It’s still pitch black out when I hear Express pack up and leave camp. It’s 4 am. She’s walking the 13 miles into the next town, Kalinovik, as quickly as possible so she can get a ride to Jablanica to pick up her replacement shoes that are being held at the post office. I had insomnia last night and can’t get back to sleep, so I slowly get ready and head out as the sun is barely rising, around 5:45. It’s an easy 13 mile gravel road walk to town and there’s lots of fresh piped springs along the way with drinking water. I listen to music for a bit and then to a podcast about Scott Jurek, the famous ultra-marathoner who recently broke the speed record on the Appalachian Trail. A few miles before town I stop for a quick break on the side of the road to have a snack and lay my tent in the sun to dry. A couple guys drive by on a rickety tractor pulling a giant bale of hay. They stop when they see me and hop off the tractor to join me on the grass. Of course neither speaks English. One begins to roll a cigarette and offers me one, I politely decline. They seem curious as to what I’m doing here and ask me where I’m going, where I’m from. They are so surprised when I say I’m from America. Everyone here is. They must not get many Americans passing through. I show them the map on my phone of the upcoming trail and they’re excited about the next mountain range I’m heading to, the Zelengora.
The first thing I do when I arrive in Kalinovik is scope out the market. I need to resupply for five days worth of food. I’m super disappointed, the market is dismal, a tiny dim closet-sized space. I manage to find some bread and cheese and a few snacks, but I know I’ll probably be hungry for this next stretch. Luckily Express is grabbing some peanut butter for me in Jablanica. I spend the rest of the day loitering on the patio of a tiny hotel, using the ultra slow WiFi and waiting for Express to return from Jablanica.
I wait until 6:30 and I’m getting worried because I still haven’t heard from her. I decide to leave town and walk 3 miles to a guest house where we had already planned to stay the night. I’m worried that she’s ok, I know she had to get several hitches between Jablanica and Sarajevo to return to Kalinovik. Thank god when I arrive she’s already there. I’m annoyed at first because I thought we were meeting in town and I wasted my whole afternoon sitting at the hotel bored and worried, but then I realize I’m being selfish and I’m just happy that she’s ok. And bless her heart she brought me two jars of peanut butter and a handful of jelly packets (the market in town didn’t even have jelly!).
The guest house we’re staying at is run by the Lalovic family. It’s a cool rustic wooden building that was built by the husband with beds and a small kitchen and decorated with antiques. We set up our tents in the yard instead of sleeping in the beds because it’s a bit cheaper but still get to use the kitchen and showers. I sleep so soundly after a nice hot shower!
The next morning the wife cooks us breakfast—a scramble with vegetables from the garden and homemade bread and cheese and fresh warm cows milk. We eat outside at a picnic table and savor every bite. We decide we need more experiences like this, meeting local families and being fed homemade meals, so we plan to stay in more guest houses during the last two weeks of our journey. They’re fairly common along the trail but we’ve been trying to be good with our money and camp for free instead. We didn’t realize what a good deal they are, usually around $10 each will get you lodging and one or two meals. We’re looking forward to some good food and hospitality in Montenegro and Albania!
We get a late start because it’s so nice hanging out at the guest house, but we only have about 10 miles to hike today. We’re heading into an area called the Zelengora. It’s said to be a remote and wild area dubbed the “Yosemite of Bosnia” with lots of bears and wolves. After hiking a couple hours we hear a thunderstorm approaching. We don’t want to get caught in an exposed area like we did in the Prenj, so we find a protected area under some dwarf pines to take cover. We hear thunder all around, but after nearly an hour of waiting we decide it’s not actually coming our way. Why is it that when you prepare for something it doesn’t happen? Oh well, better safe than sorry. We continue on the trail, winding up and down through the rocky and grassy landscape until we reach our campsite at Stirinsko Lake. We’re so excited to camp by a lake and to make it even better there are wild blueberries everywhere! We do some lake laundry, pick berries, and relax on our sleeping pads. We decide to cowboy camp because there’s a new moon so the stars will be incredible. We fall asleep while it’s still a bit light, looking forward to catching glimpses of the stars during the night.