Sometimes Mother Nature is in a bad mood. Like many women, she has her off days and wants to piss on your bonfire. You may have planned to visit Matka Canyon, hoping for glorious sunshine, but she’s determined to thwart your plans. If you only have this one day to visit, and it is raining, I urge you to go anyway. You can still have fun and won’t miss out on spectacular scenery near the city of Skopje. You can always rely on the video or this wonderful photo from Breathe With Us to demonstrate what the canyon looks like on a beautiful day.
Getting to Matka Canyon is like a Krypton Factor challenge. First, you have to find the bus, then get on the one going in the correct direction. If you happen to head in the wrong direction, as we did, the driver may take pity on you and take you back for free.
If you are travelling to Sagari, you then need to hail a non-existent cab or accept a ride from an entrepreneurial local in a battered Skoda. Once you arrive at the Canyon, you then have a short hike in the rain. Sounds like fun, doesn’t it?
Buses in Macedonia
Finding information on buses in Macedonia is no mean feat for a non-Macedonian speaker. There’s no English website, no proper timetable, the route map goes to a 404 error and strangely enough the bus drivers don’t speak much English.
After a little improvisation, we arrive at the Canyon feeling smug that we made it independently. Whilst I cannot guarantee you more success than we had, this ‘Top things to do in Skopje’ provides a little more information to help.
Communicating with locals
We arrive to drizzle and a fine mist descending over the valley. There is a small parking lot, a bus-stop, and a white-water rafting course. Not equipped with waterproof clothing, we seek shelter in a nearby restaurant. There’s little sign of activity, but we are ushered in as tables and chairs are quickly arranged to seat us. I order the obligatory shopska salad (my new staple diet of tomatoes, cucumber, and onion) and by the time we finish eating, the drizzle has turned into a downpour. Time to reconsider our options maybe?
I try using my notepad to communicate that we want to go on the boat and receive a waggled finger pointing up the hill. He waggles a further three fingers at me indicating it is three kilometres away. At least that’s what I thought he said.
We contemplate a taxi to take us but another waiter shakes his head in horror, muttering about expensive taxis. He urges us to walk up the short track stressing that it’s not far. We set off trying to keep our grip on the slippery cobbles. Following the fast-flowing river, we reach a small car park and a tiny path hewn from the cliffside. Admiring turquoise waters, steep rock faces and descending mist, we round the corner to find an unexpected scene. Incredibly, hidden away in a small nook of the Canyon is a restaurant, hotel, and tiny orthodox church.
Here is what it look likes on a glorious day, courtesy of The Sweetest Way. She was much luckier with the weather than we were!
What if the boat isn’t running?
We enquire about the boat and are advised that it will only leave if more guests arrive. Fuelling the boat and paying for the cave lighting is not cheap. We can wait in the coffee bar though and if anyone else crazy enough to be out here today comes along, they will find us
Drink cappuccinos and reading a good book
We head into the restaurant of the Matka Hotel to pass the time. It is cute as a button, with pink, white and red flowing geraniums cascading over thick stone walls, terracotta tiles and tubs of colourful flowers. There’s a large outdoor terrace swathed in rain covers, and blankets to keep visitors toasty.
Nursing a coffee, I take advantage of this enforced activity break to chill out and read with showers drumming on the overhead canopy like a lullaby. One coffee turns into two, and then a beer in the cozy lounge, and still no one from the boat company comes. It seems they have forgotten us as my later inquiry simply results in the same answer as before. We decide to cut our losses, happy to watch the weather’s unstable moods from the warmth of the hotel.
A mini hike into the canyon
And then a glimmer of hope, the downpour turns into a light drizzle which might not drench my jeans. I practically skip out of the hotel, intent on exploring, if only for a short interlude. I follow the signs up to the waterlogged path in anticipation.
Initially, it is like a high-ropes adventure course with ropes on both sides to pull yourself along. These soon are replaced by sheer drop-offs, uneven stones and glistening cobbles as the path weaves around the headland. Its mesmerising – even in the rain with clouds hovering menacingly above the water it is stunning. I find myself not wanting to turn back, bewitched by my desire to find the pot of gold at the end of the pathway.
If only we had known we could have hiked around the Canyon to the caves and explored further. If only we had brought waterproofs (obviously on everyone’s holiday packing list) and come prepared. Yet still we find ourselves laughing, remiscising about childhood holiday mishaps and how sometimes it can be fun when things don’t turn out as planned.
Have you ever experienced something similar?
Maybe you have a similiar story where things didn’t quite go according to plan. I’d love to hear your stories so feel free to comment below.