Fire and no flood
We have seen fire burning the trees in Montenegro – and sadly, this is not a quote from Ed Sheeran I see fire. After we crossed the Bosnia and Herzegovina border with Montenegro, it was already dark. Still 2 hours of driving ahead, so one after a quick break for pee, we carried on… To witness wildfire burning in the heart of the mountains. And I want to be honest with you – it hit me very hard, right in the heart.
I am sitting outside, near the spot where we made fire on our first night. I’m pretty sure I’ve never written from such a calm, beautiful place before. Let’s get to it, Lot!
If this is to end in fire, then we should all burn together
If it’s not the global pandemic then it’s fire and flood, all over the world. There are wildfires reported from Montenegro, Croatia, Greece, Turkey… In the 1st week of July, Croatia and Montenegro suffered from almost 40 degrees hit waves, coming from Italy. Seeing that fire burning, passing one small fire right by it was… Still is, paralyzing. I was mesmerized and terrified; heartbroken and in (not the good one) awe. Is nature finally saying it’s enough?
Most fires, including the wild ones, are caused by humans. Leaving garbage behind; making a bonfire and letting it burn after they leave and of course arson are among the most common causes. And just look at the footage from every evening news – fire after fire, burning the green lungs of each continent.
I was over the moon for our road trip vacation. It is an adventure of a lifetime (so far!) and it is full of wonders. But I cannot get that image of fire out of my head. That night, my anxiety filled the cold air in the car. The overwhelming feeling of being completely hopeless about it… It was hard for me to relax. For the rest of the trip through Montenegro, I was looking over the hills to look for signs of smoke. But there is a bright side of each situation, right Lot? On that scorched ground, new trees will grow. Nature has this amazing ability of bouncing back, stronger. It also makes one realize just how much impact our actions, awareness and behavior have on the environment. It’s about the little things, right?
Watch the flames burn auburn on the mountain side
This travel journal will be unlike the memories from Greece. Right now, I am writing this at the camping site, with mountains around me. There is Tara river down below and later today or tomorrow, we will go for rafting. Yet another adventure ahead! But let’s back up to the beginning, shall we? There will be 2 parts of this dairy, one from Croatia and the other from Montenegro (Lucas style, because we started with Plitvickie lakes in Croatia, and then drove to Montenegro for a week, and came back to Croatia on Monday).
We arrived at our apartment on the coast, late on Sunday night. Tired, dirty but happy because we made it and officially started our 2-week vacation. I’ve never actually used all of my vacations like that, but come on. It sounded awesome from the day we started making plans. And the plans changed because of Covid… But hey, if not this year then maybe next? Our apartment was very spacious. Two bedrooms, a large living room, kitchen, bathroom and two balconies with the most amazing view – mountains to the left and sea to the right. Sea and mountains. And the city (Budva) sitting quietly underneath. Needless to say, it took our breath away. Even (or maybe especially?) at night.
But not everything was that smooth from the start – we managed to avoid traffic on our way, except from the one at the border. The border guard checked our passports very thoroughly. And yes, we got the stamps! Second speed bump happened in our apartment – there was a water outage. So, I managed to get into the shower, wash my face and use gel all over my body only to discover, there was no water to wash it all off. We figured out that it happens often at the coast and maybe that night they needed that water to put down the fire…? If so, then it was the greater good. But that was something we did not see coming. Still, we went to bed happy. And tired. Turns out, bed gravity is so much stronger in Montenegro… 😉
Now I see fire, inside the mountain
I see fire, burning the trees
I woke up around 6, just because that’s how my body works lately. Never mind the vacation, I naturally wake up early. 6, 6:30, 7… But I don’t set the alarms. Okay, we had to do that twice so far, but it wasn’t on my phone. So, technically… No alarms for me. And no blow-drying my hair. Hell no. These two things make me truly feel like I can rest and stop worrying about the world.
We woke up and felt no rush to do anything. No rush at all, so by the time we drove to the city to get breakfast, it was lunch time. Our destination was the beach, so right after lunch we started looking for the best spot. As it turned out, Sveti Stefan is one of the most posh and popular destinations while you are on the coast. So, the prices for sun-beds and umbrellas were… High, to say the least. But we managed, as one of the tourists recommended 2 different spots, which were free. And thanks to him, we walked and admired the beautiful view of the island.
We chose to “lay down” on a rocky beach, with our stuff near the water. We all were in desperate need of a swim. And the water in the Adriatic Sea is just wonderful. Not cold but not too hot. Just right, pleasurably chilly. Super salty though, so that first dive was painful for my eyes. But you know what? At that moment, I couldn’t care less. My tired body, tired physically and mentally, needed that float-feeling. The water managed to put down the anxiety fire inside my soul. Not completely, but at least it slowed down the burn. I felt calm.
It was late and there was more and more shadow on the beach, so we decided to go to Budva to explore the food options there. Spoiler alert, there are none. Haha, just kidding but it took us a good 40 minutes to finally settle for sliced pizza. And of course, there was no vegan option for Dominika, despite our best efforts to find something she could enjoy. Even the fires, for Thor’s sake! After grabbing a quick bite, we decided to go back to our apartment to have some wine.
Desolation comes upon the sky
Next day was very challenging. We decided to drive to Kotor, which is famous for its beautiful bay and city walls, that you can climb. And so we did. But first, we walked around the old city, we refilled our waters with tap water (drinkable!) and got some delicious ice cream – I went for peach and watermelon sorbets and oh boy, was that a watermelon sugar high? Sure was.
The city walls looked incredible from the ground. As we began the climb, we did not realize how freaking hard this “hike” would be. Over 1300 steps up. In the sun. Midday sun, so the strongest one. But the views were absolutely breathtaking… And so worth it. Worth every break in the shadow, every sweat drop on my body and the fire inside. It took all of our strength away, so we ate and hit the road back.
Morning came quietly, again with the view that made my heart skip a beat every time. The instant coffee tasted so damn good on that balcony. Thousand times better than from some fancy coffee shop. After all, it came with THE view. After breakfast, we decided to drive to Long beach, as the name indicates, it was a long-ass beach. Like in Greece (or anywhere else, I think) each part of this sandy beach was a different “private” beach with sun-beds. We decided on the spot and paid a reasonable price for the beds. This was a long-awaited moment of chill for everyone. Wanna take a nap? Knock yourself out. Wanna read a book? Be my guest. Going for a swim? Just watch out for the sand, it’s super-hot.
The water was a bit warmer, but there also were waves. This beach is close to Albania’s border and in the distance, we could spot the kite-surfers. This day for me was catching the tan. Not quite there yet, but it’s nothing I won’t handle in Croatia. Wait, where was I? Sorry, I took a break to drink some water (straight from the mountains!) and admired the view. It is all just… Incredible. Landscape in Montenegro changes every 5 minutes. But I will get there, sit tight.
Oh, should my people fall then surely I’ll do the same
On our way back from Coral Beach we drove to a town nearby Ulcinj to grab a bite and it was so crowded! People walking on people, it felt like a truly touristic place. Popular destination, but with wonderful docks? Harbor? We found a great restaurant there and each of us got something good. And hey – this was the first meal I fully finished! Baby steps, right? And I even had some extra space for ice cream. Bang, this is how I roll.
This was our last night on the coast, because we decided to go north. On our way to the camping site, we took a break to see Piva lake, that… Wow, from whichever view point you are looking at it, it’s just mesmerizing. It is an artificial lake, but it’s so blue… Blue-within-blue. Reminded me of Dune. We stopped for food (pizza, pancakes and for Dominika – bread with hummus in the car) and decided to check out other viewpoints. And again – what a breathtaking view…
But the road to the camping site was the most beautiful. Here the landscape was truly changing every 5 minutes. We were driving through the heart of the mountains (Durmitor) and made a stop every 50 meters to take pictures. Incredible, gorgeous and simply natural surroundings slowly put down the fire inside me, completely. No flames of anxiety left. I was fighting with myself not to fall asleep while we were driving, because the views were so damn fine. We arrived at the camp shortly before dark, so we managed to set our tents and we went for an evening snack. And let me tell you – French fries never disappoint. In the restaurant there was live music so we stayed a bit but then we moved outside to start the fire.
Bonfire, haha. We had some wine from the coast and it felt like a bonfire night. It took us (well, not me haha) a minute to get the fire started, but after a while it gave us the most pleasant warmth. We finished the wine and shared stories – scary, fluffy and personal.
SCENE CUT. NEXT SCENE, car drive to Dubrovnik, August 23rd. It’s a beautiful Monday! Hey Lot, so I am really doing this journal style. After 2 days of break, I am back to writing memories from Montenegro. We are on the way, 90 minutes away to our destination seems like a good moment to wrap it up.
And if the night is burning, I will cover my eyes
First night at the camp was… Terrible. None of us anticipated such low temperatures at night. It was around 6 degrees in the morning, and I am pretty sure my feet were blocks of ice. And yes, it was my first time sleeping in a tent. Ever. In total, I slept for maybe 3 hours. Rest of the time, I prayed for that fire to burn closer to the tents, to keep us warm. So yes, morning was rough.
We wanted to do a mountain hike (Planinica) but the local skipper/guide/owner? Told us that the temperature there might be below zero. Yay. None of us thought of that, obviously. Instead, we drove to see Black Lake, which was not black at all. But maybe the name comes from the color of the sand, or rocks? Might be worth checking. Then we decided to climb at least one peak on our way back. At the entrance, they told us it’s a 20-minute walk. And let me tell you the truth – time flies differently in Montenegro, because it took us 40 minutes.
Walking up that trail was so worth it, though… The view on the top was something refreshing. And thought provoking. I kept thinking about that one thing in my life I would do differently a few years back. My life would be different, but would it be the good way? I’m talking about a completely new branch on my personal timeline, and I am not sure. Of course, I believe in the Multiverse. I believe that out there is a Universe, where I took that risk and maybe I would share that mountain top with someone else as well?
For a minute there, I wish this melancholic aura would leave me. After all, I am on vacation, enjoying the break. But it seems like there is no rest for the wicked, especially the wicked hearts. But reflection is a good thing. Things happen for a reason, right? And at the end of the day, it is what it is.
This night was much better, and we all were so tired, we closed the tents at 9:30. We didn’t have much plans for the day, except maybe rafting. But Otmane didn’t feel all that well, so for the better part of the day, we chilled. We chilled and lost track of time. What day is it? I am not sure, but in the end, that is usually my goal during every time off. Forget about the calendar for a minute. Or two.
And I see fire, hollowing souls
I see fire, blood in the breeze
Rafting. Never done this before, so it sounded like an adventure. And since the guy who showed us around was also the skipper at rafting. The overall idea was too fun to miss. The only obstacle was Otmane’s well-being. He still wasn’t 100%. Finally, we decided to split. Marta and I made the decision in 5 seconds. I guess the “5 second rule” actually works…
Okay, so I’ve never done rafting or diving or generally things that require wearing that foam. No surprise, I wore it backwards. But to my defense, it was all under the pressure of time. Everyone in our group was ready, but us. Few minutes later, we were in a bus, driving us to the Tara River. We got our paddles and off we went.
I love how the view changes once you switch the perspective: looking at the river from the bridge was amazing, but seeing it up close… I feel like I am using “breathtaking” a lot, but that’s just how Montenegro is. Really! Cruising gently through the water reminded me of Pocahontas. She was struggling to choose her path, but she was going through the exact same river, no joke.
And of course, it made me think. We all face choices, sometimes not only between 2 things, but multiple. Why is it so hard to pick sometimes? And with other things, like in which mug you will have coffee this morning, is it so easy? The answer is easier than I thought. It all depends on the situation. Maybe one day you will need a coffee in a mug, that will bring out much needed good memories?
Back to rafting, because I am drifting away. The never-stopping train of thoughts really never stops. Now it just slowed down, to enjoy the views. And sun! But rafting on the Tara River is something to recommend. We took the 2 hours route, which is like 12 kilometers. There is also a 5 hours run, which is 30 kilometers down the river. Probably also very cool, and with great views. Oh, and the water is so, so, sooo clear!!!!
Keep careful watch of my brothers’ souls
Sunday was our last day at the camp, and besides going out for late breakfast and coffee, we spent the day chilling in the shade. Playing cards, drinking a lot of water and just enjoying the serenity. Our only order of business was to go up to the bridge and buy magnets and postcards. Oh yes, I still send postcards. It is such a loss, you know? When was the last time you got a postcard from someone? Or a letter? Or a Christmas card?
And when was the last time that you sent something? Lot, it can bring such a beautiful smile one someone’s face. Maybe today is a good day to write a note to someone and send it? Come on, let’s do it together. I can be your pen-pal! Just give me the word. I even bought a turquoise ink! Have you ever really thought about it? You can say so much more in letter, than in text. Even more than in regular conversation.
We are crossing the border of Montenegro, with 40 kilometers to go. Passport control! I hope we will get another stamp.
On our way out of the camp and to Dubrovnik, somewhere in the deeper mountains we saw fire again. Fires, to be exact. Small ones, but still a lot of smoke. I felt alert and really tense, but I think it hits you differently during the daylight. Did I mention how fast the landscape changes here? Like in a kaleidoscope.
I see fire, blood in the breeze
And I hope that you remember me
And I think this is the best way to sum up this beautiful country. Full of contrast, changing shapes and views. When we were leaving the camp, without saying goodbye to our hosts, I felt… Homesick? For this place. For the mountains, for peace and quiet. I will miss the clear night sky, full of stars. Full moon was shining so brightly, it was blinding. I will long for those nights, with crisp cold air, nights we spent around the fire. I will miss the busy coast, but also that feeling of taking a full breath when we arrived in the mountains.
Montenegro is full of surprises, good people, shitty drivers and so-so coffee. Such small sizes of the cup, you know? That was a crime against all coffee-lovers. But I will miss this place dearly. The vibe, the fact that time really did slow down for us. I will miss the wine and deep-fried fish; I will miss the burning-hot water under the showers and no hair-dryer.
It was worth the drive and every euro spent. You know what Lot, I am all for exploring new countries but I think I finally understand people who always come back to that same spot in their lifetime. I thought I had found mine already, but maybe I have space in my heart for more…? I am taking back great memories. Some reflection and familiar – yet completely new – melancholy. Now, off to more adventures in Croatia. Tonight is the night to be the sunflower!
PRACTICAL THINGS ABOUT MONTENEGRO you should know before coming here:
- Montenegro is not in EU, but the currency is Euro. Prices in 2021 are pretty high, which is not surprising given the pandemic and therefore shorter prime season. Cup of coffee is 1,50. Meal depends on what you want, but pizza around 3-6 Euro, risotto 6,90 and pasta about 4,90. Water in the store was around 1 Euro for bottle.
- Accommodation in the coast, 4 nights for 4 people was 250, but with no breakfast included. Manageable. But keep in mind that these spots are usually up the hills, and even though it shows 2 kilometers to the center, it will be 20 minutes drive through all the curves.
- Water outages happen often on the coast. Might be the fire, might be just because. Our host provided us with 5-liters bottles or previously collected tap water to brush our teeth. Or flush the toilet.
- The beaches around Sveti Stefan were public, but to enter you had to pay. The one we skipped was 10 Euro for beds away from the water. First row, so right by the sea, was 40 Euro. There are places with no sun-beds, all within walking distance.
- To use your phone for the Internet, you can buy a local sim card for 10 Euro with 500 GB. Works a treat, especially for GPS. Going through those mountains without a map is a gamble.
- While the coast is beautiful, my heart is beating for the mountains. The entire area of Durmitor National Park is B R E A T H T A K I N G. When planning your trip, make sure you spend some time here. Preferably more time.
- Go camping. First of all, it’s a great adventure. But just for the sake of the views and being mobile! Our camping site charged 5 Euro for one person/night. We stayed 4 nights, but paid for 3.
- And that is another thing – get friendly with LOCALS! Montenegro has great, helpful and kind people. Not drivers haha. On our first night we met a guy, who pointed us to Black Lake and that mountain top, warned us about the weather and recommended waiting a day to have perfect conditions for rafting.
- 2h rafting on Tara river with lunch was 45 Euro (40 without, but you can choose BBQ, chicken, lamb, fish or vegetarian). Like I mentioned, it’s 12 km. The 5h route is 110 Euro (lunch already included) and it is about 30 km. They provide all necessary equipment.
- Be careful with the food. I am not saying it’s bad, but it is heavy for the stomach. Very hard to find vegan options (the most common ones are pizza, pasta and risotto), but the local stores have everything you need to survive. Bigger groceries with musli, milk, fruits, snacks, water and sweets cost us around 30 Euro.
- Don’t expect damn fine coffee. For most of the time, it was just okay.
- If you decide to go camping and sleep in tents, make sure you have some extra layers that will keep you warm. But don’t wear them all at once. Go slowly. I usually started with a tee and one long sleeve, to wake up in 2/3 long sleeves. And 2 pairs of socks. The view, when you open the tent at 6 am though, makes it up.
- Budva, one of the coastal cities, is not really worth visiting. Instead, go to Kotor to walk up the city walls. Do it early in the morning, or 2 hours before the sunset. That is to avoid the sharp sun, and in the evening there is an added bonus – golden hour. And the views are out of this world really.
- DRINK. A LOT. OF. WATER!!!! In most places, the tap water is drinkable (yet again, the one in the mountains wins with the taste). The one place I don’t recommend tap water, is at the coast. With the outages, it’s not worth the risk.
- Take a minute to enjoy the views. Take as many stops as you want. Be in no rush! Each view is different. Take it all in and remember to breathe. Fill your lungs to the fullest.
We are now waiting to enter Croatia. There is slight traffic, but that is okay. Our second stop in this country is Dubrovnik. A place where some scenes from Game of Thrones were shot! Cool, but I haven’t seen this show yet. You might think, why is it already a second stop? We arrived in Croatia on Saturday and visited Plitvicke Lakes. But this will come in the next part of the travel journal. Stay tuned for all the good bits!