Around 4 am the wind starts to ruffle our little green tent. He’s a strong tent, but it comes in long, heavy gusts that push the frame in one direction, hold it for a moment, and release.
Push, hold, release.
Push, hold, release.
It’s not noisy, but the constant motion makes it kind of hard to sleep, so, as soon as it begins to lighten, we poke our heads out to sniff out the day: a bit cloudy, but a nice golden sunrise is working it’s way towards us down the mountains; the wind is still going strong.
I climb awkwardly out over our disarrayed gear, and search around for a sheltered spot to make breakfast. Last night our campsite was a blissful patch of calm amidst the gale, but today the wind has changed, and we have not been spared.
I find a hollow to crawl into, but it’s not much better than anywhere else, and, despite my best efforts, the milk powder is scattered high into the air like sand. It’s a battle, but the discomfort means we don’t linger, and we’re ready to go far earlier than usual.
We grab some water from the spring, lather sunscreen over yesterday’s sunscreen, say goodbye to the friendly Dutch people, and, head off down the foothills of Durmitor. It’s about 7:30. This is hiking we intended to do yesterday, so it’s nice to get going early. It should be just an hour or two to Žabljak, where we can resupply before heading on to Zminičko jezero fifteen kilometres further along. A breezy day.
About fifty metres down the track the wind abates, and doesn’t really pick up again; it seems we were camped in a wind tunnel. It also seems that this is an incredibly popular day hiking area, with brightly coloured and freshly washed walkers passing us on all sides. I try to stay down wind.
We walk down easy trails that have been worn to the tree roots by the hordes of day hikers, with alternative routes sprouted like tributaries around every obstacle. We make fast progress, mumbling automatic “Dobar dan”s to the groups of walkers, and soon find ourselves on the banks of Crno jezero – ‘Black Lake’. It’s a truly beautiful lake – my photos don’t do it justice – with icy waters rippling in the breeze as they creep up to the grassy shore. We’re here early, but already there’s a few enthusiastic tourists strolling around the bank. We briefly consider going the long way around the lake, but Žabljak and coffee call.
When we arrive in Žabljak, it’s much more touristy than we thought: guest houses and tour agencies line the roads, and we hear just as much English and German as Montenegrin. We also see, in the hands of a couple of tourists, the first disposable coffee cups since we arrived in Slovenia over two months ago. While there’s plenty of litter here, the Balkans are miles ahead when it comes to not using take away cups, mostly because they always have their coffee at the cafe. We could learn a lot from this in Australia.
All these people are a bit of a shock to the system after the quiet mountains, so our first point of call is a courtyard cafe where we can charge the phone, use the wi-fi, and, of course, grab a coffee. I guess we smell, because as soon as we arrive everyone else seems to leave. Oh well.
There’s a few more errands – resupply, SIM card – which we finish quickly before having lunch in a slightly dingy pizzeria. We both agree that Žabljak is a bit hectic for us, and so, after lunch, we push on pretty quickly, aiming for the little lake of Zminičko jezero where we hope to camp.
There’s not really much to say about this section of the hike: the roads steadily grew narrower and bumpier, and, within half an hour we’d seemingly left all signs the tourist world behind. One mountain range fell away behind us as another grew in front.
The lake, when we arrived, was a bit of a let down to be honest. After a string of stunning lakeside campsites, this one was just okay. We found a patch of ground that wasn’t too bumpy to camp, and a patch of grass that wasn’t too prickly to sit on. I tried to sketch some dead trees, but the light was falling fast and they looked different one minute to the next, so I just watched the reflected trees thickening on the water instead.
It was about then that I remembered that I’d bought some surprise dessert in Žabljak, and so we munched on fudge and sipped tea as the last light faded. One of the things I love about Montenegro is that nobody makes you feel unwelcome camping. It makes me a lot more comfortable, and so it’s a happy Callum who goes to sleep by the lapping waters of Zminičko jezero.
Start and end points: Katun Lokvice to Zminičko jezero
Approximate distance: 28 km
Villages: Žabljak – Njegovuđa
Features: Katun Lokvice – Crno jezero (Black Lake) – Supermarket in Žabljak (VOLI, other, independent stores) – Cafes, bars, restaurants and guesthouses in Žabljak – Market in Njegovuđa (Oaza market) – Bicycle cafe Njegovuđa – Zminičko jezero (Zminičko lake)