In the forests around Majdanpek
Morning of day 2 was sunny, but cool, promising a beautiful day, great for sightseeing and exploring abandoned forest trails. We left the hotel with our host from the Tourist Office straight for Rajko’s cave, another underground jewel of eastern Serbia, only 3 km from Majdanpek centre. It’s the cave with the longest tourist prepared trail, reaching 1,5 km in length. So it’s no wonder it takes about an hour to complete the tour.
From the undergound depths straight to the heights – we boarded our Jeeps and drove straight to the top of the 796 m high rocky Starica peak, overlooking Majdanpek town and mine, offering some great views of the area. It was a routine forest trail drive, except for the last 150 m, where an extreme ascent still damp gave us quite some slippery fight, but the four of us all managed to park safely by the fence of the telecom antennas placed on top of Starica. Up there we met Novak, the president of the local mountaineering club – he runs all the way up to Starica from Majdanpek in about half an hour! Now that’s really an achievement to match 🙂
The route from Starica takes us further to the north and east, plunging into the biggest continuous forested area in Serbia, that lays between the Pek river valley, and the Iron Gate gorge. Over 100 km in length and about 50 km in width of dominantly beech forest, it’s not an easy task for offroaders, especially after the big floods of September 2014, which changed the geometry of many river valleys, landslides destroying many previously existing forests trails – so all trail knowledge prior to autumn 2014 has to be taken with extreme caution, and doublechecked before taking a group there.
And expectedly, we were in for a detour. The planned trail along the Valja Saka river was abruptly broken up by the floods at some point, and closer inspection proved that attempting to follow the river further upstream was pointless. So an alternative route was needed. We found it in the form of an obviously newly formed trail, climbing steep to the top of the nearby ridge. But that was also not without difficulties. Fallen trees and landslides blocked the way in several spots, but it turned out not to be a serious problem for our mighty rigs and our road clearing equipment.
As we’ve reached the ridge top, a very amusing forest drive along the narrow edge, up and down all the time, improved our mood greatly. It was a dynamic, fun ride, which more or less lasted for the rest of our morning round, until we descended into the green Ravna reka valley.
Gold panning and the Black river
It was time for our Vlach ethno-lunch in the small village of Debeli Lug, and the gold panning lesson on the Todorova river afterwards. With the stories of a rich, adventurous life of our gold panning host perica, we’ve spent a very amusing afternoon on the river, and the youngster seemed to be most amused of all.
When the gold panning session was finished, we’ve had two more hours of daylight, and a promise from previous day to complete the Black river canyon trail – so the guys engaged in a late afternoon 4×4 session with great joy. And it turned out to be an overwhelmingly beautiful experience indeed, which ended another day full of impressions.
The gold mine and the stone arch
After another night with soaking rain, day three started with a drive though the Majdanpek gold and copper mine – a very unusual
experience in an almost unearthly environment, passing by the gigantic mining trucks (only one of their huge tyres weighs 3 tonnes!), and driving over sand which, at moments, makes you feel like you’re in the middle of a desert, rather than in the heart of Europe. At the outskirts of the huge mine there’s a “lake”, but better not be fooled by it’s emerald colour – it’s highly toxic, there’s no life in it. An eco problem that will obviously be left for the future generations to solve. Fortunately, it’s isolated, so the polution doesn’t contaminate the surrounding rivers and streams.
Our route led us further into the forests of eastern Homolje, towards Valja Prerast, the highest of the 11 natural stone arches of eastern Serbia. But in order to see this majestic artwork of nature, we had to descent down a slippery forest road, where last night’s rain was no help. I instructed the guys to engage low gear, shift into first gear, and use the brake pedal as little as possible. Just as I passed the critical part, I hear Andreas’s dramatic voice in the CB radio: “Come and help us, we’ve toppled to the side!”. At first I thought it was a joke – what the hell is he talking about? It is a tricky part, but not THAT risky. We quickly went a few hundred metres back, only to see the Rubi lying on it’s side!
After a few unsuccessful winching attempts, I went off to find a drivearound to reach the toppled Jeep from the back side, and perhaps seek help of a forest tracktor from the nearby lumberjacks. As I’ve reached the lumberjacks, a message on the CB comes through “We’ve made it, the Rubi is back on it’s wheels!” Turns out using it’s own winch was the best solution to the problem. It all ended quite well – nobody got injured, and the Jeep came out completely undamaged, except for a small crack in the hardtop. But it was a good lesson to understand just how easily you can get into trouble if you panic and make the wrong decisions (a wheel slipping into a deep rut, while the other was slightly up the side wall of the trail, was the reason this happened).
We could finally relax, and enjoy photographing the majestic, 40 m high stone arch, before continuing to Blizna, to have the traditional vlaški kačamak lunch at the Balić restaurant.
Mount Stol and Gornjane ring
The Gornjane ring is an area like no other in eastern Serbia. It’s a ring of attractive, cliffy mountains surrounding Gornjane village on all sides, with huge open spaces giving a majestic, 360 degree vista in a circle of almost 20 km. No place else is the feeling of the vastness of open space so grand, and no other part of northeast Serbia resembles this.
The highlight of driving through the Gornjane ring is certainly reaching Stol, the highest of those mountains, which has a charming little plateau with a small lake at the altitude of about 850 m. It’s a favourite campsite, so it was very unfortunate that this wasn’t a camping tour. But we’ve enjoyed quite a few nice moments by the lake.
Having a bit of time to catch up (the forest incident from the morning took quite some time to solve), we drove partly on paved roads to reach the more attractive parts of eastern Homolje, catching an abandoned train track (with the tracks removed) leading to our next hotel, at the Bor lake.
Video of days three and four: