Sarajevo was a fascinating city. Ostensibly we were there to organise our border crossing to Montenegro (more on that later), but those bustling cobbled streets kept drawing me in.
The city was under siege for over three years, from April 1992 until February 1996. I feel hopelessly unqualified to talk about what happened there, so I won’t (much), but you can really feel that it’s an event that has defined both the city and the people that live there. Visiting museums, I get the sense that there’s two important narratives: the tragic events of the war during the 90s, and also the surprising optimism with which people dealt with the crisis. As people sprinted across intersections to avoid sniper fire from the surrounding mountains, they also organised film festivals and beauty contests. It was a surreal resistance through art, perhaps informed by their closeness with death: around 100,000 people were killed in this small country alone.
I won’t talk any more about that, as I’m sure I don’t understand it well enough. I’ll just say that Sarajevo was a fascinating, moving city, and I’m glad we found the time to visit.
But those border crossing permits? No luck there I’m afraid. After endless unanswered calls and emails to various Montenegrin police units, we finally had to admit that it wasn’t working: we weren’t going to be able to cross the border at Maglić. Kris talked about this in lots of detail in her last blog post, but basically we were trying to cross the border without going through an official border crossing. It should be technically possible, but we weren’t able to pull it off, and so we just had to catch a bus to Montenegro like everyone else. On its own, this wasn’t such a bad thing. But it means that we created a gap of around 15 km in our tracks, from Tijentište to the Maglić peak which we’ll climb from the Montenegrin side. It’s a silly thing to be sad about, but after all our efforts to maintain continuity it felt like a real shame.
Leaving behind our lovely home of three nights, Eternal Flame Hostel, we caught one of Sarajevo’s old pre-war cable buses (with overhead power like a tram, but on a bus) to the intercity bus station. From there we took a minibus bound for the Montenegrin capital of Podgorica. I’m glad it was a nice and manoeuvrable minibus – the roads in this unbelievably mountainous country cling to canyon cliffs, delving through an endless series of man-made caves and bridges.
After around three hours, the bus driver pulled up at the side of an enormous turquoise dam. There was a pause as we waited for someone to do something. “This is your stop,” a friendly, English-speaking passenger tells us. And so we got off onto a seemingly random stretch of highway. To be honest, we were expecting to be dropped off at the town of Mratinje, but a quick map check reveals that it’s just four kilometres away down a side road – apparently when the bus says it goes to Mratinje, it means near Mratinje.
Shouldering our snack-laden packs, we set off around the dam, only slightly intimidated by the long, rough-cut tunnels and towering canyon walls. Montenegro literally translates as ‘Black Mountain’; make of that what you will.
After an hour or so of plodding around the lake, we started to see the scattered houses of Mratinje village. Our map indicated that there might be a bar, but I’ll save you the suspense; Mratinje is a beautiful valley village, built around a gushing river, but a busy town it is not: there was no bar.
Setting up camp at a swimming spot just outside the village, we had just enough time to drink tea, eat dinner, and get a nice fire going before the rain hit. And that was pretty much it for the night: confined to our tent, we quickly started catching up on the un-hikerly late nights we had in Sarajevo.
But, even when we we’re confined to the tent, with waves of rain sweeping over us, it feels nice to be back on the trail. We’re in a beautiful place, and the mighty peak of Maglić awaits. Who cares that we missed a tiny section of the walk? It’s not about finicky details, it’s about being here at all.
Montenegro, Stage 38 (walked backwards, following a bus from Sarajevo to Mratinje)
Start and end points: Bus stop at Hydroelectric Plant Piva (the dam) on the M-3 E762 road to a tent-site beside Piva jezero at Mratinje
Approximate distance: 5 km
Features: Hydroelectric Plant Piva – Piva jezero (Piva lake)