Paul tells...




We have prepared ourselves thoroughly, at least by our standards, but we seem to have overlooked something. We knew that as the crow flies it was 100 km through Montenegro to get from Croatia to Albania and that's all we had done in preparation. However, it would have been useful if we had asked ourselves why they called this country 'Montenegro' at the time. In Italian the name of the country says: 'Black Mountains'. Only the water seems to be level here and even that is what I wonder about. We always see the landscape in an angle of 7% or more. Sometimes this 7% is to our advantage, but most of the time it is at least 7% to our disadvantage. The whole country consists of mountains, serious mountains we soon find out. And so we're not in this country for only two days, as we thought before, but seven. 

The second day we have to deal with 'the most dangerous road' in Montenegro. It's a road with 27 hairpin bends that bridges about 600 meters of altitude along an almost vertical rock face. Ironically it is a very safe road for us. It is up to four metres wide. Cars that have to pass each other do so at a walking pace and with millimetre precision. When a bus is involved, which is also the case on a regular basis, everything comes to a standstill. The result is that we cycle on a wonderfully quiet road! And when a car does pass us, it never drives faster than 30 km/h because of the many bends.


Also through the rest of Montenegro we choose for the 'white roads', on which there is hardly any traffic. It is a welcome relief after Croatia. The road surface is quite reasonable according to Belgian standards. Some cracks here and there and when they became a bit too wide, a new layer of asphalt has been twisted, so that large parts of the roads consist of patchwork asphalt. Here and there is a hole or a manhole cover 5 cm higher than its surroundings. Some attention is required, but the road surface is much better than some motorists and motorcyclists wanted us to believe. We simply tour through a versatile mountain landscape. Globally this can be divided into mountains that consist of bare rock, wooded mountains and 'rubble mountains' that consist mainly of gravel. I'm a little less enthusiastic about what people have added. It's a lot of concrete that hasn't always withstood the 'ravages of time'.


It is halfway through the afternoon when we see the last campsite before the border between Montenegro and Albania. Crossing the border today is not an option and we had this campsite in mind as our final destination for today. The problem is that we look down on the campsite from an altitude of about 300 meters. The campground is situated at the sea, where one road leads to, so turning to this campground means a climb of 4 km with an average gradient of about 8% tomorrow morning.

We decide to continue cycling. 15 km further there's a village with some touristic activities, so we take our chances. So far we've always been able to sleep on campsites, but we know that at a certain point that's over, simply because they're no longer there. So today is a foretaste. We don't know where to eat and rest our heads tonight. It feels good on the one hand, but at the same time it's exciting, because what if we don't find anything...?

Around 17 o'clock we drive into the village in question, although 'village' is a compliment for the few buildings we see. At the entrance of the village there's a small mosque. I notice that my heart makes a little leap of joy. On our last trip we cycled through Islamic countries for four months and there we always felt very welcome and people were always very helpful. We first inquire at the local shop and then at the only restaurant.


Both people are very nice and helpful, but refer us to the campsite 15 km back, the one we literally ignored earlier that afternoon. Wild camping is also possible everywhere and is 'of course' safe according to our informants. Nevertheless, that's not quite what I had in mind. On our way to the forest we just cycled through, we see a yard with several fruit trees. We look at each other and think the same. We turn our bicycles and drive into the yard to ask if we can pitch our tent there. A dog strikes and we see a young girl coming to see us. As soon as she sees us, she runs away to call her old neighbour. This lady brings in her daughter, who lives in Germany and is now a few weeks ‘at home’ for holiday. We explain that we are looking for a place for our tent. The daughter translates it to her mother and then has a little chat with her father. We are invited outside at a terrace table, on which delicious homemade cheese and tomatoes are put. In the meantime other families join us. Soon the father suggests a nice spot in his garden and gives us a glass of homemade Rakia. 


The daughter sets the table with two plates for us. I say that we will go to the restaurant in the village, because they didn't take us into account and we don't want to eat their food, but that really is not an option. ‘There is always enough for everyone and if there is not enough, we share!’. The grandson was allowed to choose what to eat that evening and he has a very good taste: pizza! On the table are three gigantic pizzas with a diameter of about 80 cm, filled with homegrown vegetables.


There is an abundance of food. With the daughter and her husband we speak German, with the son English and both translate it to their parents in Albanian. The village turns out to be an Albanian enclave in Montenegro. In the course of the evening the father makes it clear that we can also sleep inside the house. That way we are less bothered by the cock which starts at 1 o'clock in the morning. It's dark now, so with some hesitation on our part and some insistence on their part, we accept the offer, still perplexed by so much hospitality.


When we say goodbye the next day, we both have a lump in our throats.