From Sarajevo to the Coast of Montenegro
April 18, 2014
I feel so alive! I have just climbed through the remote central mountains of Montenegro and have arrived in the ancient capital city of Cetinje. Wandering through the limestone paved promenade I befriend two beautiful women, and am invited to jazz and drinks at the local bar. We lounge together in the park and smoke spliffs in the afternoon sunlight.
Earlier while climbing out of Sarajevo I passed the historic “tunnel spasa”, a 1 km tunnel dug during the Bosnia war, connecting the UN territories in the south with those under siege (north). The current tunnel goes right underneath the international airport, and is one of Bosnia’s most nationalist sites. The southern entrance was turned into a museum, with artifacts, pictures and plaques depicting the use of the tunnel in 1993-95. The northern entrance however, is underneath an abandoned house, with nothing but short chain link fences to keep curious visitors from entering. I visited both, and found the abandoned northern entrance to really capture the image of a war-time, safe house. Humanitarian aid, weapons, family members, children and the wounded passed through this tunnel for close to 2 years and was the Bosnian lifeline in and out of the capital city.
The daily rain, hail and wind storms stopped briefly and gave me a small window to cross the mountains into Montenegro. I had three days to get to the coast before another storm came in and I advantageously pedaled through the mountains with new gear supplied by local Bosnians met while living in the city. I was quickly replayed for my medical services preformed on the Bedouin in the remote deserts of Jordan, and met a Muslim man who worked with the hospital who refilled my first aid kit . He taught me two important Arabic words: Sadaqah a virtuous deed, considered proof of ones faith. Nafaqa Something given as maintenance, friendship, consolation or monetary support for loved ones.
How interesting it is to be back in Europe, pedaling through thick forests and winding rivers. After my two month tour of the middle east I have become accustomed to vast deserts, rampant dogs, chasing children often throwing rocks, and the ever so present stare while passing villages. In Bosnia there is no such attention or commotion and I can often pass un-noticed. People are beautiful here, they have many characteristics of Arabs, dark skin, brown hair, and high cheek bones, with piercing trance-like green eyes. Some women look like Pashtuns and I reflect on my mysterious route that will pass through central Asia, Western China and Pakistan.
The mountains are rocky, and it is almost as if I am back on the Croatian islands where I spent Christmas and New Years. Trees sprout out of the rock, and years of rain and snow have carved valleys and streams within. Although beautiful, most of the eastern Bosnia wilderness remains untouched due to the high volume of unclaimed landmines. The mountains around Sarajevo is the most problematic and still have over 100,000 uncharted mines. Signs often warn hikers and visitors of the dangers when traveling in these areas but every year somewhere between 20-30 people die, and close to a hundred injured. Locals seem to have an interesting perspective on the mines in that to them it dampens development and construction in the rural countryside and forests. Many have told me that if it weren’t for the mines there would be little countryside. After learning the Bosnian dialog for the detailed conversation, many Bosnians would explain to me that there weren’t any mines on their land or in the forests near their homes, but that I could camp, fearing that this could lead to future development.
I entered Montenegro and followed the dirt roads along the Drina river, a very popular area for river rafting. The water is supposedly potable as well, but after my experiences in Norway and Poland, I decided to stick with the tap or fountains in and around the local mosques. The Islamic procedure for washing before prayer is called Abdest (Bosnian) or Wudu (Arabic). The fountains are a great place to defrost your hands after long, cold descents as well as replenish your water supply. I am slowly learning the customary prayer etiquette and should be proficient to visit mosques throughout Turkey, Central Asia and the middle east as a practitioner soon.
I experienced a big difference in culture between the Montenegrins and Bosnians at the border. Rain clouds had covered the sky, and I asked the Bosnian officials if they knew the report, their response “Akobogda” also known as “Inshallah” in Arabic, meaning “God willing”. About 20 meters down the road talking now with the Montenegrin officials I was told the exact weather report for the next three days, including the high and low temperatures in the mountains and valleys. I think I like the Bosnian response better, I thought as I, after drinking close to a half bottle of Rakija, (Explained in more detail in the youtube film) pedaled up steep mountains toward the Adriatic sea.
Montenegro is more like Norway than any other country I have visited (other than Norway). Mountains scarred and corroded by centuries of storms have become worn to sharp peaks defining the horizon. Roads unable to climb and descend the rough terrain tunnel through the rock and travel over streams hundreds of meters below. Tunnels however, are a bit different from Norway, with no alternate bike routes, and little if any lighting, making the journey a lot like pedaling into a black hole. I choose roads that see little traffic, and often are unpaved and un-kept. I sleep in the wilderness and listen to the sound of the wind bringing the rain and the echo of cow bells in the distance.
Cetinje, the ancient capital of Montenegro, has some of the best Feng Shui in the Balkans. Snow capped mountains give way to a rich, fertile valleys covered with oak trees and pieced by ice-cold rivers. The modern capital of Podgorica is no more than 30 km to the south and the destination, summer beach city of Budva is only 25 km to the west. Cetinje also has a very small town feel, two art and music academies bring concerts and galleries to the city and the countryside offers lots of hiking, camping and outdoor activities. Put Cetinje on your list if you plan on visiting Montenegro.
Pedaling down to the coast a storm blew in and I traveled through periods of snow, hail, rain and the infamous “Bura” cold northern winds. I literally froze making braking an extremely arduous task, but I arrived safely to meet up with my new friends. The world is a small place, I have connected with tow Californian friends, Adam and Molly, from Escondido and am now staying in an apartment overlooking the ocean. It is nice to reminisce about So-Cal culture and argue about where to get the best burrito! Moly is a fellow banana slug (UCSC college graduate) and Adam went to University of San Francisco, the Jesuit school in the hills behind Haught and Ashbury. Last night we talked for hours about the Jesuit practice and Adam shared several interesting stores about his education experience. Jesuits are fascinating, historically known as violent priests, they have more recently pushed Catholicism in a more progressive direction and devote most of their life helping humanity rather than trying to converting it.
We are staying in the beach city Przno, 10 km south of Budva. There is little more than a small grocery store and several small apartment buildings situated in a secluded cove. The largest building is the Casino which awaits the warm tourist season to generate most its revenue. South of Przno lies a small island resort called Sveti Stejpan connected to the coast by a sandy causeway. The private island, which looks more like a facility/institution from shore, offers rooms for several thousand euros a night, and has a clientele varying from ex-presidents to porn stars.
I am now drinking Arabic tea, with Egyptian sugar, sheltered from the rain and wind in the cove of Przno, overlooking the Mediterranean…..Sunsets soon so Ciao from Montenegro!