(For all you Aussies back home, let me first just inform you that it’s pronounced Yab-lan-izia, not Jab-lan-eek-ah, as we have been referring to it for the past few weeks).
The singing continued well into the early hours last night, so I feel a bit groggy this morning as we gather our jumbled possessions. But groggy in a fond way. It was a fun night. I sit half upright in a pile of blankets for breakfast. It’s muesli, again. For someone who hates muesli, as I say to Callum, I end up eating a lot of it. We eventually get up, fill our bottles at the spring, bid our lovely hosts farewell and head off into the glorious day.
It’s a day of beautiful colour. The tracks on Čvrsnica have been fantastic so far, but they are particularly good in this first little stretch past Vilinac kuća. We’re about to reach a very popular attraction. It’s the money shot of this region, if not the whole Via Dinarica – a rock formation called Hajdučka vrata, which in English means The Rebel’s Gate.
Ever since we discovered the Via Dinarica, photographs of Hajdučka vrata have come to embody it. A conglomerate rock circle, perfect in shape like a portal to another world, it’s lodged firmly in the side of the ridge. It’s lovely to see. Up close though, it just looks so thin, a few small rocks embedded in natural cement. I wonder for how much longer it will stand. We stand in position and take our obligatory photos. It reminds me that we really are making progress into this walk.
Past Hajdučka vrata lies another part of the track we’ve heard a lot about – the route to Plasa kuća. According to walkers past, the track is a poorly marked bush bash through the notorious dwarf pines (a few days ago, I had no idea what these things were; now, they’re all I seem to write about…). Closed in around the track, they apparently make accessing the kuća more trouble than it’s worth which, in addition, will be closed and has a reportedly poor water source. Our map shows an alternate route which bypasses Plasa kuća and the impenetrable dwarf pines, and instead goes near a putative sklonište of the same name. Apart from one lonely way-mark on our map, I’ve never heard of it’s existence and am dubious as to where there is a Plasa sklonište at all. But we determine to go and check it out – at any rate, we can report back on the track quality and see whether it’s also got dwarf pine problems. So, when the sign points right to Plasa kuća, we turn left into the abyss. We’re tough like that.
The track turns out to be awesome. Flat and well-marked, it’s easy to follow and nice underfoot. We pass a lovely meadow and then a picnic table, which has been beautifully nestled between two trees. A sign points us off to a view point from where we can see the whole Jablanica, far, far below. A few hundred metres later, we find an even better view point. This is great! We discuss how great we are. Next, we hope, we can find the sklonište!
We follow the main track as close as we can to the waypoint, then drop our bags to have a sniff around. It should be about 200 m off the track, but we have no idea whether there’s a path out to it. We search in vain and at last decide it probably doesn’t exist; or at least, not anymore. We head back to our bags and continue down the hill towards Jablanica, which is becoming increasingly steep as we approach the main descent.
A few hundred metres ahead, I see a signpost. “A sign!” I call to Callum. “It says… kuća! Kuća!!” Does it mean our sklonište?? Or just another route back to Plasa kuća? The paint has peeled, but I see a faint impression left in the metal which reads “2 min.” Plasa kuća is at very least an hour away, so it must be the sklonište! I’m so excited. We run along the track whooping and emerge at the tiny shelter.
It’s very old, and in a state of disrepair. The wooden floor of the balcony is buckling beneath some unknown force. Rubbish is half-buried in the leaf litter below. A sink sits outside, strewn with cutlery of all sorts covered in a thick layer of dust and grime. The door is wedged shut on it’s own doorstep, but eventually we shove it open, as reverently as we can.
Inside is not much better. It’s dirty and dingy. There’s a fireplace though, some sleeping platforms and in one cupboard, some plastic carboys filled with water. The roof looks firm. It’s definitely not the best sklonište, and feels a little unloved, but it would do in a pinch. And it looks lovely from the outside.
Although not usually one for graffiti, this place feels like a quietly sinking ship, no-one to come to it’s rescue or bid farewell. We pen our names into the wood beside scores of others and give the old thing a pat before heading off.
And head on we must. We still have a lot of descent ahead. We started out this morning at about 1900 m and now at Plasa sklonište are down to 1500 m. Jablanica however, which rests at the base of Čvrsnica, is still some 1300 m below us. It’s about to get steep…
And boy, steep it certainly gets. This is the switchiest switchback track I’ve ever followed. It must have taken a lot of effort to eke out, and I’m so glad it’s here to help us navigate the slope. I feel like if I slipped over, I’d roll all the way to the bottom of the hill. I accidentally test and confirm this theory with a small rock. It patters out of earshot. Time for some very mindful walking.
We finally emerge to a gravelly vehicle track on which we continue to descend, switching back and forth but at a less precarious rate. This continues for quite some time. To pass it, we play the song game.
It’s something we often do while hiking. The game goes like this: someone starts by singing a song, and the next person has to respond with another song which includes a word from the first song, and so on. Today however, we mix it up a little bit and decide on a word-based song competition. We pick a topic and whoever runs out of relevant songs first is the loser.
To start, thinking it will be an easy one to start us off, I pick ‘trees’. My first entry is Free the Trees by Tripod (a classic). But Callum is amusingly flummoxed. He eventually comes out with Give Me A Home Among the Gum Trees (an actual classic). But after that I win soundly, smugly walloping him with Rip, Rip Woodchip (the title says it all), Waltzing Matilda (under the shade of a Coolibah tree...) and Somewhere Only We Know (I came across a fallen tree...)… shall I go on? It was too hard, grumbles Callum. Okay, well you pick the next topic then!
He chooses dinosaurs.
Dinosaurs are easier than trees?!
Callum can only think of one song, Dinosaur Sex by Emmy the Great, before we admit defeat (Purple People Eater doesn’t count – let me know if you can think of any others). The next topic chosen is ‘the sun,’ which is much, much easier… And on we go.
In the final few kilometres, a bad, unmistakable smell twinges my nose. It smells just like Kimbriki tip back home. Funny isn’t it, how lives and cultures and countries and religions are so diverse, but rubbish seems to smell the same everywhere. I remember reading now that the track passes the local landfill and a few minutes later, it comes into view. Nestled into the mountainside is an enormous amount of waste which seems to mainly consist of plastic bottles – water, shampoo, mouthwash, engine products, milk. Rubbish tips are always a bit confronting. This one is no different.
The last pitch to Jablanica is along the roads towards our place for the night, Motel Hollywood. I’ve been in liaison with them regarding my boot delivery for a few weeks and they seem lovely. Having managed to see an excerpt from the guidebook about Jablanica however, Hollywood doesn’t have a rave review – it’s fine, the book says, but nothing to write home about.
Well, here I am. Writing home about it. Because it’s fantastic.
Right on route, two minutes from the supermarket on one side and restaurants on the other, it’s also nearby the bus station (6 KM per person to Mostar is very tempting) and pharmacy, plus it’s available for online booking; we stay in a modest but clean room with an excellent shower, a little table to eat breakfast and write at, and it’s only 50 KM per night for the both of us. Best of all is the owner. As we arrive, he welcomes us warmly and hands over a box – my shoes have arrived! I was expecting to have to wait at least four days before they came through. I’m very excited (gosh, it was a lot of excitement today, wasn’t it). The holes in my old shoes have been rapidly growing, so it’s also with relief that I pick up the parcel. The man shows us to our room and lets us settle in. My advertising of Motel Hollywood will have to pause for a moment. I unwrap the shoe box with baited breath. They look great, lightweight but sturdy. I tentatively slip in a foot.
Please fit, please fit… Or at least be too big rather than too small...
Somehow, they actually fit well! They feel good as I walk proudly around the room, testing out the grip and readjusting the laces. I can’t wait to try them on a proper day’s hike. My old shoes look very bedraggled next to their shiny replacement. I feel a bit sentimental really. Old shoes will definitely come along a few days more though, just in case the new ones aren’t up to scratch. But I think they’re going to be okay. I’m amazed at how successful this subplot has been. Four stars.
We go out to dinner to celebrate, after an extremely thorough shower (it’s been a while). For a small town, Jablanica is quite lively. The bars are full of friends, people are dressed up and there’s always music playing from somewhere. Tomorrow, we’ll take our rest day here. The simple pleasure of waking up and knowing I don’t really have to do anything, least of all eat bloody muesli, awaits. Tomorrow morning, I get fruit, bread, cream cheese and jam! That’s truly something to celebrate…
Bosnia and Herzegovina, Stage 30
Start and end points: Planinarski dom Vilinac (Vilinac mountain lodge) to Jablanica
Approximate distance: 20.5 km
Features: Planinarski dom Vilinac (Vilinac mountain lodge) – Plasa sklonište (Plasa shelter) – Supermarkets in Jablanica (Konzum, Voćepromet, others) – Guesthouses, motels and restaurants in Jablanica