We pack up while everyone else is still sleeping. Neither of us got much sleep with the drunken singing, a dog barking all night, and a bunch of kids listening to loud music. We head out just after 6 am, excited to get to the top of Maglič and grateful there’s clear skies today. The trail leaving the lake is really steep and covered with loose gravel, making it so hard to hike up without my feet slipping back down. Luckily the steep part is short, just over a mile before we reach a saddle and trail junction. We drop our packs here and hike a super easy mile and a half to the summit of Maglič. We sign the register, snap photos, then head back to grab our packs. The trail winds through beautiful rocky grassy meadows covered in wildflowers and surrounded in jagged rocky peaks. I’m loving Montenegro so far!
It’s a long, steep downhill for about 5 miles until we reach a tiny village called Mratinje. We had read some comments about a guest house in town that serves great food, so we’re hoping to get some lunch. Unfortunately the son who speaks English isn’t home and his dad doesn’t understand us, so we move on. It’s a bummer because we were counting on that food and we both don’t have much left. I definitely did not carry enough food for this stretch and I’ve been starving for a couple days now, but I need to ration to make what little I have last until we reach the next market in a day and a half.
We stop at Piva Lake to eat lunch. It’s so hot out, so we go for a swim. There’s no shade and not much of a beach, just a lot of dirt, but the water is a spectacular aqua green color and the water is a perfect swimming temperature. After lunch we have a couple miles of road walking along the lakeshore. It’s actually a lake created by a huge hydroelectric dam. The road takes us through some cool cave-like tunnels that are super dark. Eventually we end up at the dam. The guys working there let us go into the office/security room to fill up our water bottles and use the bathroom. We walk across the dam and then head up a steep narrow trail that takes us out of the Piva Canyon.
I started to feel a stabbing pain in my left knee/thigh after the downhill from Maglič and this climb out of the canyon is really aggravating it. Every step up is excruciating and when I finally reach the top I can barely even walk on level ground and I’m in tears. The tears are not only from the pain but also out of fear that something is really wrong. I’m so close to finishing this trail, less than two weeks!
I meet Express at the top of the plateau. It’s so beautiful up here, endless rolling green hills with the mountains as a backdrop. Express is sitting at a picnic table outside a farm house. On our maps this house is marked as a place where we can get water. A cute older couple live here and neither speaks English but they happily let us fill up our waters and insist we stay for a cup of coffee. The man makes us each a delicious cup, I’m loving the Turkish coffee they drink here. They sit with us as we sip our coffee and watch a storm passing over the mountains in the distance. It’s so peaceful and relaxing here, I just want to curl up and go to sleep. We talk as best we can with them, they both say “Trump!” a few times and laugh and give us a thumbs down. We get that reaction a lot from the people here when they learn we’re from America. We finish our coffee, wish we could’ve really talked to them, but say thank you and goodbye, and continue along the road to find a place to camp before the storm arrives. We luckily only have to hike just a few minutes before we find a nice flat spot in the forest to set up our tents.
In the morning we have about 10 miles to hike along a road until we reach a tiny place called Nedajno where we’ve heard there’s a cafe with great food. I’m starving, so I can’t wait to get there. Unfortunately a few minutes into the walk, after a bit of uphill, my leg pain is back with a vengeance. The 10 miles is such a struggle, but I hike fast. The pain is the same whether I hike quickly or slowly, and I’d rather just get to the cafe as soon as I can. I unsuccessfully try to hold back tears all morning. I’m so torn, I’ve walked continuous footsteps since the beginning of the trail in Slovenia and now I’m faced with the decision to end it. I think I’ll need to get a ride into the next town, Zabljak, instead of hiking there. I’m so worried that my knee will get worse if I don’t stop to rest. I still really want to walk the Camino de Santiago after this and it’s not worth it to me to push myself on this trail and jeopardize my chance to experience the pilgrimage.
Express is sitting outside the cafe when I arrive. I break the news to her that I’m not walking into town but trying to get a ride instead. She still wants to walk, so we sit outside and have breakfast (which is delicious!) and then she leaves, 20 miles of walking ahead of her before she reaches the town. I book a room for us in Zabljak and try to get a ride, but there’s zero traffic on this tiny road, maybe one car an hour. The girl running the cafe tells me I’ll have better luck at a lake that’s 4 miles down the road. It’s in Durmitor National Park and there will probably be tourists there. I sit for a bit longer and then decide to walk the 4 miles even though my knee doesn’t want to. I arrive at the turnoff to the lake and don’t see anyone there. After about 30 minutes a young German couple pulls into the parking area to take some photos and then asks me where I’m heading to. They’re also going to Zabljak and offer me a ride. Yay! The ride takes forever though, they keep stopping the car and grabbing camera equipment and walking off to take pictures. I just sit on the side of the road each time they do this, debating if I should try for another hitch instead. Finally they drop me off in town, it’s way more touristy than I thought. It’s a hub for people visiting the national park and it’s crawling with young backpackers and filled with cafes. I grab a burek from the first bakery I see and a tall can of beer from a market and navigate the maze of streets to the guest house where I’ll be staying to rest my knee. Hopefully a day off will cure me and I can get back to walking again. I’m so close to the end!