Yes, friends, the time is near. We will soon breach the frontier of the fabled Shqipërisë, better known in the Western world as Albania, the Land of the Eagle. An exciting time, indeed.
For now, we're kicking it bigtime in Budva, Montenegro, the Land of Black Mountains. A huge black storm is thundering around in the mountains above the town, but we're down by the beach, untouched by the fury of this meteorological outburst.
We left Mostar in good spirits, powered by the miraculolus energetic properties of burek, a stuffed pie usually filled with meat or cheese that has the strength to rise 10,000 Lazari from their graves. I ate three of them yesterday. We cruised thorugh a few valleys until dusk began to fall, then asked a farmer if we could camp in his wild thyme-filled fields. He said "Da," and we gave him huge daps. The next day set off on what was supposed to be our first Century, where we ride over 100 miles, but alas, it ended in (relative) failure, if you can call riding 90 miles through scenic valleys and over epic mountains a failure.
First, we crossed into Republika Srbska, a semi-autonomous region of the bizarrely arranged political entity called the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina. You could tell you had crossed the border by the big Serbian flag and Cyrillic signage. The landscape changed a bit too, with sharp, pyramidal peaks replacing the more rounded mountains of Bosnia-Herzegovina proper.
Demographic boundaries are marked fairly clearly here, often by flags and national colors (i.e. a bar we saw in Stolac, a town in Republika Srbska, was pretty clearly owned by a Croatian, as it was covered in Croatian flags and pictures of Ante Gotovina, a former general who was recently sentenced for war crimes committed during the Balkan wars in the early 90's). Tombstones are another way to tell. Muslims have stone turbans or crescents adorning their graves, Croatians a cross and Roman script, Serbians a cross and Cyrillic.
There's also trash all over the place, in all parts of the country. Strange that people would fight so fiercely and so brutally for their land, and then throw garbage all over it.
As we rode through a wide valley between two sets of sharp peaks towards Trebinje, black mountains became visible in the distance, shrouded in fog. It rained for a little while. We passed a fourth-century monastery. In Trebinje, we ate stuffed cevapi and sausages, potatoes, and two loaves of bread. Stupidly, we didn't eat any burek. Heading out of town, we followed a river upstream, up an extremely beautiful valley, lush with greenery on both sides, ever-higher mountains surrounding us, the river rolling smooth and blue below the nearly empty road... We took a small road to a border crossing we had been told was open. It would have been great if that was true, because it would have saved us about 2000 feet of elevation gain, and cut through another fatty boombatty mountain valley, but for some reason that we never really understood due to our undeveloped Slavic language abilities, we weren't allowed to pass. I think it may have been open onto to Bosnian and Montenegran nationals. In any case, up we went, up a huge climb through fucking epic mountains. I hung out at a flower-studded alpine meadow for a while, listening to goats, crickets, birds and a dog making their respective noises, watching clouds envelop mountaintops then reveal them again as the wind pushed them along. There were probably eagles nearby, but I didn't see any. By the time we go to the top of the pass, the fog had really come in, and we could hardly see down the sheer mountainside into the valley below.
Welcome to Montenegro
Montenegro is really spectacular, there's hardly any flat ground that we've seen, just mountains rising out of every acre of land. Occasionally we would pass through a small valley ringed by peaks, but that was about it. We camped in one of those, as you will see if the pictures I'm trying to upload right now actually work. It's going very slowly.
Our campsite in Dragalj
The Monetnegran night crept up on us while we were still 10 miles short of our Century, and we were forced to camp. It was a wise decision, because the next day we smashed down some huge descents, back to the sea, to the fjord of Kotor, and it would have been quite stupid to do this at night. I mean, we would have missed out on all these fat views.
You can see one of our roads snaking down the mountain
Churches on island in the fjord
We stopped in Kotor for long enough to eat three bureks, drink several beers and some coffee, and marvel at the ridiculously epic fortress they have there, then went a whopping 30 kilometers to Budva. Budva's not a bad place. There's a carnival starting today. Double dang. I might have to go buy some Jelen.