As we exited the motorway to Demir Kapija a sun wisened old man driving a horse with old wooden trailer charged towards us. “Woah” I exclaimed and pointed. It felt as if we had stepped back in time 100 years.
The feeling continued as we drove the narrow, potholed, suburban streets of the tiny Macedonian town. I held my breath not believing the “rockland camp” we were looking for still existed. Luckily, it did and Alex the owner was happy to share his knowledge of the climbing area he has painstakingly developed near by.
Demir Kapija means iron gate or iron door. Before the Austrian king arrived with engineers and dynamite Demir Kapija was completely isolated from the south. No advancing army could pass through the towering limestone gorge. It is in and around this gorge that Alex and friends have set and/or bolted hundreds of routes.
It was a nice surprise to see so many shiny stainless steel bolts evidently marking the routes after Meteora. It was also evident that Alex was what Varasova is missing, someone who cares for the crag and wants it to be climbed as often as possible. We did some sport climbing and climbed a really beautiful 5 pitch line that flowed as well as anything I’ve climbed in the Alps. The only difference being if it was in the Alps with a 5min approach from the car you’d have a queue of guides and clients waiting to climb it everyday. It felt like we were the first to climb it in weeks.
In someways it’s almost as if the gorge walls were never opened in at all. Demir Kapija exists in blissful isolation. The people there do not seem to have a lot by modern standards but they are rich in time. Most have beautiful gardens, and grow their own produce. We stumbled across the Saturday market and ended up with kilos of fresh veges for a pittance, with only hand gestures and smiles. Tourism has not sullied the community, if anything we, the hopeless foreigners, were the attraction.
It’s the sort of place that makes you stop and take a breath. It makes you think about what you have and what you need. It’s makes you think in someways life 100 years ago might not have been so bad at all.