Wednesday, October 10, 2012

holidays 2012 - day 09: religious cult, dangerous driving, and more mountains

more adventures after a cool, bright night on a mattress that is most definitely leaking. leftover pastry for breakfast, and another chat with the nice employee over coffee and a hot chocolate.

then we're off towards ostrog monastery. you'd expect that the road to such an important place of worship would be in top condition and nicely signposted - not so on both points. it's another drive through the wilderness on roads that are narrow, occasionally little better than dirt roads, first winding their way down and then up again towards the tucked-away monastery. once we miss a turnoff, because there are no signposts whatsoever. an old man - the only person we actually come across in this montenegrin backwater - points us in the right direction. what signs we see from then on, are written in cyrillic. good thing i brushed up on that before our journey!

eventually we make it to the topmost parking lot - the true believers approach the upper monastery on foot from the lower part, climbing many a step. although this odes not seem to apply to those we assume to be priests or other church officials: they arrive by car, sporting long robes and impressive beards:

montenegrin hippies?

what a spot they picked for this monastery - i wonder how they built the cave church. can't have been an easy undertaking. such an out-of-the-way place, and it actually looks as if they'd cut a hole in the sheer wall of rock and shoved a ready-made white monastery into the gap.

tucked into rock: cave church, manastir ostrog

so this is by far the most important montenegrin pilgrimage place for members of the serbian orthodox church. quite fascinating, not only because of the location, but also as far as the behaviour of the believers is concerned. talk about crazy cult.

as an atheist i find religion of any kind quite intriguing in many ways. you get to observe some decidedly weird behaviour at times. here it's devout people kissing everything from door frames to supposedly ancient cloth (which looks like it's just come from either the shop or the dry cleaner's), from mosaics depicting saints to strange relics. women of all ages, their heads covered with scarves, as well as men (from the big, tanned, muscular variety to the bent elderly one) walk out of the rooms backwards, crossing themselves. what i find particularly funny is how some people's behaviour changes immediately after paying their respects to the holy objects in the cave church and the shows of devoutness: a woman rudely elbows me on her way downstairs. girls, barely two steps from the exit, remove their headscarves and deftly rearrange their often flimsy blouses or t-shirts in order to show more bare shoulder and cleavage. an elderly lady with too much too bright pink lipstick unashamedly jumps the queue at the little kiosk. back to the real world indeed.

we do some more people-watching, buy a few postcards, receive a little flask of holy water, light a candle, and enjoy the stunning views of the lowlands and the distant mountains opposite ostrog,

the long and winding road to ostrog

then drive back down the adventurous road. we stop at lower ostrog for a look at the church, then end up stuck in a little traffic jam due to road work. nobody knows how long it will take, but there is no anger or stress. people get out of their cars to enjoy the views, to watch the slow progress the massive drill makes on the rock, to take photos. no rush.

we drive past nikšić again, towards žabljak. there's barely any traffic, and a frantically waving man next to the road is delighted when we pull over. we may not speak the same language, but it is clear that his car with its heavily laden trailer is stuck in the deep gravel of this passing place. he needs us to help push. we see him safely on the road again.

driving towards durmitor national park turns out to be quite an adventure, because there is a madman on the road in a car plus trailer. and he is right in front of us. this person clearly does not understand the meaning of "my side of the road", or indeed the concept of sharing the road with anybody. we try not to get too close, as he tends to approach dangerous bends driving in the other lane. yes, that's the one for oncoming traffic. and, just occasionally, there is oncoming traffic. i actually want to close my eyes each time we get closer to a bend. it's quite frightening. his car is definitely more powerful than ours though, and the road is winding, so we can't even consider overtaking. which turns out to be just as well: further along the way there is a straight stretch, and a slovak car tries to overtake him. big mistake. when they are level, the montenegrin drifts ever further left, and there really isn't anywhere to go for the slovaks, and the two cars make contact. if you think that slows the insane montenegrin down, you are mistaken. he puts the pedal to the metal and is off. i can't believe it! the problem is that we cannot see the number plate, as it is hidden by the trailer, which does not have its own number plate. when the slovaks pull over, we stop, too, but we can't really help, we just tell them that we haven't actually seen the licence plate either. we should have written down their mobile number or something, just in case, but didn't. in fact, much later, where the road has three lanes, we manage to safely overtake the idiot, and i make a note of the number plate. we stop for a drink and photos of the highlands a while later and wait a while to see if the slovaks drive by, but they don't.

deserted montenegrin highlands

the montenegrin maniac disappears somewhere to piss off (and put to risk) some other people, and we arrive in žabljak, the town at the highest altitude in the balkans and touristic centre of durmitor national park, all in one piece around 3 pm.

while it was quite scorching in ostrog, it is now overcast, and there are even some drops of rain. we make our way to camp mlinski potok, our "friend" mina's place.

montenegrin perception of tourists? welcome to mlinski potok camp!

mina, as we know, is still away on the coast, but his lovely wife jelena welcomes us with offers of coffee, tea, schnaps or whatever else we fancy. due to our damaged mattress and the expected low temperatures, we decide to ask for a room, and jelena, ever resourceful, offers us her daughter's room, because she has reservations for or guests staying in the other rooms! it's € 10 per person per night, so we don't think twice and are settled in soon after jelena has changed the sheets. quite the room it is, too, with unbelievably kitschy pictures on the walls and tiger-print bedclothes. you don't get that kind of authenticity in your average hotel now, do you?

heinrich (the bear), otto (the croc) & their groupies

at 1455 m above sea level, we are definitely in the mountains here: an area of 390 km2 boasts 48 peaks over 2000 m. wow. it looks genuinely alpine, in fact not so different from certain places in austria. we venture into town for some food. "people here like to eat a lot" is what we have been told repeatedly, and the portions served at "luna" by a friendly bear of a man are certainly tailored to those needs. full and warmed up we pay a visit to summit travel agency for some information and a chat with an elderly german expat. we end up booking a full-day rafting tour on the tara river, supposed to be quite a highlight of every trip to montenegro, and buying a map of walking/hiking trails.

we take a walk from mina and jelena's past a hotel that looks like straight out of "the shining" to nearby crno jezero, the black lake. evening falls, and it is absolutely clear where the gorgeous lake got its name. it lies there, among majestic mountains, like an unblinking black eye, a mirror for the beautiful surroundings, as if ONE breath-taking scene were not enough.

crvena greda & crno jezero at dusk

afterwards we sit in jelena's little lounge room with a few russians, ukrainians and germans, sipping wine, grappa, cherry brandy or tea with local honey. a little while later our two acquaintances from kitzbuehel/stuttgart arrive - i'd actually started looking for their car! it all reminds me so much of my old backpacking days, when chatting with an international crowd of fellow travellers was just the thing to do every night. when we eventually go upstairs, we fall asleep happily, predator bedclothes or not.

photos of day 09

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