We take our time getting up this morning, although we’re still on the trail by 7:00. We just finished a 48-mile stage in two days, we thought it’d take 4! The trail is a gravel road today, which I’ve come to be thankful for. It’s just so much easier to walk on and less stressful to navigate. We wind through more hills and farms, cows and sheep and horses and barking dogs. Late morning we reach a small lake called Sisko Jezero. I lay in the sun and read my book while Express skinny dips. Just as she gets out of the water about 6 jeeps pull up across the lake and people spill out, taking photos and walking around the lake. We’re in a park called Biogradska Gora and it seems like no one actually hikes around here, they just take Jeep tours to all the scenic spots and take pictures.
We hike up a steep hill leaving the lake that’s covered in blueberry bushes and reach another gravel road that will lead us to our destination for the day, Mountain Lodge Vranjak. On the way there we pass a group of women who are stopped on the road to take pictures. They are so excited to see us and start recording video of us on their phones and taking selfies with us. It’s hilarious! They don’t speak English, but they think it’s so cool that we’re out hiking.
We descend down a steep hill below some ski lifts to Mountain Lodge Vranjak. We’re greeted by the woman who runs the place, and although she doesn’t speak English, she understands we’re hungry and has us sit down inside and brings us a big plate of spinach and cheese burek with sides of yogurt to dunk it in. I grab a cold bottle of beer from the outside “cooler”, a hollowed-out log with fresh spring water running through it, keeping everything ice cold. When we finish eating Express heads to the kitchen and starts washing dishes. She’s hoping we can camp for free here and also just wants something to do. The woman laughs at her but seems pleased that she’s helping out. I’m lazy and just hang out with my beer and read my book. The woman’s son stops by and he speaks pretty good English. He tells us it’s fine for us to camp out in the yard tonight. I ask him if they get a lot of visitors here in the summer. He says yes, but most are from Germany or Israel. He says we are the first Americans that have stopped here and they’ve been running the place for ten years!
We relax at the lodge the rest of the afternoon. Quite a few people stop by to grab a beer or coffee and smoke cigarettes. It seems to be the local hangout. There are beds upstairs that are available to rent, but apparently no one is staying here tonight. Later in the evening a group of three young guys stop by for beers and food. The woman makes them a big pot of a warm, cheesy, potato concoction. They are super nice and want to share with us and bring us each a steaming plateful. We’re so thankful to have a warm meal! It’s delicious and so filling. It’s nice to fall asleep with a full belly for a change.
In the morning the woman (I wish I remembered her name!) makes us coffee and sits with us. She offers us a shot of rakija (it’s 6 am!). We say no, but she shrugs and pours herself one to go with her coffee. She’s so sweet and even though we can’t communicate we get such a loving motherly vibe from her. As we leave she gives us each a couple apples and a hug and kiss on the cheek goodbye. And she only charges us 2 Euro for the 2 beers I drank…the food and coffee and lodging were free! We leave feeling so loved and happy and taken care of. We’ve decided to call her Mama Vranjak, Mama V for short.
More road walking with beautiful mountain views brings us to a place called Eko Katun Stavna. It’s a touristy place with little rental cabins and a cafe at the base of two giant mountains. We’re hiking up through the two mountains this afternoon, but only for a few miles, so we have time to relax at the cafe. It’s been really nice these past few days, taking our time and doing less miles. I’m enjoying being able to rest and enjoy my surroundings instead of crunching out 25-30 miles a day. We can’t believe how close we are to the end of the trail, just about 4 days left!
We have coffee at the cafe and use their WiFi. I think I’m becoming addicted to Turkish coffee—I ordered two cups this time! We leave around 2:00 because I checked the weather and a storm is supposed to roll in around 4:00. We only have 4 miles to hike to reach a shelter called Carine, so the timing should be perfect.
The hike is spectacular. We’re finally back on a trail and winding through high alpine peaks. I love it. As I reach the top of the pass I feel a few rain drops hit me. Shoot! I still have another mile of steep descent until I reach the shelter. I move as fast as I can and pray for the storm to hold off for just a half hour more. Luckily my prayers are answered and I reach the hut safely. The hut is very rustic, stone walls, dirt floor, tin roof, but it’s tidy inside and there are new wooden platforms that will be perfect to sleep on. It’s also stocked with random things—coffee, cookies, candles, a bag of potatoes, a few tomatoes, and a couple bottles of wine. We eye the wine and decide, why not? There’s no opener but I find a box of large nails and we punch through the cork just enough to get the wine to pour out…very slowly. The wine is surprisingly really good and we take our plastic cups outside to enjoy the view and watch the approaching storm. The storm finally reaches us and hits with a vengeance! We’re so thankful to be protected in the little hut. It’s hailing with thunder and lightning, and the noise is deafening on the tin roof.
The storm eventually lets up and we crawl into our sleeping bags on the wooden platform. I’m so excited for the morning–I can actually make a hot cup of coffee using the supplies here and enjoy the sunrise over the mountains. Shortly after we fall asleep we hear a truck pull up to the hut. We’re both thinking, “Are you kidding me?” First of all, I had no idea you could even drive here, and second, we’re so tired of always having a seemingly nice camp spot ruined by someone or something. We hear two guys get out, but luckily they don’t come into the hut. The truck starts up and we think they’re leaving but the engine just keeps revving—they’re stuck in the mud. For I don’t know how long they keep trying to get their truck unstuck. We consider going out to help, but it’s cold out there and we’re not sure who these guys are. We feel vulnerable being two women by ourselves out here in the middle of nowhere. They seem to give up after a while and I think they decide to sleep in their truck for the night. I don’t sleep well, the whole situation gives me anxiety. I just hope they’re gone in the morning so I can enjoy my coffee.