I was collapsed in a heap at the border munching desperately on a stick of Kendal mint cake. The first day back on the bike was always going to be tough. We had just cycled 50 or so kilometres from Dubrovnik to the border with Montenegro. The small road followed the open ocean and I could not contain the whoops of joy at the ultimate freedom I felt when beginning a new adventure with only a path of uncertainties and mysteries stretching out before me. To be back on the bike again after a long cold winter was simply liberating.
Then, in a well worn gesture, the border guard returned our freshly stamped passports and we free wheeled down to the delightful but shabby little town of Herceg Novi. This relaxed simple place is perched on the edge of a fjord that cuts deep into this bumpy square shaped country. This new country, I enjoyed saying the word, Montenegro. The first few words that came to mind when I saw this land, were spectacular, mountainous, rugged, wild, plain, simple, easy, relaxed.
It was Switzerland without the price tag or the rules. The feeling of pureness and freedom tingled in the air. People kicked back and relaxed. Anything goes on the Balkan it seemed, who cared? We gobble down a kilo of strawberries for dinner, sold to us by some local farmer, and joined the locals on the sunny terraces.
The following day we followed the waters edge, delving inland, all the time being chased by the sea. Sharp, steep mountains rose abruptly all around us. Mountains mingled with the sea, a potion of every natural form blended into one. A Euro ferry fare took us closer to the medieval city of Kotor nestled on the shore. This town was a maze and we lurked in a dusty back street cafe, hiding from the heat and the tourists. Moving to the cooler shore front we leant against a rusty upturned hull chewing on bread and cheese for lunch while watching the sun beams over the cliffs that barricade this tiny spot of a settlement.
We then spent hours climbing the steep sun bathed surface we had been gazing at. The road curled effortlessly into the sky like a shiny spring. At the top, the glassy waters stretched around far below our feet and we meet a scruffy happy German family on the cliff edge and they told us in the breeze that they were pulling their boat all the way to southern Albania. Then suddenly, toppling over the edge of this mountain plateau we finally got rid of the sea for good and instantly greeted the mountainous valleys and trails for real. Collapsed – again – in a roadside cafe we sipped on strong Turkish coffee for 50 cent. One last push was needed to reach the mountain top town of…
…Cetinje and when we find it, it appears like a tumbled jigsaw through a valley of thorny bushes. The residences pace the streets in which ever direction they wish and during the forthcoming twilight we watched the towns uneventful rhythm flow, from the terrace of a pizzeria. After crawling up the little hill that over looks the town we fall asleep in our small green tent, peacefully watching the sky move over this dramatic land, dark bushes and black crags framing the picture.
From Cetinje the road plunged back down to the sea as we came upon lake Skadar. A vast ocean like water that sits still on the border between Montenegro and Albania. At the edge of this lake the waters were dark and murky, leaves laced across the surface transforming it into a swampish thick green layer. The road was also alive with movement, from every corner, a lizard darted into the shadows or a stick insect froze on the hot surface when our wheels rolled on past. Pedalling through the sleepy villages without a pause, secret rural scenes were revealed to us over and over again. Colourful vegetable patches, rusty red tractors chugging along, old ladies waiting under trees ready to sell their home made wines to passing cars, empty buildings, restless children.
When we worked our way down to the shores of this expanse of water we found a stony beach in Murici where we decided to spend the night. Our only company; a couple of wading long legged birds and a night time fisherman with his eyes glued to the depths. The shades of blues and greens faded to a quiet night.
Several sloping hours later it was the perfect place to wake up to. At 6am the fisherman friendly waved us goodbye and I finally felt truly and blissfully disconnected from the world outside, back home in Britain. I curled up in my sleeping bag, breathing in the fresh air and nibbling on cheesy croissants and grapes for breakfast. Excitement and anticipation for the new day happily alight.
The last hill in Montenegro appears. There, among the yellow flowers and the hot Balkan breeze, Lake Skadar lay to my left, the Adriatic to my right, the skies clouded with the mounds of Montenegro behind me and the anticipation of Albania in front of me…a pretty irresistible position…and my pedals spin again.