After hiking to the Duf Waterfall, we drove along the southern border of the Mavrovo National Park to the tiny village of Gari, pausing along the way at the ancient Deer Leap Bridge. This is deep into Macedonia’s wildest and least-populated region, where nature still rules supreme.
When a bridge has a name like “Deer Leap,” it’s safe to assume that there’s some sort of legend behind it. The story of Deer Leap Bridge is as follows: long ago, an Ottoman lord was hunting in Mavrovo. He shot an arrow cleanly into the flank of a deer, but the animal refused to go down. Wounded but determined to live, the deer led the lord on a wearying chase through the forest, until arriving at a river. “Nowhere left to run,” thought the lord, as he readied his bow for the killing shot. But to his amazement, the deer gathered its strength and leaped across the water, landing successfully on the other side. This final effort, however brave, had been too much, and it collapsed dead. The lord was so moved by the animal’s tenacity, that he ordered a bridge built in the spot of the deer’s final leap.
We continued along the road all the way to its end, in Gari. This Mijak village in the hills is one of those places whose continuing existence is hard to comprehend in the 21st century. There are fewer people than dogs in Gari, and fewer dogs than dilapidated buildings. But the town keeps on, steadfastly refusing to believe in its obsolescence. We encountered a few guys busy restoring one of the residences, and even found a neat hotel-restaurant with a patio near a bubbling stream.
We sat down, ordered soup and salad, and chatted with a woman who was seated by herself at the next table. Originally from Skopje, she’s been living in Germany for the past twenty years, and had returned to Macedonia on a holiday. She was enthusiastic about Gari’s beauty, praising the fresh air and harmony with nature; quite a contrast with Cologne, she assured us.
Talking with her, we were reminded how leaving your country often makes you appreciate it more. She was seeing Macedonia with the awe of a tourist… the same way we see it. But this is the land of her birth. And especially in a place as enchanting as Gari, it’s hard to imagine that she wasn’t feeling homesick.