Montenegro Moving! Moderate Macedonia! Kickin’ it in Kosovo!
It’s 6:40am and we have to go, the taxi has been here for 10 minutes! Pack on, contacts not, it is into a cab and onto a 7am bus to Kotor, Montenegro on the 28th of July. The old town is situated in a bay, inside the fortress walls which were built between the 9th and 18th centuries; the walls stretch up the steep hill side. The marble lane-ways within are home to cafes, restaurants, clothing shops and of course tacky souvenir shops. Being the end of July, there are many pretentious Europeans strolling along what appears to be a catwalk as soon as the sun has set. They are on their way to one of the many small clubs cranking horrific house music. Not that I had a desire, but even should I had wanted to go to those places, I don’t believe it would have been quite the fit considering this traveller’s extensive wardrobe does not include anything Gucci. We did however manage to find a few safe havens serving draft beer and playing 90s music, a much better fit!
A small fee gets you into the fortress, which is a rocky walk up, but gives good views of the town and bay below. The true gem though was venturing out of the fortress on the descent and continuing up to the mountain top. Extremely long switchbacks made the path, with some mountain goat spottings and a stubborn cow being beckoned at by a small aging woman to continue down. Granted not extremely high (700 meters I would guess), it allowed for a sight over the mountain range on the other side of the bay toward Budva and the sea, beautiful and not anticipated!
Unsuccessful in arranging a rafting trip from Kotor to Durmitor National Park to experience the Tara river and the 2nd deepest canyon in the world, dropping to 1300 meters at one point, we headed to the park ourselves on July 31st. This was a wise decision as the scenery was amazing! Staying in a local house with 4 generations of family under one roof, an old grandmother with weathered skin and a hunch back seemed to always be making milk or yogurt, be it 7am or 11pm. Though I honestly believe she meant well, it did seem that we, 2 Canadians and 2 Dutch, were getting spoken to sternly whenever in her presence.
Rafting the following day was not as wet and wild as anticipated, but still a good half day and lunch was mighty fine. The highlight of the park though was the hike the following day to Bobotov Kuk, it stands at 2523 meters and is the highest peak in Montenegro. Leaving at 7:30am the fog was laying low and the temperature requiring 3 layers; I was not sure how the day would unfold. Within an hour into the trek it was all blue skies and warming up, meaning I progressively shed the tops. From the hiking I have done thus far on the trip I figured we would simply be ascending, this however was not the case! Just over 4 hours led us through most beautiful valleys and along ridges. It reminded me very much of Canmore, Alberta, Canada. Wild flowers lined the path and wild horses played in a mud hole. What more could I want? Oh yes, the top! The last 200 meters were very tricky climbing, but stepping up there it brought an instant smile. Views of the canyon, lakes, Zabljak (the town we were staying in), Bosnia and the surrounding peaks made for a state of zen. The next hour went ever so quickly with some lunch as well as solitude.
Now rejuvenated it was time for what turned out to be a lengthy mission getting to Skopje, Macedonia. A full minibus left Zabljak at 11am and dropped me in the capital early afternoon where I filled 5 hours reading, lunch and a couple of pivo before catching the packed 8pm night bus which raced through the winding mountain roads of Montenegro and Kosovo.
Skopje, what can I say, a stone bridge, old town and very nice hostel make the short list of highlights! My plan was 2 nights in the city and then south to Ohrid which is a lakeside town in the south next to the Albanian boarder. I changed this though about 5 minutes before walking out the door August 6th and instead opted to join 3 Dutch guys for a day trip to the capital of Kosovo.
Pristine, well what can I say about it, maybe it gets an extra star over Skopje as it has a statue of Bill Clinton, billboards praising Tony Blair and establishments including city names from around the globe. Roads torn up, massive traffic jams and streets full of people, it was a change of culture! A large presence of police, KFOR, UN and international group vehicles are among the traffic there and random road checks a common thing to witness. Take notice at the bus company’s name below and the windshield.
So south we head (trio – 2 Dutch, 1 Canadian), it’s Ohrid bound as I write this on a packed minibus, glad to not be the one who has to be standing! Gazing out the window there are fairly heavily vegetated mountains spotted with small villages. Weather continues to be grand, around 30, it will be good to be next to a lake.
A bit of an amazement that 3 months of my trip have passed, I’ve got positive energy and will push south!