Sunday 4 August 2013

The Black Mountains Of The Balkans – Day 2

Monday 22nd July 2013 - Crhalj to Bistrica

Total Distance: 22.34km / Total Ascent: 826m / Total Descent: 1221m

Next morning, after a large breakfast, we transferred by 4WD to a neighbouring valley and were dropped off near the village of Crhalj. Today’s walk was to take us up on to high ground to follow a ridge through villages and past farms to finally descend to the village of Bistrica.

Looking back to Bjelasica Mountain

We began by following a clear track that wound in a steady rise past houses and farms, as the views gradually began to open up. It seemed like we had been going hardly any time at all before we called in at a house for juice, blackberries and homemade cheese.

Crhalj gateway

I don’t suppose we were actually in need of the food, but these stops did give us a chance to meet the real families who live and work in these villages, and provided a brief insight into their way of life.

Giant haystack

Beyond the village, the gradient abruptly steepened. It was by no means the hottest time of the day, but as we were still in need of some acclimatisation the combination of heat and terrain reduced us all to puffing slowly up the hill.

Flower-filled meadows

As we approached the flatter ground of the ridge, shady woodland gave way to flower-filled meadows, and the air teemed with butterflies. Before long we reached an open area dotted with farms, where villagers were herding sheep and cutting hay. A swift drink stop near the edge of a steep cliff afforded great views over the surrounding countryside.

Distant mountains

By following a series of tracks along the ridge, we gradually worked our way up to a high point of about 1300m near the village of Negobratina. A grassy hillside made for a great rest stop. Lunch, delivered by Musa in the 4WD, consisted of the largest bread rolls any of us had ever seen stuffed with smoked beef, cheese, tomato and lettuce. There was also fruit and a drink, too. Don’t these guys know the meaning of the word “small” when it comes to food?

High roller

From our vantage point it was possible to see practically the whole country: certainly to the borders of Albania, Kosovo, Serbia and Bosnia & Herzegovina, and many of the major mountains in Montenegro as well – Durmitor, Komovi and the Prokletije.

Rush hour Negobratina-style

With plenty of time to spare, we opted to continue along the ridge, following an undulating track past summer farmsteads through scenery not unlike west Ireland’s Burren region. Today’s walk was to be something of a test of our capabilities to see how we might cope with the heat, the distance and the ascent when the trekking got tougher later in the week, so this chance to get some extra miles under our belts was good preparation for the days ahead. The going was easy, but continued excellent views to all quarters maintained the interest as we began our descent.

A Montenegrin Haywain - just how does that balance?

Eventually we dropped down into the village of Bistrica where beers were taken at a local bar. It wasn’t the most challenging of walks, but as a way of fitting together the geography of the area it was second to none, and the stats were not too shabby either.

The continuing ridge

Then it was back to the villa for dinner. Tonight’s menu consisted of stew, salad, stuffed pastries not unlike sausage rolls, desert, melon, wine and coffee. A theme was developing when it came to meals: can you guess what it is yet?

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