Some days, the blog posts feel like they write themselves. Today was one of those days.
It all starts with Callum’s pack. Yesterday, on our sorely needed rest day in Mojkovac, he diligently repaired the broken frame with some metal scraps I found near Pivo jezero a few days ago and some glue we picked up in Žabljak. Lots of duct tape, too. But to no avail it seems – as soon as he picks it up this morning, it’s clear that the glue hasn’t worked in the slightest. The pack bulges awkwardly around the lower back pad. Not a good sign. He sighs. Why does nothing work…
However, an even more depressing problem is about to arise: Callum can’t find his pack raincoat. On rainy days, a pack raincoat is the only thing between you and utter misery (if like us, that is, you don’t use an internal waterproofing system like dry bags). It’s fine getting to camp if you yourself are drenched, so long as you have the knowledge that your sleeping bag and warm clothes are dry, that warmth and comfort awaits you. He unpacks his bag entirely, but it’s not there. This is quite a blow. I tentatively check the weather.
To top it off, Callum’s knee started hurting yesterday. This morning, it’s stiff and painful, and doesn’t want to be straightened. Did I mention we also have a hill to climb and that it’s past nine by the time we finally get going?
Perhaps somebody in the sky realised that the end of the Via Dinarica was in sight, and decided to give us (or rather Callum, really – I’m pretty fine) a final test. But by now, we’re almost used to morning’s like this, where everything seems to conspire against us getting anywhere. We eventually make our way into town and pick up some plastic bags to try and protect Callum’s gear with. The cafes are filled with people luxuriously enjoying coffee in the morning sun. Mojkovac is really a very livable place it seems. I could easily camp out here a few more nights… Instead, I can see clouds gathering ahead on the mountains, unfortunately right in our path.
We hike out of town up some steep, dusty gullies, thankfully avoiding the rain until we’re up on the ridge. The hill goes fairly quickly thankfully, and warms up Callum’s knee. Then it buckets down mercilessly. Callum valiantly pulls a plastic bag over the top of his pack to try keep some rain out. We’re just walking along a dirt road this morning, so we don’t have to think too much about navigation or terrain, and instead can just plod, watching the world get gradually wetter.
Something that’s been hard on the Via Dinarica thus far has been lunch. The main issue is that before we came to the Western Balkans, we developed a love of chutney on the Pennine Way. It was available in every shop – onion chutney, peach, plum, apple, beetroot… It improved our hiking wraps so much that it was definitely worth carrying the thick glass jar. As soon as we got to Slovenia, we tried to find some for our first week, but apparently chutney doesn’t exist here.
But now, we’ve found something possibly even better.
(See the delicious orange stuff in the white bowl with the spoon in it, bottom right of the photo).
Ajvar is a dip made from roasted red capsicums and eggplant, with garlic, olive oil and herbs. It has a delicious smoky taste because the veggies are traditionally roasted whole in a wood-fired oven. We’ve had it a few times for breakfast, particularly in the Bosnian households, as well as this morning too. But in Mojkovac yesterday, we finally found a jar of it in the supermarket (I say ‘a’ jar – in reality, jars of ajvar in different brands and sizes filled almost the whole shop) (okay, I joke) (but only slightly).
So lunch is an exciting prospect today as we hike up the last few kilometres to Džambas dom, a mountain hut we plan to park ourselves under to escape the rain. The place we stayed at in Mojkovac also gave us a homegrown onion and some carrots plus, as it’s day one after resupply, we have fresh bread. Oh yeah. We can definitely plug Tara Riverside Cottages.
The rain actually eases over lunch, and we brightly agree that the worst is probably over. It’s not though, as you can probably guess; ten minutes after we leave, it gets much, much worse. The clouds start bucketing again as we leave the ridge and enter a more mountainous landscape, all alpine grass and small shepherd huts. No trees to shelter beneath out here. It’s much colder, too. Everything is wet in minutes, my my raincoat dripping onto my wet pants, my wet pants remaining true to their name and getting wet, then soaking my regular pants below, my regular pants dripping into my socks, my socks being mopped up by my shoes… You get the idea. I wedge my hands under my armpits to try keep them warm as we walk with small footsteps along the vehicle tracks. Callum’s plastic bag blows off in the wind a few times. But it’s almost over. Just a few more kilometres and we can peel off this miserable wet gear and hide in the tent.
About a kilometre from home, we lose the track. The GPS route leads us into muddy forest, where there’s a mishmash of tracks leading for a few metres in the direction we need before bending and spiraling off in other spurious directions. There’s a vehicle track which we probably should have taken, we decide halfway down to the lake, but it’s too late now. We slide our way down the last, very steep bit of hill and emerge into a small settlement of holiday and shepherd cottages beside the lake. Home at last.
I find Šiško jezero to be a bit like Zminičko – fine, almost lovely, but kind of uninspiring. The rain thankfully abates again and it almost gets sunny, so we rejoice, whip up the tent and lay out all the clothes to dry. Across the lake and right in the sun’s path, however, is this huge lump of a mountain, looking like it’s been plonked just there to block the sun as early as possible. I giggle slightly hysterically, finding the mountain very amusing. I think maybe the weather’s gone to my head.
Just as the day draws to a close, a group of Montenegrin teens rolls up in a beat up Volkswagen. They’re chatting, happy and excited (but all I see is that they’re clean, dry, and have warm homes to go back to). I wonder why exactly they’ve come here – if I had a car, there are certainly other lakes I’d visit first. But the main aim soon becomes clear – out come the phones. Selfie time.
Having been travelling for about eight months, we’ve seen our fair share of other travelers. Nowadays, that also means we’ve seen a fairly staggering amount of self-directed photography. Almost every tourist spot we go, there are countless groups indulging not just in ‘selfies’, which seem relatively harmless to me on their own, but in real, miniature photo shoots. Turn this way, spin and flick your hair on three; contrived positions sitting cross-legged, back to the camera with hands gaily frozen in the air, pony tail swinging just so; groups of young men with arms folded, arranged with pouting lips or cigarettes like the album art of a boy band. It’s a bit ridiculous. Lakes, war memorials, museums, famous artworks, bus stops, mosques… you name it. And remarkably, people don’t seem to be shy about it at all. I can watch with open curiosity and they don’t seem to mind.
Eventually the group are satisfied with their photos in this location and drive 500 m to the other end of the lake to get them all from a different angle. Five minutes later and they’re gone, waving happily goodbye to us as we make a cup of tea. I feel smellier and dirtier than ever, but also more like a real person. I believe that hiking as we’re doing is a truly special and wonderful way to see a place… hopefully it just doesn’t turn me into too much of a travel snob!
Montenegro, Stage 40 and Stage 41
Start and end points: Mojkovac to Šiško jezero
Approximate distance: 21.5 km
Features: Supermarkets in Mojkovac (VOLI, others) – Guesthouses in Mojkovac (Tara Riverside Cottages, others) – Restaurants, cafes and bars in Mojkovac (Restoran Most, others) – Biogradska Gora National Park – Šiško jezero (Šiško lake)
Travel snob? Your epic journey has to be character building in the extreme xxxx
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