Thursday 8 August 2013

The Black Mountains Of The Balkans – Day 7

Saturday 27th July 2013 – Kućište to Bogë

Total Distance: 19.05km / Total Ascent: 882m / Total Descent: 906m

After the big stats of yesterday’s walk, something a little more relaxed was on offer today. Another fine morning dawned – one that promised to be a sizzler if the 35°C forecast temperature materialized – and again we had a leisurely breakfast al fresco on the terrace.

Looking over to the restaurant with Hajla Peak just visible at the rear

Our cabin

Blue skies and the moon

So it was a little after 9.30am when we set off down the hill towards the main road. Much of today’s route would be following forestry tracks, but what was lost in pathly beauty was more than made up for in scenic quality and general interest.

Looking towards Bogë

On the descent into the valley

This slightly dilapidated insignificant-looking bridge is actually a major road junction. The road on the left is the main road through the Rugova Valley from Peja (Peć) the nearest city. To the right is the road to Bogë. Heading into the middle of the shot is the road leading over the Čakor Pass (Qafa Qakorrit), and just out of shot is the bus stop. This really is the transport hub of the region.

 Kućište's equivalent of the Hangar Lane Gyratory

As you can see, the Čakor Pass road is not in great shape. As a historically important thoroughfare and the “main road” linking Peja in Kosovo with Andrijevica in Montenegro, I tried to find out a bit more about it’s viability as a route. To be honest, I’m still unclear as to the current situation. Suffice it to say the condition is poor and difficult to negotiate, even on a bike, as it is unmade in parts. The high point is at about 1900m, so it is prone to snow in the winter months (and in the summer too, in stormy weather), it was blocked/closed in the late 1990s during the fight for independence, and, as it crosses the debated border area I mentioned yesterday, there may or may not be a working border crossing at the moment.

For all the reasons mentioned above, traffic currently uses the Rožaje pass, located a bit further north. I asked Musa, who had driven the 4WD from Bibino Polje to Kućište, about the journey: whereas we walked a route of some 18.5k, the road journey was about 125k. The Čakor Pass route would be something like 60k in comparison.

Life in the fast lane

We sat in the shade for a few minutes, taking on water and watching the world go by. Intermittently, cars would slew to a halt in a kerfuffle of dust and lately applied brakes before tentatively tackling the bridge.

Nearing Dugaive

From the valley bottom, we picked up another track heading uphill towards the village of Dugaive. Soon we left the track for a series of overgrown paths that led through tough, thorny undergrowth and made for uncomfortable passage. Once in the woods, we found the first of several patches of wild strawberries, and picked a few, amazed at their sweetness.

View from our lunch stop

But before long the path became clearer, gradually steepening as we approached the end of the climb. Eventually we reached the top and found a shaded spot beneath pine trees for lunch. 

Forty winks in 30 degrees

With a cool breeze and plenty of shade it was a very pleasant spot for a break, and we spent a leisurely hour resting and enjoying our food. The view was wonderful, overlooking the foothills of tomorrow’s objective, Hajla Peak.

Hajla Peak

Looking from here, it seems a daunting prospect. It’s a big mountain, so we would have distance as well as ascent to contend with - and little shade.

Intrepid hikers (in classic V formation) on the way to Shkrel

Moving on we took another track that contoured round the hillsides and eventually brought us out near the village of Shkrel. Here we split from CJ and Dimitrije. CJ was having a bit of knee trouble, so in order to be at her best for tomorrow’s undertaking she decided to take the most direct route to our evening digs at Bogë.

We opted to carry on a little further with Kushtrim. First we had a look at a memorial commemorating the war heroes of the village: all those who had fallen in battle since 1879. We saw that in one tragic incident, three men died on the same day. The monument is topped with the double-headed eagle symbol of Albania, acknowledging the mainly Albanian ethnicity and mixed Muslim/Christian faith of the Kosovan population.

Cemetery at Shkrel

This was a symbolic place for Kushtrim: he was born in this area, and members of his family were buried in the cemetery. It also opened a window on the personal stories that make up the complex history of the area – in fact of the region as a whole – where the past is close at hand and not all that long ago.

This was a sanatorium in Ex-Yu times

We carried on along further forestry tracks, skirting behind the hill above Bogë, topping up with ice-cold water from a handy spring. The walking had not been strenuous, but the heat of the day and dusty tracks had created a thirst that needed assuaging. It was interesting talking to Kushtrim, and over the space of a couple of hours we were able to chat about all sorts of things: from Kosovo and Hajla Peak, to tourism and wildlife – even the differences between American English and British English got in there somewhere.

Bogë in the valley below

Eventually, we came out on the open hillside high above Bogë. Bogë is a fascinating place. For a start it’s known as a ski and holiday resort, although there is no ski infrastructure in the way of the Alps, just one simple lift. It’s also at an altitude of around 1540m – much higher than Chamonix, and almost on a level with Zermatt – which is deceptive, given the feel of the place. There is plenty of walking in and around the area, and it would make a good base for exploring the Rugova Valley and picking off a few of the more notable summits in the area. More information on the area can be found:

A steady descent brought us down to the village by about 5.30pm. With an earlier than usual finish, there was time for a refreshing beer and a chat before dinner. With a soon-to-be father (Dimitrije) and a new Dad of three weeks (Kushtrim), conversation soon came round to the subject of Prince George …

Yet again, dinner was a sizeable feast based around local specialities. Not that we were complaining, mind, because it was all delicious, but there was just so much of it that more than half was left uneaten. I gather this is a cultural thing, but to those of us brought up to finish what food we were given it means either eating too much or letting good food apparently go to waste, neither of which comes easily.

Unusual saddle pattern used to shear sheep

Afterwards, we wandered through the village in the dark. The one small shop was closing, cattle were being milked and bedded down for the night, and somewhere nearby a party was starting. Well, it is Saturday night!  

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