After the experience with the “winter tour” in April last year we wanted the beginning of the springtime season of Rustika Travel tours to be a true springtime event, with minimum risk of snow, and lots of mud and a chance to watch the nature sprouting and waking up after the winter sleep. So we decided to make it in the lower mountains of northeast Serbia, where the risk of late winter conditions wasn’t so great like in the higher mountains. And it turned out we managed to hit the point – the tour was a 100% success! 😎
Why Gold Rush?
Simply because gold and northeast Serbia, especially the area around the town of Majdanpek and the Homolje mountains, is simply inseparable. The tradition of gold panning in the mountain rivers of Homolje is several centuries old, and it is still practiced today. Among the myths, legends and pagan rituals, which are still alive among the Vlach ethnic minority, tales of hidden gold are still very much alive, and there are gold diggers everywhere – not only in the numerous caves and other holes in the ground. Besides, Majdanpek also has the largest gold and copper mine in Serbia, and visiting the mine is kind of an adventure of it’s own. So we wanted to make this tour not only a pure 4×4 impact with the wild and demanding nature of eastern Serbia, but also a journey of cultural discovery with a very specific touch. Therefore, the official tour plan included not only a gold panning lesson on the golden rivers of Homolje, but also a drive through the heart of the Majdanpek gold & copper mine!
Started out wet
After the traditional gathering in the Nomad offroad park in Belgrade, we headed for eastern Serbia, reaching the tour starting point in about 1,5 hour – the Ždrelo Spa, where we had a chance to enjoy in the thermal pools before the “real” start of our offroad trail the next morning.
Although we have been promised good weather by the forcasts, it has been raining for the entire night, and a look at the Homolje peaks encased in thick clouds wasn’t promising an easy day’s ride. A quick ascent to the 670 m tall Krilaš peak was supposed to give us a fantastic scenic overview of the area, but it was all in vain – all we could see from above was fog. We continued towards the more demanding sections of the trail, aware that the ground was soaked and very slippery, and that certain details may not be as easy and risk-free as they would have been in dry conditions.
Rain does change the rules of conduct on forest trails – some sections that you’d normally regard as routine suddenly become slippery and full of potential risks, and you have to take special care of those that combine extreme descent with obstacles such as trees, in order not to end up slamming against one of them.
Then came a real treat – the labyrinth of forest trails ended up in the Dubočica stream valley, a pure joy of driving for 3 kilometres mostly through the stream! I fact, there is no alternative, the trail actually does go through the stream, especially in the last kilometre before it joins the mighty Mlava river.
The big crossing
Usually a routine crossing in the summer with the water hardly reaching the differentials, in springtime, after the snow has melted, Mlava river shows it’s mighty face. It’s the time of year when the locals dare not cross it in their Lada Nivas – being lighter than 1,5 tonnes, it could easily carry them away downstream. So crossing it on March 27th was a real challenge!
I thought for a while what measures of precaution we could take in order to cross it safely, and came up with a simple, but effective solution – we would connect the vehicles with winches two by two, so that at any moment one would be on hard ground, capable to pull out the other in case needed. Mlava is just wide enough for the standard winch ropes to reach from one bank to the other.
And we plunged into the roaring waters! It kept bouncing against our sides, swinging the 2+ tonne rigs as if they were some micro cars, but we were steady on our way to the other bank, pulling out eventually. Some water did get in, but a quick sideways park lifting one side of Jeeps by some 30 degrees poured it out quickly, so no damage was done.
A short crossing of a paved road, and it was time for the next challenge of the day – the Trest forest, a place full of mud 365 days a year. It’s big, in places steep, and it has some narrow, often tricky trails. Not a place for SUVs for sure, just full capability, well equipped offroaders. Passing the 15+ km of Trest is always an adventure, and it was on this March day too – we even winched at one especially slippery part with deep ruts, where we gut our differentials hung up. Passing Trest forest lasted longer than expected, so there was no time to ascend the Štubej peak, highest point in the area – our lunch in the restaurant by the Ceremošnja cave was waiting!
Visiting the cave after lunch was a nice break from the driving routine, and a chance to peek into the marvelous eastern Serbian underworld. It consists of one really big, extremely beautiful hall full of columns, stalactites and stalagmites, and several smaller side halls – like a natural, underground mansion.
The ridge trail
Athough we were only at half the distance we’ve planned to cover on day one, and the day was running out fast, the rest of the route was promising a relaxed drive, full of great views. The skies have cleared, announcing a spectacular sunset. The remaining trail led us along the top of Homolje mountains main ridge, going up and down all the time, with great open space views left and right, which called for short photo shooting stops. But the highlight of the second part of the day was definitely the Zdravča peak, a 900 m high rocky formation where you can access the very rocky edge with your 4×4, setting up the scene for some great scenic shots. Unfortunately, we were a little late, so the sun has already set. But nevertheless, the experience was still uplifting, and a decent impression to complete a wonderful, exciting day.
When we decided to leave Zdravča and complete the last section of day 1 trail, it was already almost complete dark. We concluded that it would be a pity to sacrifice the picturesque trail through the Black river canyon to darkness, rescheduling it for the second part of day two – now was the time to head for the pavement and reach the warmth of the Golden Inn hotel in the small town of Majdanpek.