Author: damirk

Vrsuta – Where the Home Is

Vrsuta – Where the Home Is

The most famous quote on Montenegro is written by a British poet Lord Byron: “At the moment of the creation of our planet, the most beautiful merging of land and sea occurred at the Montenegrin seaside. When the pearls of nature were sworn, an abundance of them were strewn all over this area.”

View on Montenegro coast from top of Vrsuta
Merging of the Mountains and the Sea

It is not known from where Lord Bayron was seeing this merging at the moment of inspiration but the best guess is from some of the amazing viewpoints above Bay of Kotor. And it goes without discussion that magical view on Bay of Kotor is a true masterpiece of the creator (regardless of how you imagine him). However, he could also be standing at the top of Vrsuta and would be almost equally impressed with a way mountains emerging from the sea.

Vrsuta is a mountain rising 1,183m above sea level just in the hinterland of the small Mediterranean city of Bar. Bar, including a suburban area of Sutomore, is the city completely surrounded by mountains from three sides, while largely opened to the Adriatics on the southwest. Tucked between the mountains while constantly receiving fresh Mediterranean air, it has, during a whole year,  pleasant climate conditions with 270 sunny days per year on average. It is a famous saying of one of the city governor appointed during the period when the city was under Ottoman empire, who,  after returning from a trip to Istanbul said: “There is no such place like Bar in the entire empire”.

Bar

From top of Vrsuta, at least for me, is the most beautiful view on Bay of Bar, since you are high enough, but yet, close enough to the sea and city itself. This is not the case with some of higher popular peaks around Bar like Lisinj and Rumija. Even considerable higher, they are also more distanced from the coast, giving you less sense of power and respect while enjoying the view on the bay. It is definitively one of the most valuable peaks when it comes to effort/reward ratio. In order to enjoy in spectacular view where Subadriatic Dinarides meets the Adriatic Sea it will only require 45 minutes walk in total distance of 3 km while starting walking point is just 18 km from center of the Bar and can be easily reached by car. If you want to experience in person what Lord Byron was writing about, you should definitely come to this place.

Alternatively, you can ride a bike if you are in average shape you will get to Sutorman saddle in 2  hours. From this point, riding a bike uphill to top of Vrusta will be hard, so I advise to push it by you. You can afterward, ride all the way downhill, but still, would recommend having at least MTB with front suspension.

In case you decide to hike during September you can pour and eat blackberries and corals along the way. Both perfect ingredients for homemade jam. Wildlife is not so richfull but from time to time you can catch scorpions or spiders.

Views on two out of three highest subadriatic mountains Rumija and Lovcen and also Skadar Lake are leaving you breathless.

Recently, an information could be read in the media that after Montenegro join NATO, a system of military radars will be installed on the top of Vrsuta. Putting a piece of equipment on such unique place and restrict ordinary people coming here ever again, could be at some level, considered as a “crime against humanity”. Even if you put the most sophisticated artificial intelligence software inside the machine it will still be a piece of metal, unable to sense Mediterranean winds blowing over the peaks, or to enjoy in almost everyday magical sunsets and sense a feel of calmness, power, and respect while watching a dance of the Mountain and the Sea.

Even though my personal opinion is that Montenegro will have, at the front line, significant economic benefits of joining the alliance, however, I strongly disagree to decision to install military equipment on the place as beautiful as this one. There are plenty other not so attractive peaks that can be used for such purpose and hope that decision makers will reconsider finding an alternative location even though construction price will probably be higher having in mind Vrusta easy accessibility. However, everyone who at least once stood on top of this peak knows that experience is truly priceless. For me it is an ultimate place of peace and security and would like to be kept as it is, unspoiled by any kind of construction and machinery.

 

Exceptional Diversity of Durmitor!

Exceptional Diversity of Durmitor!

Hiking dates: 15. – 16. August 2016

Out of many hiking routes which you may choose when staying on Durmitor, this one certainly leaves the most powerful impression, mainly because of its diversity and everything you get to see during the hike, including flora, wildlife and quite astonishing and almost surreal scenery. Tijana and I have been planning to take this hike for some time, and finally, on 15th of August, 2016 followed by a nice weather we headed into this amazing adventure.

Hiking starts beneath Durmitor’s village Bosaca, passes near Zminje Lake (Snake’s Lake) and goes further to Planinica peak, down to Skrka Lakes Valley and ends at Susica Hut, at the very heart of Susica Canyon. GPX log is available for download here.

GPX file for hike from Bosaca to Susica Valley, over Planinica and Skrka
Entire route GPX log

This hiking route requires certain logistic since almost diagonally intersect Durmitor and ends on the other side of this magnificent mountain range. In order to return from Susica Canyon, you will need to arrange someone to pick you up or call a taxi. We paid 30 EUR for a 25km ride back to Zabljak. I suggest arranging price of a ride in advance in order to avoid being overcharged. Also, since it is a two-day hiking route you will need equipment for sleeping over at Skrka Lakes Valley, where you have the option to stay in a mountain hut or bring your own tent.

Hiking starts at the altitude of 1528m, with a flat walk through deep pine forest, ideally for warming up. At the very beginning, if you have not been already, it is definitely worth to take a short detour and see magical Zminje Lake (Snake’s Lake), one of 18 glacial lakes found on Durmitor. Don’t be afraid, the name was given because of fallen pine trees which look like snakes emerging from the lake.

Snake's Lake (Zminje jezero) at Durmitor
Zminje jezero (Snake’s Lake)

After 2.3km we started ascending while making a transition from pine to dense mixed beech and silver birch forest. This transition point is named Poljanak – grassy field with an amazing view on Crvena Greda (Red Shelf) Peak. Such name was given due to beautiful red light which reflects from this spectacular shelf during sunrises. It resembles bit on Yellowstone El Capitan. So, before starting to ascend take a moment and enjoy the view.

At the end of the forest, at 3.3km from the starting point, you will reach Crepulj Poljana (1648m) – another grassy field with two decrepit shepherd’s cottages. It is a nice, calm place, perfect for a family picnic or if you just want to come deep into nature and read a book in a shade.

Grassy field called Crepulj poljana
Crepulj poljana

Next part of the route leads up to Donja Alisnica Valley (1931m) and continues to Gornja Alisnica Valley (2064m). Those two valleys used to be places where people from Durmitor area brought animals for feeding during summer months. Tijana’s mom used to come here as a child to help her parents with guarding animals, so it was quite emotional for her to hike along the path of her ancestors. Nowadays you can see wild goats and horses running down the valleys, astonishing scenery, resembling on scenes from Lord of the Rings movie.

Finally, after the 7.6km hike, we reached a top of Planinca (2330m). Best views come with the price – effort! The reward for invested effort definitively goes beyond our expectations. We are hypnotized by magical landscapes unfolds in front of us. The most beautiful view on Skrka Lakes Valley is from this peak, and you can also see the highest peak of Durmitor – Bobotov Kuk on the left, as well as the second highest peak – Bezimeni vrh (Nameless Peak). On the other side of Skrka Lakes Valley is magnificent Prutas. Between Prutas and Bobotov Kuk our sight is captured by Sareni Pasovi (Colorful Layers), behind of which you can see Krnovo plateau, also known as Montenegrin Tibet, with its recently installed windmills. On the west Susica Canyon is visible as well as Bosnian mountain Maglic.

After having a lunch and hot fresh tea prepared at the top of Planinica, we headed a descent down to Skrka Lakes Valley. The shortest way leads directly from Planinica peak and is quite steep so we move at really slow pace and quite carefully, having in mind all the time that we carry heavy backpacks, and a small mistake could roll us all the way to Large Skrka Lake. During our descent, we made short breaks in order to take photos and enjoy beautiful view on the valley. Luckily, we did not test Newton’s law and safely arrived at the mountain hut. Skrka Lake Valley is an absolutely unique place, settled deep into the heart of Durmitor massive. I will write more about it in a separate blog post.

Mountain hut has four sleeping areas, one used by rangers working at National Park Durmitor. Unfortunately, rooms were quite messy and dirty. Even though we did not expect that comfort in the hut would be like in a four-star hotel, but I saw stalls which looked cleaner. Also, the ranger was not helpful since he was not informed whether route toward Susica Canyon is passable. Do not expect from rangers to know the English language. Anyhow, knowing local language did not help us anyway.  Skrka Lake Valley is After settling, we took a short swim in Small Skrka Lake. However, it was already a sunset, and the lake was in a shade for some time so it was a little bit more refreshing than expected. To wrap up the day, Tijana made delicious risotto so we enjoyed dinner while having an amazing view on moonrise over Sareni Pasovi (Colourful Layers).

Moonrise over Sareni pasovi (Colorful Layers)
Moonrise over Sareni pasovi (Colorful Layers)

The next day we continue our journey, feeling a little bit tired from the previous day and also not having enough sleep due to the noise made by mountain rats. Next time we will definitely go with camping option. Quickly we leave the Valley and start to descend in order to enter  Susica Canyon.

Susica Canyon Entrance from the side of Skrka Lake Valley
Susica Canyon Entrance

This is one of the four canyons surrounding  Durmitor and is quite impressive. It is long 14km, but in order to reach Susica Hut we only need to walk for about 4km after entering the Canyon. Enough to be completely in love with this magical place. While going through layers of pine, beech and silver birch forest we enjoy forest bathing and listening sounds of river Susica, feeling completely like Alice in Wonderland. River Susica goes underneath the surface for most of its course, so this part of the canyon is easy to go by without canyoning equipment. Before going on the hiking we were warned to watch out for bears since they could be found in Susica Canyon. However, there was no sign of them, we only saw a couple of frogs.

Researches show that forest bathing is quite beneficial for our health and may have a preventive effect on cancer generation and development. In Japan, a forest bathing trips are regarded as being similar to natural aromatherapy.

After 8km walking on the second day, we arrived at end of the route at Susica Hut, while going over drained Susica Lake. We felt tired, but relaxed, calm and satisfied.

Drained Susica Lake
Susica Lake – end of route

What surprised me the most is the fact that during this hike, namely second part from Skrka Lake Valley to Susica Canyon, we have not met a single human being, in the midst of hiking season! Normally at this time of year, you can see a lot of hikers from all over the world at various Durmitor’s routes, but this one seems to be somehow forgotten, despite its exceptional diversity.

If you have limited time to spend on Durmitor and want to take at least one hiking tour – look no further, this is the one!

Elevation profile for route from Bosaca to Susica Valley
Elevation profile
Galician Language or Did Lorca Dedicate His Verses to More Than One City?

Galician Language or Did Lorca Dedicate His Verses to More Than One City?

Written by: Vancho

In Galician, for us as much unusual as it is unknown, ria signifies a bay. Not just an ordinary, normal bay – as a certain form of water area that penetrates deep into the mainland, and is left alone there; and as it goes deeper it’s getting more and more lost, resting in the mercy of the land. However, a creation of ria goes backward. The land in coastal areas is under the surveillance of the high and massive hills and mountains, whose highest peak is often found directly above the roots of the mountains, looking like the New York’s skyscrapers, with uneven and unpolished sides. The incline is almost vertical. This is the land that is gradually sinking. As Venice. Some say this happens due to an erosion of the land or the sinking of the river mouth. These are geologists, species that belong to the order of scientists. While others are more inclined to say that afraid, the land wants to run and hide and therefore it sinks below the water, allowing it to be a cover. Let the water behold all that height, force and power. These “others” are poets, the kind of enthusiasts that belong to the order of artists.

Seagulls flying through the Bay of Kotor
Seagulls flying through the Bay

Scientists often, reluctantly, say to the latter – “come on, they still live in XIX century”, while artists, reluctantly too, refer to the first ones – “We live in the XXI century, and they still do not feel a thing”. Mutual accusations still haven’t brought any valuable outcome, other than relentless disputes among two groups accusing each other and discussing the century each group lives in. That can be useful only for time travelers, i.e. for very, very small number of people. However, Venice, at least for now, has only scientific explanations for its sinking. The assumption that Venice itself decided to disappear because it is located in the ugliest part of the Adriatic Sea is refuted as arbitrary. In that case, let’s say, Southampton should have been under the water a long time ago (every similarity with Southampton in Great Britain is coincidental).

Bay of Kotor

However, that land that sank in order to give over its place to water, regardless of the reason, helped the creation of one of the most beautiful rias in the world. By the way, Adriatic Sea has one more bay, in Istra, Croatia, which is called Lim. This one, of fantastic and unbelievable shape is called Boka Kotorska. Or just Boka, if you prefer. It is composed of four small bays, whose names are derived from the names of the larger cities nearby: Herceg Novi, Tivat, Risan and Kotor; and of two gorges: Kumbor straits and Verige passage. The Verige passage, whose width is 300 m, was named by the chains (that is the translation of “verige” in Montenegrin) which were used in medieval times for locking up the bay, sometimes for administrative reasons, but more often because of pirate attacks. The average depth is around 30 m. Nevertheless, and despite everything else, huge transoceanic cruisers do not omit the chance to peek into this naturally carved beauty, which has its tranquility founded under the slopes of the mountains Lovcen and Orjen. This region, legendary recognized for the largest amount of rainfall in Europe, is in fact, rather arid. This is a paradox. But, rainwater very easily slides through the steep rocks, and in high speed, via an underground river, it directly escapes either into the sea or it suddenly and fearlessly comes to the surface as a spring, creating a small unique oasis. Exactly that plunge of rivers in distant past caused the creation of the valleys that were surrounded by mountains on the one side, and open to the sea, on the other. This is how bays called ria, were formed, whose name originated from the word – river. Countless underground rivers in countless years, in creating subtle cracks in the cliffs and unobserved shifting the land, left us as a legacy – Boka, desired by all, but given to none – “the bride of the Adriatic”.

Kotor Bay as know as The Bride of the Adriatic
Boka – “The Bride of the Adriatic”

Since the ancient ages, life in this area was organized and settlement existed. First data of mention of Risan, as historians say, date back to the end of III century B. C. In roman – Illyrian wars, queen Teuta had to surrender and retreat to a stronghold city called Risinium, i.e. Risan. From the Romans, Byzantines and the Goths, up until the arrival of the Slavs, this small part of the sea and mountains, depth and height, was the subject of desire of conquerors, various pirates, and warriors, emperors, and imperators. Venetians ruled over these areas in the period from the beginning of the XV c. to the late XVIII c, which left a permanent mark on the entire bay, especially on the appearance, the outer look of the settlements. This particularly refers to Kotor, whose old city was completely constructed under the influence of the Venetian architecture, with walls, gates, and towers that are preserved even today, which appear monumental and even the UNESCO recognized it as a historical cultural heritage.

Bay of Kotor and Old City of Kotor under UNESCO heritage
Old City of Kotor under UNESCO heritage

Various roots lead to Boka. By boat – either by cruiser, yacht or small boat: wriggling through narrow passages and watching how the sunlight plays on the green hills and rocky mountains as a painter who skillfully creates the eternity on canvas. By road – either by bus, car or bike: riding the winding streets, which almost merge with the water, feeling the smell of the sea, seaweed, and shellfish while your eyes are blinded by the beauty of the centuries-old houses. Driving all of the 107 km long coastline of this southernmost fjord, as some affectionately like to address Boka, leaves a lasting and unforgettable impression. Alternatively, come down to Boka from Lovćen, the old and narrow road overwhelmed with serpentines, where the view is eagles-worthy. The road that connects Kotor with Cetinje over Njeguši (the birthplace of the Petar II Petrović Njegos – the most famous Montenegrin ruler, philosopher, and poet, who lived from 1813 – 1851) looks like when we are going from the ground to the top floor of that New York’s skyscraper. Like we are going way up the sky. Wherever we go, up or down, we remain astonished and impressed by the ambiance, nature, and view. The phrase ‘catch the moment’ was created right here.

Bay of Kotor as seen from Njegusi
Boka – as seen from the National Park Lovcen

Even though we cannot believe that something like this exists – still, it does. Boka can be used as a proof for one of next three facts:

  1. God exists and he created the world. Since something like Boka cannot be created in any other way.
  2. Nature, by itself, can perform the miracles.
  3. Slartibartfast,* while making the fjords of Norway, decided to transfer one of them in warmer and more pleasant part of the world.
The Creation of Boka – 3 facts

Even though, it seems to us that if we accepted one of the possibilities that would exclude the other two, there are cases when someone accepts all three options. From the other side, there is not a verified case where someone doesn’t accept at least one of the alternatives.

To find out and to visit a place as Boka represents a blessing. It is impossible to remain indifferent while observing the creation of something that impressive, with its history and its indescribable beauty. Physically, we feel helpless in front of the power and size of the area, while spiritually we are completely tranquil and feel safe as a baby in parent’s arms.

On the other side, leaving Boka is impossible. We stay connected to it as the past is linked to yesterday. Even when we physically leave, the enthusiasm of the encounter is still in us and it never fades. It gradually weakens, at the speed which doesn’t allow it to completely disappear before we come back again. Others do not have this kind of problems – they let go and never leave Boka Kotorska. They live in it and with it and together they create unerasable sensations, they melt and become an inseparable unity. When you come for the first time to Boka, you can feel this it in the movement of its people-Bokelji, and on their faces.

Leaving Boka is impossible

Galician is used by slightly less than three million people who mostly live in Spanish province Galicia that is situated in the north-west corner of the European continent. The Northern border of Portugal took care for it in order not to be lashed by the waves that travel all day long over the Atlantic Ocean. Poet with don-quixotic ideas, who did not form Galicia and whose name was Lorca, had written few poems in their language. Stanzas of one of them, which was dedicated to one city, but seems like as it is written to Kotor, too.

It is raining in Santiago

my darling one.

The rain,

a white camellia

shining darkly beneath the sun**


*One of the characters in Douglas Adams’ “The Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy”

**We rely on Neil Andersons’ translation, even though we are aware of the Italian proverb that says ‘if woman and translation are pretty then they are not faithful, and if they are faithful then they are not pretty’. Nevertheless, we are also aware of that the proverbs are often unfounded generalizations and Italians more than often groundless chauvinist.

Amazing Valleys of Prokletije!

Amazing Valleys of Prokletije!

Hiking dates: 21. – 22. September 2016

The reason why Prokletije are marked as one of the last undiscovered places in Europe may, at least to some extent, lies in its not so convenient accessibility. Montenegro is the country without a single meter of a highway and there are two roads lead to this spectacular mountain range if you are coming from the capital of Podgorica. One, shorter by distance but more exhausting, since the quality of the road is poor and terrain mountainous. We used this one to reach Prokletije. It goes over Kolasin and Tresnjevik to Andrijevica and this part of the road is particularly tricky since you are forced driving approximately 40 kph during most of the distance. The second one that we used for going back goes over Berane, and even though is 50km longer it is more pleasant for driving and takes less time. Regardless of the chosen option you will need approximately three and a half hours to reach Gusinje (small city closest to Prokletije mountain range, located just 5 km north from Rapojana Valley and 7 km north-east from Grebaja Valley). It is almost unbelievable how the country did not recognize potential of this unique place and did something to promote it and make it easy for the tourist to come, spend time and enjoy in what is officially recognized as fifth National Park in Montenegro (as of 2009). Montenegro is the fourth European country by percentage of protected area (7,9% of total country area). Only Iceland, France and UK have higher protected areas in relations to a total territory.

National Park Prokletije
National Park Prokletije

According to the legend name Prokletije (Cursed Mountain) was given based on a story of three brothers who lived poorly beneath the mountain range and every day went into the mountain for hunting. One day they saw a fairy and immediately were captivated by her astonishing beauty. While fighting each other over her heart all three lost their lives. After few days of searching for her children, a mother was visited by the fairy who told her what happened with her sons. Devastated mother cursed the fairy and entire mountain range was named after her.

Prokletije (Cursed Mountain) - name given by the legend
Prokletije (Cursed Mountain)

We only have two days at disposable so we want to be as efficient as possible and see the mountain’s most beautiful highlights. A good friend from this area who knows the mountain well advised us that for the first time we should focus on two valleys, Rapojana and Grebaja. That’s exactly what we did! The weather forecast was not so promising since rain was announced for the first day and additionally, gigantic mountains like Prokletije have its own microclimate, which usually means that if there are clouds anywhere near the mountain they will be easily attracted. So, even though a little skeptical we were also excited at the same time since this means that Prokletije’s (Cursed Moutain) drama will be even more enhanced by weather itself, which ultimately means that we are going to create some pretty much compelling and astonishing photos. Adrenalin kicks in and as we parked the car at the very entrance in Rapojana Valley this is the first scenery we saw.

Entrance in Rapojana Valley in the Naitional Park of Prokletije
Entrance in Rapojana Valley

I have only see the Alps from the distance and on photos, but there it was, right in front of me, incredible resemblance, standing, the most beautiful wallpaper sceneries, just a couple of hours driving from home and yet it took me over 30 years to discover it. This is not something that I am proud of. Only later I learned that Prokletije are also called as “Southern Alps of Europe”. Rapojana Valley is incredibly beautiful! On the very entrance on the right side od the Valley you can see waterfall Grlja, just 50 meters from the restaurant. The route goes further in the valley following the right bank of the river Skakavica. The river spring known as Oko Skakavice (Eye of Skakavica) is a must see place in Rapojana Valley. You will reach it after 1.5 km of a walk from the waterfall. The name was given because of its shape and crystal clear blue color. It is deep 8 meters and the water is so cold (around 5 degrees celsius) that you need to warm it up in order to drink it.

As we are living Rapojana Valley we are already overwhelmed with a feeling of satisfaction and had a sense of fear that we already saw the best of Prokletije and that remaining part would not be so compelling. But we were wrong. The rain was falling while we were approaching our next station – Grebaja Valley, equally imposing and spectacular! Grassy field surrounded by 600-meter tall “walls” gives a sense of extraordinary calmness and security. This is just a perfect place to play “Peace” by Paul Kelly.

Entrance to Grebaja Valley in the National Park of Prokletije
Grebaja Valley Entrance

In the morning we had a breakfast and short thinking on what to do on our second and the last day here at least for this time. Weather is still not so favorable but we decide to give it a try and went on hiking while the clouds were still wrapping up all the peaks above Grebaja Valley. The majority of the Prokletije hiking routes starts from this point. So if you are planning to try more of them during the same visit than it is a good idea to stay at one of two eco-villages in the Valley. We choose to climb Volusnica (1879m). Volusnica is an entry level route when it comes to hiking on Prokletije. It does not require any special technical skills and if you are in some average hiking shape you will be able to do it without a problem. The first half of route goes through beech forest, after which you reach meadow and start second, slightly heavier part of the route over steep sides of Volusnica. But as previously said nothing to worry about. After 4km of hiking, we reached the top. It took us 2 hours including breaks for taking photos. From Volusnica is the best view on Karanfili peak (Carnation Peak). Also, several other peaks are clearly visible like Karaula, Talijanka, Popadija and also Valley of Plav and Gusinje in the distance.

While we were going down clouds were going up leaving Grebaja Valley entirely visible for the first time since our arrival.

Grebaja Valley in the National Park of Prokletije
Grebaja Valley

Prokletije are the perfect weekend getaway. Pack up your things on Friday after work and set out to “Southern Alps of Europe”! Recently a new road was opened through Albania, which significantly reduces the amount of time needed to reach Prokletije. Even though you need to cross border two times in order to come to Gusinje it is still more convenient than to go around.