Peaks of the Balkans, Day 8: Babino Polje to Plav

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Alison, July 2017
We requested to have breakfast at 7:30, so we wake up an hour before to repack our bags and get through the bathroom. There are ten of us staying in this cozy, little mountain home, and we are all sharing just this one bathroom, so we figure we should allow a little extra time to get our turn. Surprisingly, the bathroom is free, and we both make it through without losing any time.

We carry our bags down the steep stairs and join our German friends outside for another delicious meal served by Armand and Ardita. These two outdo themselves with every opportunity, and we are each served a plate of to-die-for fried pastries with a homemade jam, two slices of fresh goat cheese and an endless supply of mountain herbal tea and Turkish coffee.

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It’s obvious that we all wish we could stay longer. We linger around the breakfast table before finally resigning ourselves to the fact that our next destination is 20 kilometers away, and we had better get going. We take some group photos with our German friends and host family, and kiss and hug each other goodbye before hitting the trail.

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The hike today starts with a walk on the dirt road up to the forest. After yesterday, we are grateful for the gentle grade and don’t mind getting a few easy kilometers under our belts with what will surely be another long day.

A few minutes down the road, Elka (a German solo hiker we met last night) catches up to us, and we spend the next hour or so chatting with her as we make our way past quaint wooden farm buildings on a gorgeous sunny day.

We reach a small village where a signpost points the way to Plav, and we head off down a trail that is muddy and a bit overgrown. After a kilometer or so, Adnan suggests that we take a rest while he runs ahead to see if we can connect to the real trail. Elka checks her downloaded map, and sure enough, it appears that we have taken a wrong turn at the village and are walking down an older trail almost parallel to where we are supposed to be.

Elka decides right then and there that she is going to turn back and retrace her steps back to the point where we missed our turn. We have to stay and wait for Adnan who returns in a few minutes and says that getting back on track won’t be too difficult. We are definitely skeptical but are also not too eager to add another two kilometers on to the route.

There is a faint trail for a bit, but there are lots of downed trees that we must negotiate. Eventually, we give that up and start making our way up the hill on a diagonal course towards the trail we are supposed to be on. After about 20 minutes of bush walking, we finally pop out on the real trail. Every single step is painful for me with my blisters, and the extra ones seem especially brutal. I tell Adnan that I don’t want another mistake again on this trek. He takes the hint and stays glued to his GPS for the rest of the day!

A brief steep uphill takes us to our lunch destination, a beautiful, inviting lake that looks like it was plucked right out of the Pacific Northwest. It is surrounded by dark green conifers, and a pointy peak stands guard over the pretty, little scene at one end. The water is shallow, and Matt can’t resist getting in.

There are lots of those cool little salamander-type amphibians we “discovered” on Day 4 swimming around. Matt tries to catch a few of them, but they always manage to slip out of his hands just at the last minute.

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The water is refreshing but not too cold for an alpine lake. I am content to dip my feet in the water and take some photos from the shoreline. We have lunch at the lake and then hit the trail in earnest again. We still have 13 kilometers to go!

We start off by skirting the shoreline. About halfway around, we come to a field of large boulders covered in neon green lichen that we have to negotiate. The farther we go around, the higher above the lake we get until we have a nice commanding view of it all. What a pretty scene!

From there, the trail dips down a bit until we pop out on the road and kill a few easy kilometers walking at a gentle descent, which my poor feet definitely appreciate. The blisters on my heels are getting out of control, and today I just can’t seem to get my mind off the pain.

Eventually the trail picks up again and takes us on a jaunt through the forest. Sometimes the trail is on packed dirt, but often times it meanders through grass meadows. Enough people have walked through that there is a faint green line through the foliage indicating where to go, but it makes us wonder what it will be like to find the trail in a few more weeks when all of the foliage fills in.

We pass a little wooden shack in the middle of nowhere with a small front porch and a tired looking couch on it when I finally decide I need to stop and see what is going on with my feet. I redress the blisters, and Adnan insists on switching bags for our last six kilometers. He has made the offer before, but this time I can’t refuse the offer. His bag probably weighs a maximum of 10 pounds. The change doesn’t make the pain go away, but it allows me to carry on without crying for this final leg!

After crossing a creek, we pop out on the road again and begin the long, meandering descent toward the town of Plav. The late afternoon light makes all of the farmsteads we pass look so inviting. We are impressed by how industrious these mountain people are. We pass farms with beehives, sheep, orchards, and cows.

There are families working together to rake fields of dried hay into huge piles. Everyone we meet greets us and invites us into their homes for a coffee. Our guide always has his eye on the clock and politely declines the offer, but the hospitality of these kind people has truly amazed us on his trek.

The road into town feels like an idyllic country lane but with a little twist. Adnan keeps pointing out snakes on the road. Two are small, but the third one we see is at least a meter long!

Eventually, we can see the town of Plav in the distance, and it looks so inviting from above with its cute homes and tidy, little green yards complete with flowering plants, a haystack and the odd cow or two.

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We finally hit the asphalt and pray that our guesthouse is close to this end of town. We pass the town mosque with a large cemetery with all the gravestones placed at odd angles to the road, facing east toward Mecca.

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Now we are walking on a sidewalk with speeding cars rushing by. We pass a fruit stand and buy some fresh cherries for later and encourage Adnan to ask everyone we pass where the guesthouse is. The good news is that the people seem to have heard of it. The bad news is that they keep pointing us up the road. We walk past a pharmacy sign that indicates it is still 29°C (85°F) even though it is almost 7 pm. This heat is killing us!

Finally we arrive at Cafe Timm, which is a bustling pizzeria with a few rooms located on the 4th floor. We have to wade through a youth soccer team whose bus has just pulled up before we can talk to someone in charge. Adnan tells them we have a reservation for the night, but the waiter seems confused and goes to get Selma, who apparently is in charge this evening.

She says that she does not have a reservation for us, and then a Balkan dispute ensues where each party insists that the other has made the mistake. It appears whoever tells their story loudest will be perceived as telling the truth. We never do determine where the mistake was made, but, luckily, they do have a room available for us. They help Adnan find a room down the street, and all is good.

We arrange to meet for dinner downstairs, and are happy to find that Lizzie and James are there, too. They are celebrating the end of their Peaks of the Balkans hike, and we enjoy chatting with them while we wait an absurdly long time for our pizza to come. They are all clean and shiny in their fresh clothes and happy to done with their trek.

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Lizzie and James are camping down the road in their 20-year old VW Westfalia campervan. They have been on the road for two months and have still have two months to go. At the end of the evening, we bid them farewell, and Matt and Adnan head to the supermarket to get some beer. (Plav is a Muslim town, and the restaurants don’t serve alcohol.) My feet hurt too much to join them.

I head upstairs but get all the way to the 4th floor and can’t remember which room is ours. I have the key, but, unfortunately, it doesn’t have the number on it. I can hear people talking behind some of the doors, but there are six of them, and I don’t want to take the chance of trying to open the wrong one.

There is a couch on the landing, so I decide to sit there and wait for Matt to come back. The light is motion-activated, so every few minutes it goes out, and I have to stand up and wave my hands to make it turn on again. At one point, a few people come up and are a little startled to see me there. I just try to look cool and pretend that it is totally normal to be looking at photos on my camera in a strange hotel in Montenegro at this late hour.

Finally, Matt comes back, and we try to catch up on Internet business before going to bed. There is no air conditioning, so we have the windows open, and the sounds from the city are jarring and make it hard to fall asleep. We miss the mountains.

Trail Report

Start: Babino Polje, Montenegro
End: Plav, Montenegro
Distance: 20 kilometers
Date on Trail: July 1, 2017

4 thoughts on “Peaks of the Balkans, Day 8: Babino Polje to Plav

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