Monday, 5 August 2013

The Black Mountains Of The Balkans – Day 3

Tuesday 23rd July 2013 – Djalovica Canyon & The Happy Machine

Total Distance: 12.83km / Total Ascent: 324m / Total Descent: 318m

A much shorter walk was scheduled for today, from the village of Bistrica into the Djalovica Canyon, up to the St Nicholas Church and back – a round trip of about 13k.

High Street, Bistrica

An early mist had already burned off by shortly after breakfast, and the day was warming up nicely as we took the short 4WD transfer to Bistrica.

Walking beside the Bistrica river

We left the village along a road beside the Bistrica river. Soon, the asphalt gave way to a rough track that rose through woods, across open hillsides and past farms as we made our way deeper into the canyon.

Farm in the Djalovica Canyon

After around an hour or so of wandering through scenes of bucolic beauty, we stopped at an attractive-looking farm. Here we were invited in for rakija and coffee, and were given the opportunity to look round. Unlike Laništa, which was a katun (summer dwelling), this was a traditional lowland farm. We got to meet the family and had the chance for a brief insight into farming and the way of life in these parts.

Chatting with the family

Coffee with friends

Land girl

Making hay while the sun shines

In use, the haystacks are sliced like a cake

The farm and outbuildings

A variety of building techniques and materials 

After a look at some of the buildings, farming methods, tools and livestock, we were introduced to the Happy Machine.

The Happy Machine

We sampled some of the produce and, with half a litre of the good stuff tucked away in our luggage, we definitely left a little happier than when we arrived! It is interesting to note at this point just how much of a part context can play in the appreciation of such things. In the cold light of day, our purchase looked less like a lovingly crafted artisan product and more like a half litre of wee-coloured liquid of questionable flavour, with a kick somewhat akin to Nitromors. It was, indeed, an unsubtle brew, more than capable of putting the ‘blind’ into ‘blind taste test’.

Beautiful woodland

Moving on, we followed the track through cool, shady woods. Then, below us, we came upon the 17th Century St Nicholas Church, tucked away at the point where the canyon narrowed to a tight gorge.

St Nicholas Church

To hide the church from invading Turks, it had been deliberately sited in an out-of-the-way place and disguised as a simpler dwelling, so as to avoid detection and sacking.

Internal decoration 1

Internal decoration 2

Frescoes on the outer wall

Dimitrije was surprised to find the church open: in ten previous visits he had not been able to go inside. Had it not been for the imminent arrival of a wedding party, we would have been out of luck again. The frescoes and decoration were beautiful, and we were allowed to look round, learn a bit about the history of the place and even take a few photographs.

The bell tower

From the back

Lunch in the church grounds 

A slightly overgrown path took us down through the woods to the river, crossing a precarious wooden bridge to reach the far bank. The valley itself is beautiful – a steep-sided limestone gorge, a wild aspect, a sparkling mountain torrent tumbling at the base – but in recent times, the original path has been devastated and replaced with a bulldozed track. A shame, because otherwise it would have been idyllic.

Looking into the gorge

Rickety bridge

Tumbling mountain stream

New bulldozed track

Back in Bistrica, we had a beer at the same bar as yesterday before returning to the villa. Tonight’s dinner was to be taken at a restaurant in Bijelo Polje. We had soup, beef and potatoes and cheesecake, and followed this up with a walk round town and a beer. A basketball tournament was in progress, and we stopped to watch the local side lose narrowly 2-1 in a close-fought contest.

For some, travel is about trekking, scenery and wildlife. For others, it’s about people, tradition, food and culture. Either way, this trip delivers both – and is all the better for it.

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