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!