Thursday 19th June 2014
My mission for today is to climb that mountain. Usually a very active person at home, my body is craving exercise. I had no idea what the mountain or the trail was called, just knew it had to be conquered. I wake up at 8am to unrelenting sheet rain. I fluff about for an hour undecided on my course of action. I had misplaced my umbrella on the night I ended up sleeping in a bus in Cavtat and had not yet acquired a raincoat of any kind. No matter how I leave the house, I am going to get wet. But alas, the heavens looked fondly upon me and the skies clear. I take a hike to the bus stop in Tivat and ask about a bus to Kotor. The lady takes my money and points behind me at a waiting bus. We set off in the wrong direction. After it is plainly obvious that we aren’t turning around I ask a guy next to me “uh, so is this bus going to Kotor?” He told me we were going the opposite way that I was used to, around the bays, but yes we are. After chilling out and taking a look out the window I have never been more appreciative that we were taking the long way. I guess it was similar to going round the bays in Wellington, except here the buildings were all hundreds of years old. I see fat fisherman sitting on jetties hoping to get lucky, brightly coloured rowboats in need of a paint job and churches. Quaint stone churches at every turn. All this set against the green canvas of the lulling ocean.
The journey fuels a desire for a more simple life than the one I know I’m going to have, and it’s not the first time. I couldn’t count the number of occasions in the past three weeks that I have daydreamed about owning only hippy pants and opening up a hostel of my own on an organic farm. But I guess the one thing I have learned is that everything in this world is about balance.
When I arrive in Kotor, half an hour later than I was expecting to, I was so angsty about climbing the hill that all sensible thoughts involving such things as rain jackets had escaped from my one track mind. I arm myself with three apricots, two packets of chips and two chocolate bars to last me through the day.
There is no one else about and I start out on the zigzags. Although the hill is high, there are many turns, meaning the the terrain is deceivingly easy walking. I keep a steady pace but also take my time, frequently stopping to listen to what might be rustling in the bushes, looking at new plants, admiring the view etc. As I’m about to round another corner, there is a sudden SLITHER of movement in front of me. “F*******************CK!!!” Is the first, very loud thing to come out of my mouth as I hastily stumble backwards from a skinny brown SNAKE that I have disturbed during his morning sunbathing. Now we don’t have snakes in New Zealand and although I’ve lived in Australia for the last two and a half years, I have never encountered a snake in the wild. I quickly go back the way I have come, but the snake is probably more alarmed than I am and after doing a bit of hissing, slithers away between the cracks. Now the practical thoughts are a-flowing. I have no idea what to do with a snake bite and I’ve got no clue what the number for emergencies is in Montenegro. At this point I pick up a rock. It’s my snake rock for any future encounters. I’m thinking it will at least buy me a few more seconds if I find one that actually wants to eat me. From now I take a second glance at every single stick in my path and I’m not so keen on investigating every single bush rustle.
I stop for a snack after about an hour. I’m now looking over the old city walls and admiring some goats grazing nearby. I’m pretty stoked with my progress. The lady at the info place said yesterday that this would take me 5-6 hours but I reckon I’m nearly half way and it hasn’t even been an hour and a half. I climb and climb until I’m level with the clouds. The old town has now disappeared and I feel a bit like I’m in Avatar – all cliffs and fog.
I can’t exactly see the top but I’m pretty sure it can’t be far away. I’ve now spotted another hiker about 500 metres below me who dropped onto the trail from the old city. Nice to know should shit really hit the fan. I get to a small fence that blocks off the trail. Is this designed to stop people going further? It isn’t hard to get around and there’s no way I’m turning back before I get to a peak so I plod on. A few hundred metres after this was where I thought the peak was from my view yesterday. Not so much. I round the other side of the mountain and see another challenge. I would say I see another summit but the fog is so low that I can’t. By this time the scenery has changed pretty drastically. Where before I was hiking zig-zag style up an open hillside, now I am looking at a very green forest. The trail changes from stones to dirt. I’m a little bit nervous about proceeding. I’ve got no idea what’s up there. In my head there are lots of mountain cats waiting to get me. No one knows I’m here and I’m not sure if I’m event meant to have come this far, although the trail markers are reassuring.
At the entrance to the woods I decide I need to make friends. I wait for my fellow traveller to catch up. Meet Scott, a 27 year old social entrepreneur from Texas. I like him instantly. I also like that he has a raincoat and the kind of backpack that says “I got this hiking business down”. Scott tells me we are hiking the Maraton Trail and he had had it recommended by a friend. We only have to go about 100m before we meet a fork. And a sign posted fork at that. This is the first signpost I’ve seen. The signs indicate two summits, both about the same distance away. With no idea which path to take Scott takes a stick, spins it in the air and we take the direction it points upon landing. Left it is, and our peak is 1657m. Not too bad considering we started at sea level.
The chat comes easy as we hike through the woods, see streams and scramble over rocks. I think we are both glad for the company. I am doubly glad after passing a red sign reading “danger” pointing in the direction that we are going.
We are well and truly in the clouds now and when we look down, we can’t see the way we have come. It is also a lot colder up here. I start to notice a few curious things; an abundance of old tires and car ruins down the cliff side, a man made bridge when I thought we were ages away from civilisation, general rubbish and, is that a car I can hear? Our path leads us right onto a road. A very foggy road. So foggy that when we hear cars coming, we can’t actually see them until the headlights emerge about 10m in front of us. Unfortunately this is as good a summit as we are going to get. We sit on the wall and stare at the view we are never going to see and compare our crappy lunches. No complaints though, it all tastes good when you’re dripping with sweat after 3-4 hours of hiking.
It’s so cold that I put on my piss poor excuse of a jumper, anxious to keep moving again. We think the spray painted writing on the cliff face is telling us to walk down the road. We decide that maybe it would be easier to hitch back to Kotor. We try, but of the three or four cars that are going in the right direction, none stop for us. We probably walk for about 500m, passing through an eerie cave-like tunnel before another makeshift sign tells us we need to pop back onto the mountain side. We figure this is the other peak option, and that this part of the track is just a loop.
We start heading down and about ten minutes in the skies well and truly open right up. I hastily take my jumper off so at least I have something dry to change into when this is done and Scott kindly offers to attach my backpack to his and wear them both under his jacket. What a guy! I am left wearing a singlet and gym leggings. Within about ten minutes it honestly looks as though I have jumped in a lake. Everything is glued to my body. I’m not freezing so there is nothing to do except laugh. For about 15 minutes I just giggle to myself. Hiking 101 = coat. IDIOT. We trek for nearly an hour in the water. I’m devastated we don’t have any photos of exactly how wet we are. Operating non water proof cameras or i-Anythings weren’t an option unfortunately!
We decide to link up with the old city walls, the way Scott had come, instead of taking the trail to the bottom. I’m glad because this route has a goat infested derelict church and mine didn’t.
By the time we arrive back at Scott’s hostel we are both ravenous. And freezing. We inhale two colossal pizza slices and I take myself to a cab. 10 x the price of the bus, but I think the buses run relatively infrequently and after my round trip this morning I don’t want to risk it. Just too dam cold. At my hostel, I see Mr Romania chilling in the common area. I assumed he would have checked out by now. I pour myself some hot water, swallow my pride, bite the bullet and go and make friends with the most intimidatingly good-looking person I have ever seen in my life (sorry Adrian!). Meet Jack. British born and playing rugby in Romania. We swap a few travel stories thus far. He tells me he went out last night with an Egyptian guy that he met on the bus on the way here. Well, there can only be a certain amount of Egyptian guys en route to Montenegro and yes re-enter Mohammad, the guy I had met at the bus station in Dubrovnik a few days earlier. Jack says he has plans to meet up with him tonight to watch England v Uruguay (soccer world cup) with some others he has befriended in the hostel. I invite myself to the party and in about four hours time we have one Dane, a French couple, Jack the Brit that lives in Romania, a Croatian diplomat based in Montenegro, Mohammad the Egyptian and me, a Kiwi living in Australia. If only we had a pub quiz to go to I’m sure we would clean up. We watch the English get defeated then after a few more rum and cokes head back to the hostel. There is a bit of chat going on in the common area. I stay for a bit but escape to the piano from the smokers then bale shortly after when I struggle to remember the chords to the one song I can remember.