Zminičko jezero was a pretty nice place to camp, but a little weedy and buzzing with insects. It was nice to reach after the hectic visit to Žabljak, but I certainly didn’t feel any burning desire to strip off and go for a swim in the shallow water. It’s quite lovely this morning though, now the insects are gone and the sun is shining.
We’ve heard some interesting things about today’s walk. At Žabljak, we began following a hiking trail of national importance here called the Crnogorska Transverzala, or the CT-1. It follows the mountains south of Žabljak for 140 km to the Albanian border, so we’ll be following it for almost it’s whole length. It’s known for being a difficult walk and is not particularly well-marked along the whole length. Today is just a short stretch of it through fields and meadows over to Zabojsko jezero, about 18 km away. Although mostly on dirt back roads, there’s meant to be some sections where the route heads up into the hills and goes wandering around. The track is notoriously difficult to follow and apparently aims for every lump and bump it can find. Tomorrow’s walk, onwards from Zabojsko to the town of Mojkovac, should include much of the same.
The road leading south from Zminičko is easy to follow as it rises gently through thick pine forest. We’ve only been going half an hour or so when we reach a small delegation of men, cars and cows hitched together in pairs with wooden beams, munching at the grassy ground. They beckon us over and offer us beers. Never too early to start I guess?
One of the men speaks French. I learnt French all through high school and so can understand and speak it, kind of… I muddle my way through. But without much chance to practice, I get pretty shy. “Asseyez-vous!” He offers with a friendly voice. My brain tries to say “thank you,” “merci,” and “hvala” all at once, so my mouth ends up saying nothing at all. I smile dumbly. By the time he heads off, I’ve said about three words in French. He gives me a look which shows he thinks I must be a bit slow. Fair enough. For the umpteenth time, I resolve to join a conversation class back in Sydney.
Slowly we leave the forests behind and begin passing through the grassy meadows into a new mountain range called Sinjajevina (Callum gets shocked by an electric fence on the way, which is slightly painful for him and fairly amusing for me). The transition is so subtle that I barely notice when we enter. Despite the fact it feels like we’re low down in the valleys, the whole landscape is actually raised up on a high plateau. We hover around 1600 m so that when it comes time to climb a small lump in the fields, it turns out the lump has a name, Veliki Kurozeb, and is actually a peak of 1886 m.
In what has become a day of blaring heat, we see two hikers coming towards us the other way. Sometimes it’s hard for me to pick a regular hiker from Via Dinarica hikers, but there’s something about them which tells me they’re on our route. The pair turn out to be two girls from Germany who unfortunately had their car break down on the way to a road trip around Greece, so had to rapidly change plans. They’d seen an ad for the Via Dinarica in an in-flight magazine (I kid you not) and so decided to hike a few weeks in Montenegro and Bosnia instead. We swap advice, as per usual. It’s becoming clear with many of our encounters with other hikers that food resupply is one of the trickiest parts of the hike – knowing what supermarkets are where, whether they have good hiking food, how big they are, whether they’ll be open. We always seem be talking about food. I think it would be really helpful to have that information available somewhere. After waving goodbye to the Germans, we spend a lot of time discussing the current Via Dinarica resources and wondering how we could add to and improve them.
At lunchtime, we make beeline for the sole tree we can see and plonk under it with relief. It’s a very hot day indeed. Callum fiddles around with the solar panel as I make wraps. It hasn’t been working today for some mysterious reason (although to be honest, it never really seems to work these days). But Callum and solar panel have never gotten along. He pushes it aside, sighing in frustration. If you can fix it, he grumbles, I’ll give you one of my squares of chocolate. My ears prick up. A throw-away comment perhaps, but I take it to heart. Challenge accepted.
In the afternoon, the sun’s heat does not abate, and we’ve reached the section of track where the path goes stupid. It’s the least efficient route I’ve ever walked. The ground is swollen with grassy lumps and bumps like an overzealous golf course but instead of going smoothly between them, the path goes doggedly in a straight line up and over each one, up and over. With the belligerent tuftiness of the grass, the sparse trail markers and the baking sun, it’s a fairly unpleasant hike. It also makes for very slow progress. It’s days like these which make me think about the whole length of the hike – Oh my lord, how on earth did I walk myself into this… and how on earth am I going to walk out?!
Eventually we reach a gravel road which leads us the last few kilometres to camp. We return to the pine forest as we descend and everything cools down. Zabojsko jezero is lovely, much nicer than Zminičko. A flat grassy spot for the tent, a picnic table and a little place perfect for swimming. My skin, all irritated and sweaty from the long hike through the grass, feels incredible in the cool, dark spring water. Little nibbly fish and about a billion fat tadpoles come to check me out, gently investigating my toes and ankles. I’ll take any foot massage I can at this point and rest peacefully in the water.
With camp set up and dinner finished (tomato-flavoured packet pasta with a tin of kidney beans – surprisingly good), I turn my attention to the evening’s main task; fixing the solar panel and winning my extra chocolate. I sit down, surrounded by all our cables and my pocket knife, a little cloth nearby, ready to dust and clean and inspect. I peer closely and begin.
One minute later.
“Callum?” I say innocently.
He is appalled.
“You fixed it already?!”
“You put the batteries in back-to-front.”
He is horrified. I am triumphant.
“Hand over the chocolate.”
Life gains a new set of highs and lows while hiking I suppose!
Montenegro, Stage 40
Start and end points: Zminičko jezero to Zabojsko jezero
Approximate distance: 21.5 km
Features: Zminičko jezero (Zminičko lake) – Veliki Kurozeb (1886 m) – Zabojsko jezero (Zabojsko lake)