Montenegro and Serbia

Montenegro and Serbia
Serbia, Uvac

“Is this your kitchen equipment?” – ask a friendly Scot’s face as she’s peeking inside the tent. It’s early morning in the Montenegran highlands, and we are packing away to start before the heat strikes. Elena found my wild thyme outside, which we frequently pick in those areas, where it grows like a weed. We have met them the day before in Kotor. They were a group of five friends from Scotland, heading to Greece to do some volunteer work. They started from Scotland, so they came a long way. We never saw this big a group cycling together for such a long distance, so this was certainly unique. 

Beautiful Montenegro

Our group of friends, settling in for the night

As we were going to the same direction to Cetinje up on the switchback road, we were sort of racing each other to the top, and the girls were fast as a hurricane, but it helped that they had road bikes. The long climb to the top was definitely worth it though; as you could see two bays and the sea at once all the way up, making the ride much more enjoyable. Close to the peak there was a bit of a mist sweeping through the mountain, making us isolated and reminding our friends of Scotland. Suffice to say, it gave me the chills and it was beautiful. The next day we parted ways, because they were heading directly to Albania, but we wanted to spend a bit more time in Montenegro and already had a place to say in Podgorica. 

Kotor from above
Full view of the bays
Admiring the view
All the girls in one pic 🙂

On the way we managed to see another exceptionally gorgeous piece of nature in the form of a river bend, but otherwise the ride to the capital was not so interesting and quite easy. We only spent a night there and after a lot of planning and thinking, decided to visit the canyon of the Tara River and peak into southern Serbia to check out an interesting looking national park. It involved a lot of climbing (again), but as always, it was worth it. Even the road to get there was pretty nice, and we had some fun reading some Chinese instructions on a few occasions, because there was a huge highway building project going on, by whom else than the Chinese of course.

 

The landscape was pretty wild and the mountains and hills were pretty steep all around us, so if we didn’t want to sleep in a construction site, we had to ask for a garden space again. As always, we were blown away by the hospitality of the people in the Balkans, as not only we were gladly invited in, but offered a huge amount of homemade cheese and bread, and the ever so present coffee and cookies. It’s not always perfect however, this time we got a little present from the cats too, looking for a way into our tent where we had some food, leaving some painful marks in the form of tiny holes. Luckily it was nothing major and anyway we have to accept the fact that heavy duty use involves some risks and wear and tear on a long term journey like ours. 

River bend before Podgorica
Quality is pretty important, I gotta say
The culprits

The next day we finally got to see the famous bridge of Tara, looming over its namesake river quite high. There was a wide, green valley around the river below the bridge, with lots of cattle grazing, and you can easily walk down to get a good look at the bridge from down below too. Of course getting to a gorge and away from it involves a lot of climbing, but the road was in pretty good shape and not so steep, so we didn’t mind going uphill for long hours (may even allow myself to say that we enjoyed it).

No, this is not that bridge, but close to it 🙂
The Tara river
Now this is that bridge, if you haven't guessed 🙂
View from the bridge

Just a peak into Serbia

After leaving the valley of Tara, we set ourselves to have a look at a strangely curving river in Southern Serbia. We just wanted to peak into Serbia a bit before going there, and the experience turned out to be one of the most beautiful and stunning places we visited so far. 
 
We also found a few new friends through couchsurfing, and was amazed by how cheap everything was there. We usually never eat out, since a proper meal so far almost reached our daily budget, but here we didn’t even think about the costs when we ordered in a restaurant, it was mindblowing. 
 
Having a bit of city life in Prijepolje at the border of Serbia, it was time for us to head into the deep of the national park, slightly north of it. The weather was not in our favor, but that’s just the way of things, we have to make do with what’s given. There were some steep gravel roads on the way, and that combined with rain made slow going, so we couldn’t make it to the national park in a day, and had to find a meadow in between. It was rather easy to do, but once we settled in and pegged the tent, we were greeted by at least 15 cows, coming in for the night, and an electric fence turned on, making it really annoying and hard to packing away in the dark. With the uncomfortable thought of having a whole herd around us, we could hardly sleep, and woke up in the middle of the sound of my bike falling. Nothing major happened, but now at least I have a one liner which makes everyone laugh their ass off. A cow ate my shirt. Ok, not the whole thing, but my nice merino shirt is gone beyond repair. Now we steer clear of cows. Oh wildcamping, how much I love you. 🙂
New country time!
Not the view you want in the morning
So, the next day we made it to our place of interest. The place was called Uvac national park, and if you’ve never heard of it, make sure to remember the name, which is the name of the river also, going through it. It has a uniquely bending shape, as the water carved the limestone through the ages, the sharpest turn being around 270 degrees, and really deep because of a dam at the southern end of the park. I have never seen anything like it, and I don’t think I will ever forget the stunning views. 
 
The first day we arrived there we just hid the bikes and walked the 5km hiking trail curving 100m above the canyon, but of course the sun went away just as we reached the last and best lookout point. There, in the middle of nowhere lies a small house and garden around it, with an elderly couple. As the rain started to drip, we were invited in to stay dry until the storm passed, but as it happens so many times with nice and hospitable people around the Balkans, they didn’t speak a hint of English. Luckily we had Serbian downloaded on Google translate and tried communicating on that at first, but as the thunders became louder and more frequent, they made us put the phone away, in fear of the lightning. So there we were, sitting in awkward silence next to each other for almost an hour, and I would like to stay this does not happen often, but I wouldn’t tell the truth, although this was a bit extreme. 
 
Eventually they got tired of it and produced a half broken umbrella from somewhere, and we half run half walked the way back to the starting point. Surprisingly we found a group of people having a kind of a grill party (the most common thing in the Balkans in the summer) in the small café, and naturally we were encouraged to join them. Alan couldn’t refuse at least three rakia shots, but I managed to get some juice instead (and got ridiculed for it), and we had a fun time speaking through the phone and telling them about our adventures, which left them awestruck.
At the viewpoint
No caption needed 🙂
We spent two nights there, putting our tent behind the cafe, and mostly speaking with the guy working there through the phone, but we still had a fun experience, crazy good hospitality, and even a free boatride. Hoping that the next day we get a better view we went on the trail again, but by the time we reached the best viewpoint, it started raining again (of course it did). Eventually we found ourselves in a huge thunderstorm, and there up high in the open it could have ended really badly, as we saw and heard lightning almost right next to us. So it literally felt we were running for our lives, soaked, through mud and stone in a sandal. Sure, hearing stories like this is exciting, and a tiny bit thrilling even when you’re living through it, but mostly it’s just terrifying and you have to fight down the panic in yourself. 
 
Luckily we made it back in one piece, although our phone was not so fortunate. We mostly use it for navigation, so without it, it was a real hassle to get to anywhere – at least we still had the laptop – but there were no cheap stuff to buy. So we had to wait until Prishtina where my mum could send us something to work with, while we waited for our new – this time waterproof – phone to arrive. Spending around a hundred and thirty euro painfully cut into our budget, but a good phone on the road can be a lifesaver, and buying something cheap usually means it doesn’t last that long, so it is more expensive at the end (and that applies to a lot of other things in life, naturally). I know a lot of people think this amount is pretty low for a new gadget, but why would I buy a new model for 4-5 times as much, when and older design still on the market is perfectly fine for my needs? This seems silly to me, and a colossal waste of money better used elsewhere (like living your dream?).
 
Leaving Uvac, we headed to a country people still know almost nothing about, even after 10 years of its existence, although it is well worth visiting. But more on that in my next post.