Day 44 – 45: A Mental Breakdown, First Steps Into Montenegro, And A Crazy Balkan Gypsy

The stars are fantastic. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many shooting stars. Every time I wake during the night I look up and see multiple streaks across the sky. The only down side to our cowboy camping is that everything is soaked in the morning. Our sleeping bags and everything else are completely drenched in dew. It sucks when down sleeping bags get wet, the down just clumps up and gets heavy. Hopefully we’ll get some good sunshine today to dry everything out.

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Morning reflection

We walk through a gorgeous valley and stop at Orlovacko mountain hut to get water. There’s a girl drinking coffee on the porch. She’s with a group of hikers that are staying at the hut. She warns us to watch for bears and snakes on this stretch. Yikes. We leave the hut and start the slow ascent up to Bregoč, the highest peak in the Zelengora. The path winds up through rolling hills surrounded by blueberries and there are locals bent over using a special claw-like tool to scrape the berries into buckets. It looks like such hard work and they have to do some serious hiking to get up here!

I love hiking in the early morning light

We get to the top of the peak, a pretty easy climb and then begin a descent along an unmarked trail. It follows the ridgeline through the grass so it’s not too hard to find using our GPS. Then of course it becomes annoying and goes through some overgrown forest. I’m starting to get fatigued, we’re going on 6 hours of hiking since this morning without any breaks and I haven’t eaten anything but some oats for breakfast and a protein bar. The “trail” leads us through a patch of nettles and I have a meltdown and start crying. I get a horrible itchy rash that lasts for days when I get stung by them so I’m pissed off that I’m in for days of itchy torture now. I’m also just hot and tired and hungry and want a break but we still have another mountain to climb. Express continues on ahead, she doesn’t seem tired at all, so I put on some music to try to change my mood and get myself up the mountain. I can’t find a trail anywhere, it’s not marked. Occasionally there’s a faint footpath in the grass but I keep losing it, it’s so frustrating. I can see the mountain I need to summit though, so I make my own route, probably adding unnecessary elevation. I’m trying so hard to catch up with Express and I can see a storm is approaching and we’ll need to get up and over the mountain before it hits.

The summit of Bregoč

I finally reach the top and see Express waiting. I don’t get a chance to even see the view, we’re racing down to beat the storm. It starts raining just as we reach the cover of the forest at the bottom, thunder and lightning at our heels. I was hoping for a lunch break but we need water so we keep walking another mile and a half to Donje Bare lake where there’s a mountain hut. We take shelter from the rain on the front porch, try to dry out our wet gear from this morning, and finally after seven hours of hiking and climbing 2 mountains get to sit and take a break.

This area is known as the “Yosemite of Bosnia”

We wait for the rain to let up, maybe just an hour, and pack up our still-wet gear and get back to the trail. I’m so thankful it’s a beautifully well-maintained trail through the forest, descending down into a canyon. The rain starts up again but luckily there’s a lot of trees to shelter us a bit. At the bottom we have to walk on a narrow, busy highway in the rain for a few miles until we reach an abandoned camp called Suha. It’s just off the highway and there’s a bunch of covered picnic tables. We’re so happy to have a dry spot to hang out. We both decide to cowboy camp on top of the picnic tables. All my gear is damp—my clothes, sleeping bag. The dampness and the noise from the highway make for a not so great night’s sleep.

Storm hanging over the canyon

Suha campsite

We take our time in the morning before hiking up the other side of the canyon. We’re doing a mellow day today, just about 8 miles to Trnovačko Lake. It’s an easy, gradual ascent along mostly forest road and then trail. We enter Piva Nature Park and are now officially in Montenegro! We arrive at the lake before 11 am and it’s beautiful. It’s a heart-shaped lake surrounded by towering mountains and there’s a perfect grassy area to set up camp. There’s a lot of people here, it’s Sunday and it’s a super popular hiking and camping destination. It’s also the starting point to hike up to the top of Maglič, the highest peak in Bosnia-Herzegovina. The lake is technically in Montenegro, but we’ll be crossing back into BiH to hike to the top of Maglič tomorrow morning.

Thumbs up for Montenegro!

Trnovačko Lake

The man running the hut at the lake is super nice and makes us each a cup of Turkish coffee after we pay him the ridiculously cheap park and camping fee—just $5 total for both of us! We spend the day swimming and laying in the sun. It’s perfect to have such a relaxing day after yesterday’s grueling ordeal. In the evening we go sit at the tables outside the hut where a bunch of other people are hanging out. We’re really low on food and pretty hungry and we see they have a table full of snacks. We feel like stray dogs, eyeing their food and hoping for some scraps. Luckily one of the guys yells “Hey America!” and motions for us to join them at their table and invites us to eat. Do we really look that pathetic?

Hangout area above the lake 

Cute little mountain hut

There’s bread, cheese, kajmak (a homemade sort of cream/cheese), cucumbers, tomatoes, and cookies. A feast! The guy is clearly getting drunk on rakija, homemade booze, this particular one he made himself from apples. He pours us each a shot and we politely take tiny sips while he yells “Živjeli!!!” (cheers in Bosnian). He proceeds to drink nearly the entire bottle and becomes super jovial and starts loudly singing traditional Bosnian songs. The whole group joins in on the singing and it’s hilarious and we wish we could sing along. He takes multiple selfies with us and keeps yelling “America!” and calls himself a “Crazy Balkan Gypsy”. We spend hours sitting with these people, most don’t speak any English, but it’s so fun to listen to them and laugh with them. We say goodnight around 9:00 and head to our tents, the Crazy Balkan Gypsy continuing to sing into the night.

The Crazy Balkan Gypsy

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