we went through Meshnik and reached the village of Klinovo, located right above Lake Tikvesh. According to our guide, back in the day, the road to the village was built by hand.
Here, they served us some delicious baked beans that had been cooking over the firewood for hours.
Those with elevated blood pressure were pleased to try some roasted hot peppers, which was just what the doctor ordered. I can still feel their heat in my mouth as I write these lines.
The vegans among us had some delicious salad, and the non-vegans got to pick between several kinds of meat.
The music only added to our good mood, even though many of us had to step away from the loud sounds to talk in private to our new friends, as well as to enjoy the sounds of nature.
We also saved for posterity our crossing the Blashnica River on our heroic SUV.
The river flows into the lake, but there was no tide this time, so we had no trouble getting over it.
We left the village of Bojanchishte behind us as well, driving back the 160 km home through the dark.
We drove on asphalt, dirt roads, untrod screes, a wilderness that only Markushev seemed to know well. Because whenever any other SUVs tried to lead the way, they failed.
During my first year of Tikvesh off-roading, I was a bit embarrassed to be one of the very few women in a predominantly male crew. Nowadays, more and more women and children participate each year in this four-wheeled fun.
They probably heard about the fun times in the wilderness and wished to be part of this kind of story. Where you almost never see other people.
Those you do happen to meet along the way look at you funny, as if they’re asking themselves, “Don’t these people have better things to do with their time than ride around this wilderness randomly?”
But, of course, it’s not random. That’s just their two cents.
Translated by Dragana Knežević
Edited by Magdalena Reed