Do you ever get that feeling like you’ve slipped into limbo? When you’re washing the dishes and the pile refuses to get any smaller, or when you’re writing an essay and the word count just doesn’t seem to budge?
Today is a bit like that. We’re walking through the early morning mists of Biogradska Gora, with visibility limited to just a few dozen metres on any direction, and I can’t help but wonder if I’ve ever done anything else. Is this little patch of tussocky grass all there is? Will we ever leave this ridge?
The occasional tree or sign post looms out of the clouds giving the world an absurd simplicity, like the set of some hiker’s re-imagining of Waiting for Godot. It’s quite relaxing really, plodding along into the mists of madness.
Eventually the clouds begin to recede, gathered up by the rising breeze. They drift like lazy nebula, revealing first the low cliff face to our left, and then the greater mountains in the distance. I think this might actually be a beautiful place. These are low, humble mountains, but the lingering mist, luminous grass and ancient cliffs give them the feel of an Arthurian legend.
We round a corner, and, lo and behold, there’s a picnic shelter. We’re not tired, but one skips a comfortable seat at one’s peril: shelter is rare in these parts.
In the centre of the shelter is a small pyramid of grey ash, still letting off a thin tendril of smoke. There’s also some fresh graffiti carved into the wooden posts: evidently someone or someones camped here. I wonder if we’ll catch them later?
I plonk my pack down inside and stretch out on the bench, while the more energetic Kris goes to investigate a nearby spring. It really is a beautiful spot, with the crucial campsite qualities of water, shelter and flat ground, and, if we’d known it was here, we probably would have kept on walking yesterday.
In the comfort of the shelter, we take a moment to check today’s route. We already did this last night, but it always seems a bit abstract until we’re actually walking it. Thus far we’ve been walking along slightly muddy vehicle tracks, and it looks as though that will continue for most of today. No complaints from me. The official route goes over the peak of Zekova glava, but we decide that, on account of the ominous weather, we’ll stick to the low route, before continuing on to the little tourist town of Trešnjevik, where there should be a smattering of restaurants. No big mountains, no bush-bashing or route finding – it should be a nice, easy day.
Famous last words.
No sooner do we leave the shelter than it starts to rain. I lost my pack cover a couple of days ago, so, as we walk, I’m painfully aware of the water seeping into my gear. My boots, now equipped with gaping portholes, don’t even try to stay dry. Splish splosh splash.
The kilometres drift by, one by one. With the rain waxing and waning but never letting up, there’s no chance for us to stop, and we make good time. We’re just rising over a crest when we spy a strange object in the middle of the road.
“Is that a dog?”
“No, I think it’s just a stump or something.”
“Wait, it’s definitely wagging.”
And so a friendly, saturated dog trots over and gives us a inquisitive sniff before coming in for the pat. She’s a friendly old thing, but I’m wary – we don’t need yet another dog follower. I needn’t’ve worried, however, as this particular pupper just leads us around the corner to her home, Planinarski dom Krivi Do. I wasn’t expecting to see a mountain hut around here, and, in our waterlogged condition, the plume of smoke rising from the chimney is a beautiful sight.
Five minutes later and we’re drinking Turkish coffee and nibbling on a lunch of spinach burek while our raincoats steam by the fire. It’s hard to believe that such a warm, cosy beacon of happiness can exist in these otherwise empty mountains. The heavy rain drops slide down the window panes like tears, and I don’t ever want to leave.
There’s one other guest here, who wakes up just after we arrive. He’s a German guy called Kai who’s midway through a motorbike trip around eastern Europe, aimed vaguely for Istanbul. It seems that he’s not really one to use a map, and somehow washed up here late last night. We chat for a while about our respective lives and travels, and basically just enjoy the fact that the we’re out of the pouring rain.
It’s a hard pill to swallow, but when Kai decides it’s time to hit the road, we figure we should probably get going too. We’ve been here an hour, and there’s still eighteen kilometres to go, though the hut owner assures us it’s quite flat.
Stepping out into the rain, I see the dog curled up like a furry doughnut on the grass outside the hut. I suppose we don’t have it too bad, all things considered.
The rest of the day slips away in a long chain of four-wheel-drive tracks that shimmy their way around peaks and valleys. The mountains are gentle, lumbering things, with rounded tops that never poke more than a couple of hundred metres above the surrounding valleys. Even so, I’m more than happy to skip them.
We’re just heading along the final ridge down to Trešnjevik when the clouds part to reveal a massif of looming, snow clad peaks. After days of relative flat, they preside over the landscape like a scarecrow over cabbages.
“That must be Kom Kučki,” I say with trepidation.
We climb that tomorrow.
But our future woes are quickly forgotten as we stumble into the little town of Trešnjevik. I say town, but it’s really just a restaurant, a few cabins, and a mountain hut (or Eko Dom as they’re known here).
We’re just letting gravity pull us the last few metres down the hill when a man springs out of a ditch, sporting a tiny shovel and a giant grin. In an instant he takes in our sopping clothes and tired faces, and quickly ushers us across the road into his Eko Dom. I don’t usually like being ushered, but it’s been a long, soggy day, and I’m just glad to see a roof.
Inside it’s like an agricultural museum, with rusty iron farm implements bolted to the walls and leaning in the corners. There’s an old cathode ray TV flickering with the Montenegrin news, and a great big open fire place in the corner.
The owner doesn’t speak English, but he’s a master of body language, and it’s not long before we’re drinking a refreshing glass of blueberry juice. Coffee comes after that, then burek, salad, bread, wild strawberries and finally some rakia. I let it wash over me like one more shower of rain, half watching the manager mime something about tourists who drink too much rakia (two glasses, no more), and half watching the rain that continues to drizzle outside.
This hut is like an island in an ocean of wet feet and miserable campsites. We’ve been lost at sea for a while now, and I think I’m ready to be rescued.
Montenegro, Stage 41
Start and end points: Šiško jezero to Katun and Eko Dom Trešnjevik
Approximate distance: 31 km