Montenegro – A Fairytale – Part 2

Part one over here!

So, there we were, back at our car after three days of solitude up in the mountains. We herded off a sheep or two to be able to enter the car and drive off. It was still early and none of the forecasted  thunder was to be seen. So we decided to go and visit Kosovo, since the border was close by. Initially we had thought to visit the whole country, but the car rental company had stopped us from taking the car there. Apparently things between Kosovo and Serbia are still unstable.

From Plav towards Kosovo there is a  small road, M9. It is a mountain pass with horribly beautiful scenery. It is slow to drive, but worth it. As we started the last descent towards the border, we noticed that someone was following us. We drove to a gorge, crossed a stream and behind the next corner the road stopped suddenly. There was a ditch dug across it and concrete cones laid on top of it.

We stepped out of the car as the person tailing us arrived. He spoke surprisingly good German and presented himself as the forest guard. He told us that if we cross the border on foot and the police finds out, we’ll be all going to jail. He offered us another place to leave our car to, further away from the border, to prevent suspicion from the police. We thought it would be safer to just forget the whole silly idea. A stranger offering to hide your car like that, didn’t either rise too much trust.

On the way back, at a view point we did find a police patrol, which made us a little bit more happy about the decision to leave the border crossing behind. We headed back to the other side of the mountain range and started searching for our hotel on the city of Gusinje.

We were too early to check in yet, so we had a small walk at the river side and around the town. It is a special place, with something unique you don’t get to see everyday. First visible sign are the two mosques and two orthodox churches neighboring each other.  So do the people. Muslims and Christians seem to coexist in perfect harmony. It is a perfect mixing pot where neither of the cultures is over powering the other, they have formed a symbiosis, it looks. Plus the people are great! The friendliness is apparent. Everybody seems to have a functional position in the community, everybody works for the good of the neighbor and so forth. You also feel safe there, criminality seems to be minimal. The people somehow make you feel welcome and you feel bad for leaving them.

Gusinje finally received the thunderstorm and we were happy to be able to look at it behind a hotel window. The next day we drove off, leaving the lovely town behind. Our next destination was Durmitor. Probably the most famous National Park of Montenegro. Durmitor is the home for rugged mountains, massive canyons and dozens of mountain lakes. It is beautiful. Tara canyon is the deepest in Europe. The highest peak of the park is Bobotov Kuk, over 2,500 meters tall and the whole plateau is at 1,500 meters. It is also a Unesco world heritage site. Lovely.

We entered the park through the town of Zabljak, drove through some magically beautiful alpine meadows and found the small road (P14), that crosses the whole park. The road was very close to the peak of Bobotov Kuk, which we were so very eager to climb. Over in Durmitor there is somewhat more tourists compared to the other mountains. It means that also the trails are actually visible and most of the time well marked too. We even started to see other hikers on our way up.

The trail searched its way up between the boulders and cliffs. We were walking around the remaining batches of snow, in between high mountain peaks. As we climbed higher the scenery opened up in front of us. There were the slopes of Šareni Pasovi. That mountain looks surreal. The layers of earth have been pushed up like layers of fabric. It is beautiful in its oddness and the changing sun will give it many different faces, it was difficult to stop taking photos of the sight.

Soon we were walking at the foot of Bobotov Kuk. There is a small clear blue bond laying at the bottom of the final climb. That was a refreshing surprise to yet another hot day. We sat there, looking up at the peaks trying to guess which one was the thing we were headed to.

After some munching we headed on, at the slope below the rugged peaks, towards the weirdly shaped Šareni Pasovi, wondering where on earth would the climb to the peak start. After some scrambling, sliding and crawling we appeared in the saddle between Bobotov Kuk and the beautiful weirdo. There was a beautiful view over one of the bigger lakes of Durmitor, Veliko Škrčko. But on the side of the peak, we faced a vertical wall. We had missed the point where to climb up to the peak.

We returned a little disappointed to not get all the way up to the peak. It was already another near miss. But we got the amazing views so returning to the car did not feel too bad.

At the parking we met a hiker. He saw our map and was asking where we had bought it. We chatted and found out that he was from Paris and had been on the walk for 8 months. He had actually started the hike from Paris and hadn’t stopped ever since. He was coming from Bosnia and Herzegovina and was heading south. He mentioned Jerusalem, but wasn’t sure if he was going to get that far. He tipped us off of a family of sheep farmers at the valley, they were offering a place to sleep for passers by.

We took that sheepy hint and drove to the farm. We found a few wigwam -looking huts, a busy family and a herd of sheep and goats. A young girl, Danitsa, came to us, knowing immediately, that we were looking for a place to stay. She told us, that we could pay what we liked and started running us around the place. The water came from a spring, cooking happened in one of the huts, sleeping in the other and animals would be herded right next to the sleeping hut. The family had just arrived at the camp and a lot of things were happening, they needed to make a fencing and cook and everything, but everybody was still very welcoming and friendly.

We got to follow a small bit of what would be their life for the following summer months. We heard stories of wolves and bears that wanted their share of the life stock. Danitsa was happy to get visitors. She was a very smart girl, wanting to become a doctor. It was lovely to see the respect and care these people had for their animals. Not something you see nowadays in the world of factory farming.

We slept with the family and woke by the roosters crow. The parents were already hard at work when we finally crawled out of our sleeping bags and the smell of fresh bred and tasty coffee was flowing from the kitchen hut. There was a herd of sheep running around wildly and a cow with a young one exploring the area too. Curious animals were checking out all the possible things to eat and scratch themselves into.

Soon we were on our way. Looking for internet connection to check the weather and get a hotel in Zabljak. There were two lovely looking lakes right at the side of the village and we had just enough time to walk them around before rainfall.

That was a miserable trip. We entered a parking lot full of tourist busses and elderly French people marching the road down towards the lakes. Also they want you to pay for the entry at that point of the park. It is beautiful there though, and once you are a bit further from the first beach you loose lot of the people. It was eventually a beautiful walk. The blue waters keep amazing me, the forest was nicely shadowy, there are pretty meadows to have breaks at and so forth.

At some point we also met the hiking French guy again. He was searching his route up to some of the surrounding peaks.

Next we got a taste of some extreme Slavic macho culture. In the form of the host for the night. He was such a proud man with huge ego and between us there was a massive language barrier. That led into a few funny situations. Plus our room was decorated with a picture of him with a dead wolf. Interesting choice of decoration there. That night we had some tasty local food and went finally to sleep in a comfortable setting. With a Slavic macho staring down at us from the wall.

We returned to the same are where we had had our first climb in Durmitor. We had found a “Unmarked mountaineering route” in our map which was a steep but short climb onto a smooth looking ridge. Apparently unmarked was just about the same as no trail at all. With not so detailed map it took quite some navigating to get up to the ridge. It looked initially like we would have quite some vertical climbs in front of us.

It was a short climb indeed but very steep one. There was snow batches and flowers and butterflies all over us. It is a wonder to see, that at places where there has been snow just a few days ago, the flowers are already pushing through. Spring time is beautiful.

We slowly made our way higher and higher. Both boiling again, this time the altitude didn’t bring any wind or relieve from the heat. But there was still quite a reward once we got to the top of the climb. The rocky meadows fell down into magnificent valleys with steep slopes. We could see dozens of mountain tops and there was even a glacier at our feet.

Finally we had made it to a peak. The peak of Šljeme. That was a fine way to end our stay in the Durmitor park. It was time for us to head more to the west, towards Bosnia. The weather there was looking promising and we would be able to climb the Highest peak of Bosnia and Herzegovina; Maglic.

About that I will tell more in the next post though. Stay tuned!




Montenegró – A Fairytale – Part 1

We had 10 days of holiday ahead of us, all gear stuffed into hand luggage and car heading for the Charleroi airport. This time Ryanair would take us to the capital of Montenegró, Podgorica. We were both having high hopes. The pictures of that small mountainous country had made both of us drool a little. Discreetly.This day was the anniversary of Karhunkierros. The hike on which we met for the first time. It made the trip a little bit more special.

We had managed to check the flight time wrong, so we paraded around the military guarded airport and hour too early. We had plenty of time to keep guessing the nationalities of our fellow passengers and things like that, what you usually do while waiting for things like a flight or bus or a microwave meal.

Once our time to take off came, the runway was soaked, the planes threw up massive shoots of water as they soared to the sky. Soon we too were swallowed by an endless whiteness of the thick cloud cover. A couple of hours later we saw got to lay our eyes on our destination for the very first time. We saw the Tara canyon, mountain everywhere and ice blue waters flowing here and there. It was hard to confine the excitement.

Once we landed it was immediately obvious that we had found summer. The heat was overwhelming at first. Cooled down by the cars air conditioning we headed to the center of Podgorica. We needed to find internet and do some mandatory shopping. The city center is a curious mixture of the soviet past from the Yugoslavian times and a fast moving modernization. It is not a pretty city per say, but an interesting one.

Our first night we spent in a small apartment hotel in a village of Kolašin. It was a sleepy ski town, where the hot tourist season lives with the snow. Now the magnificent mountains were green and tourists missing. That wasn’t bothering us at all. But anyhow, we were soon leaving. As the sun went up to the sky, we were already heading for Vusinje. It is a small, very small, town on the bottom of a valley, not far from the Albanian border. We drove there via a narrow mountain pass that takes you first to Plav and then onward, deeper into the mountains. It passes some very beautiful and tiny farming communities, a true pleasure to drive through.

Our hike to the peak of Zla Kolata started right at the corner of the village mosque, climbing up steadily on a gravel road. At the corner of the village we met a man, who had been collecting wood with his horse. Somehow out there it feels, like you are going back in time, back into the days of calm life of the countryside.

The trail crossed some woodlands and beautiful meadows full of flowers.So many butterflies, that we had to look where you laid our feet, not to kill them. We had hot sun shining down on us and some magnificent mountains in the background, one of the peaks we were planning on climbing. The trail took us to the border mark of Albania, at a col between two mountains. There you get a nice view over to the peaks on the Albanian side and the Valbona National Park is right at your feet, too. Those forests are said to be well populated with bears.

We were headed still a little higher. The temperature started to get a little milder as we approached the 2000 meter point in height. We crawled still over a few boulders, right under the face of Zla Kolata. There is a narrowish pass in between the Zla Kolata and Maja e Thatë, through which a very violent wind got to blow down. That kind of a howling is something you do not want to listen to, while you are looking for a place for your tent. We managed to find a depression, that prevented most of the hard gusts reaching us. Still it was not too easy to get the tent standing steady.

We hadn’t met a single stream or source after passing the altitude of 1 600 meters, and we were running low on water. That was not a nice feeling after a day of hiking in immense heat. We had to melt snow for drinking and cooking, good thing there still was batches of it left.

The night brought no peace. I could sleep maybe 3 – 4 hours in total, same goes for Waffle. We found out, that our Quechua Quick Hiker, although it is not a bad tent, can’t handle storm winds properly. It let wind to blow in, so that the whole thing was shaking and lifting off the ground. The worst thing was to hear each gust picking up speed, roaring and then hitting us. I was desperately trying to hold on to my dreams, but it was impossible.

In the morning there was no possibility to sleep long. The sun was happily shining on our tent, slowly rising the inside temperature. We crawled out, tired and grumpy and melted some more snow to get through the day.

Soon we were on our way, following a trail that had all of a sudden gotten more visible, not big or wide, but visible. It passed by an ice cave, that was blowing cold air into the heat of the day. Very nice pit stop! The trail took us calmly towards the rocky slopes of our destination. Until it didn’t. We encountered a large patch of snow, that covered the trail. There were two ways around it. Either we would have to cling on the rocky cliff above the snow, or walk underneath it and then climb a steep grassy slope up. We picked the way below it.

Getting up to the beginning of the ridge, took quite some scrambling. It was a steep trail, partially hard to follow and full of spots with loose gravel. On top of that the wild winds had returned. Strong gusts were trying to push us off of the trail, we had to grab a hold of vegetation, rocks or what ever was available. Quite some times we stopped and considered whether it was smart to keep going or should we turn back. But since the peak was so close, we continued on.

Our efforts payed off. The view at the col were phenomenal. You could see all mountains everywhere, snowy peak after the other. Our way up to the highest point of Zla Kolata, being Maja Kolata was cut though. There was a fat layer of snow in front of us. There was no crossing it without proper gear. The lower peak next to it was beaten by the wind, so hard that it sounded sometimes like a jet engine. So we decided to be happy with the view we had and retreat.

The return was via the same way we had crawled up. We were both feeling the short night in our muscles and it was hard to find a secure footing. Plus the heat brought its own challenge to the game, we had to spare drinking water. On the way down we stopped by the ice cave again, that cooling down felt so good you won’t believe it.

Getting off of the cliff did not bring the relieve we were hoping for. The trail was not easy, it was going through a very rocky terrain, tilting our feet into all different directions. and the lower we got, the warmer the air became. It was far in the afternoon when we finally found a spring. That felt like entering the Shangri La. Water as much as we could drink! After the refreshment we could finally appreciate the beauty of our surroundings again.

A short hike further we cooked and cleaned ourselves at a small stream. and fed some mosquitoes at the process. The tiredness was really taking its toll on us and the desperation was sneaking in, as we were struggling to find an even ground to pitch the tent onto. Finally the search payed out. We found a beautiful spot at a corner of a meadow, with woods and sunset and no wind! We finally slept good and peacefully.

Third morning brought us back to our car in Vusinje. The villagers were inspecting us passing by, everybody busy at work, but still greeting a stranger. I don’t know how the people do it, work in a weather like that! During the whole three day hike, we did not meet a soul!

Anyways. That was our first hike. We survived it with all limbs attached. Next night we would spend in a hotel, since we had been promised a thunder storm. But more about the following events you’ll get to read from my next post. It takes us to Durmitor and to a sheep farm in surreal sceneries. Until then!

But do go and have a sneak peak on the pics here! 

Why Vegan?

That seems to be a common place question nowadays. So I asked myself the very same question. And answered well, why not?

I’ve been pondering on the matter lately. I grew up on a farm. I saw animals live and die up close and personal, and I claim to know a thing or two about what makes a happy cow, and what does not.

I am having difficulties in believing, that a living, thinking and feeling animal can be happy in a factory farm. And since most of the dairy, meat and egg products on the shop shelves comes from those factories, I can’t be too happy about eating them. I am not saying that there are not good farmers and farms who actually look after their animals, so that they live a happy life, but those will most probably be in the minority. Plus it is environmentally a very bad thing to eat meat. The famine that is still going wild in the third world countries, meat eating is definitely not helping that. By the way, what a lovely word to distance our nice and clean and healthy society from those guys. The third world… Fish are being over fished too, the list goes on. You have to be rather blind and ignorant to justify excessive meat eating in today’s world.

I have been avoiding meat already for years, but haven’t given it up completely. I really have no acceptable excuses for that. I just always thought, that finding good foods would be first of all difficult, and second of all expensive. Never mind all the family parties you go to, and need to explain, why you are not attacking the ham. I don’t think I am completely alone with these prejudices.

Well, anyways. I have now decided to take on the vegan challenge, brought to you by a Finnish animal rights organization, Oikeutta Eläimille. That was a very easy step towards changing the interior of the fridge and now my mailbox is bursting with all new and exciting recipes for all sorts of all veggie foods. Nomm. Turns out, you can do just about everything delicious without meat, milk, eggs or magic. I still have Waffle, who is slightly murmuring in the corner something about loosing his rights for omelettes and some such. But I think his views are brightening too.

The thing is now starting. We are slowly eating out all the animal origin stuff that still occupies in our fridge, since it would be stupid to just throw them out, and buying new veggie things to replace them.

Last weekend there happened to be also a vegan potluck in Brussels.Potluck is an event where everybody brings a little something everybody can eat, judge and ask recipes for. We went there with my Finnish ex-colleague Terhi, salsa and potato salad tucked into our tupperwares. That was a wonderful way to get this whole thing going. Waffle got also a little bit more of a taste what our food life might become in the near future. He did not run out screaming, though his face was worth seeing. Unfortunately he had the camera so no pictures.

We were a little bit disappointed though, since an event like that, I guess, is supposed to be  a little bit social. People sharing the same ideology should be happy to meet each other, share ideas over food and make friends. Well, true to the shy nature of good and decent Belgians, none of that happened. Good thing that there is a Facebook group for less intimate communication where people actually started chatting and sharing pictures and stuff. And all in all, the food didn’t let anybody down. It was, for the most part, very tasty!

Have you by the way noticed how important taking photos has become in every food related activity? The camera is more important than the fork…

Well, today I want shopping for all vegan foods. I have now stuff for Chili con vege (the link in Finnish, sorry), burgers with cauliflower mash and a nice carrot soup plus of course a bit of yogurt, soy milk etc. for only just 15 euros and that will feed the two of us. There goes the thing of vegan food being expensive. Plus you can collect quite some of the dry stuff, quinoa, beans, lentils in big quantities when ever they happen to be the cheapest, since they don’t go bad! It does still take a lot of searching and getting used to things, but I have a good feeling about this.

I would love to hear your experiences, thoughts and hints in this matter. Are you one of those vegan people, or are you planning to become one? Please give a yell!