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Montenegro — The country of black mountains

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Montenegro, the land of the black moun­tains, was our home for two months. In Septem­ber and Octo­ber 2018 we had the oppor­tun­ity to exper­i­ence many per­culi­ar­it­ies of this coun­try and its people. Come with us to dis­cov­er this pearl of the Adri­at­ic. This time Stef­fen reports for you.

National parks

My friend Thomas and I are on a mis­sion. It is the ascent of Bobotov Kuk. It is the highest moun­tain of Montenegro. With an alti­tude of 2522 meters, it rises above all the oth­er 50 peaks with an alti­tude around 2000m in the Dur­mit­or Nation­al Park.

Ser­pent­ine after ser­pent­ine we drive up high­er with the rent­al car. Thomas tells me about his time in Ger­many. He took 10 days vaca­tion to vis­it me and Vivi and to explore Montenegro. Vivi wont’t accom­pany us on this mis­sion, because she is already back in the south of Montenegro. We park the car at a place at 1908 meters alti­tude. A ranger approaches us and we pay a few euros nation­al park fee. We are ready to go hiking.

With the trail well marked we’re hik­ing uphill through a val­ley. To the left and to the right the moun­tains pile up. A little fur­ther up a small land­slide has bur­ied the way and we crawl on all fours over the gravel. Shortly before we reach the sum­mit it gets dan­ger­ous. If we don’t pay atten­tion, we will lie at the foot of the moun­tain in a few seconds. With our hands firmly on the rope, we climb Bobotov Kuk. The 2.5 hours of this exhaust­ing ascent were worth it. A breath­tak­ing view awaits us.

I am fas­cin­ated by the rugged cliffs that push into the blue sky. I dis­cov­er three chamois jump­ing from rock to rock in dar­ing man­oeuvres, always only one step away from the abyss. With deep breaths I inhale the fresh moun­tain air. The peace that spreads with­in me does not seem to be of this world.

The mighty peak of Bobotov Kuk

Black moun­tains tower into the sky

One of the 18 blue gla­cial lakes in Dur­mit­or Nation­al Park

Some­body lost his lug­gage up her…

Anoth­er “Must Do” in Dur­mit­or Nation­al Park is the Black Lake (Crno Jezero), the largest of the 18 gla­cial lakes. From here you have a won­der­ful view of the moun­tain Meded with its majest­ic 2287 meters. After a walk around the lake we had a snack in the adjoin­ing restaurant.

Also a small hike to the lake Zmin­je Jezero is recom­mend­able. This small, green shim­mer­ing lake is sur­roun­ded by deep green spruces.

The Dur­mit­or Nation­al Park is not only unique in its alti­tude, but also in its depth. It is home to the deep­est gorge in Europe, the Tara Gorge. In some sec­tions it is an incred­ible 1600 metres deep! On a raft­ing tour and in a bird’s eye view we explored this canyon.

Also the dip­pers (Cin­clus cin­clus) are enthu­si­ast­ic about the crys­tal clear, deli­cious water. We dis­covered 8 of them on our 2.5 hours raft­ing tour. But it was more like a com­fort­able boat tour, because there was not much water and there­fore only few rap­ids awaited us. Start­ing from May it is prob­ably bet­ter to exper­i­ence a real raft­ing feel­ing with pure adrenalin.

The Tara bridge, or rather its shadow

The Tara Gorge is not only the deep­est, but also the longest gorge with its 78km. Also in terms of ori­gin­al­ity it is on the first place. Pure nature!

Besides Dur­mit­or Nation­al Park there are four oth­er nation­al parks: Lovćen, Lake Skadar, Prok­letije and Bio­grad­ska Gora. I could explore all of them except the last one. In all of them are beau­ti­ful moun­tains. I have the feel­ing that no mat­ter where you are stand­ing in Montenegro you can always see a moun­tain. Montenegro lives up to its name: the black mountain.

In the Nation­al Park Lovćen I was also on the road with Thomas. The round plat­form at the top of the second highest elev­a­tion at 1,655 meters, the Jez­er­ski Vrh, is close to the mauso­leum of the writer and prince bish­op Petar II ali­as Njegoš. He was import­ant for Montenegro, as he i.a. estab­lished the first Sen­ate. Two large female statues guard the entrance to his mausoleum.

On the plat­form we had a mag­ni­fi­cent view. But we were even more impressed by the museums in Montenegro’s former cap­it­al Cetinje.

We had this view of the Nation­al Park Skadar Lake after tak­ing a one-lane ser­pent­ine road.

Vivi and I vis­ited the Prok­letije Nation­al Park on an excit­ing week­end. Watch a short video (in Ger­man but under­stand­able) here. 

Shortly before the sum­mit Tromedja between Albania, Kosovo and Montenegro.

More nature places

Fur­ther nat­ur­al pearls for us were the moun­tains of Lukavica north of Nikšić, the second largest city in Montenegro, the bay of Kotor, a don­key farm near Podgor­ica and of course Ulcinj with its long beach, Ada-Bojana, Shas lake, Ulcinj Salina and Valdanos.

The moun­tains of Lukavica are still not on the agenda of many tour­ists. How­ever, this area is very suit­able for hiking.

And whereelse can you see such a rainbow?

Michael and Michael in action.

On a tour to the moun­tains of Lukavica Vivi and I joined a film­ing tour to cre­ate a small promo video about this area. 

The bay of Kotor has its spe­cial charm. I had the feel­ing that the moun­tains sprout out of the water.

Also our trip to the fam­ous don­key farm of our friend Darko was a high­light. Darko made his dream come true here and let the pub­lic par­ti­cip­ate in it on Sundays. He donates a share of the don­key milk to social pro­jects. But he is not only com­mit­ted here: he is the founder of the Montenegrin envir­on­ment­al and bird pro­tec­tion asso­ci­ation CZIP and has for many years sup­por­ted the pro­tec­tion of Ulcinj Salina. Find his face­book page here.

Ulcinj and surroundings

Our main res­id­ence was Ulcinj, a town sur­roun­ded by nat­ur­al treasures:

The 13km Long Beach (Velika Plaza) is espe­cially pop­u­lar with tour­ists from Ser­bia, Rus­sia and Eng­land. Sand and sun as much as you like. But also for nature tour­ists there is some­thing to see here: the sand dunes, the big con­ifers and the Medi­ter­ranean seagulls. Only a stone­’s throw away to Albania, the island of Ada-Bojana bor­ders to the Long Beach. Here are not only naked sun wor­ship­pers (nud­ists beach), but also nat­ur­al forests.

We pre­ferred to spend our time in the stone bays closer to the centre of Ulcinj. A high­light is the hik­ing trail from there along the rocky coast to the long sandy beach. If you want, you can take the boat back to the old town.

Only a few hun­dred metres behind the Long Beach is Ulcinj Salina (Ulcinjska Solana), a real para­dise for relax­ing and for birds — and the main reas­on why we spent two months in Ulcinj. Vivi wrote a sep­ar­ate blog post here.

A little fur­ther away is the Shas Lake (Shasko Jezero). A small nat­ur­al idyll that offers beau­ti­ful photo motifs with its church ruins.

Per­fectly placed boats in Valdanos Bay

The bay of Valdanos

My favour­ite place in Ulcinj was Valdanos Bay. My plan was to go diving here and do my Dive­mas­ter, but the diving school, which I already organ­ized in May, was closed due to tech­nic­al prob­lems. Instead I enjoyed snorkel­ing and free­d­iving here.

Olive trees in Valdanos

But not only the bay and the azure blue water prooves Valdanos to be some­thing spe­cial. There are also thou­sands of cen­tur­ies-old olive trees. Some are even up to 2000 years old! Also not to be missed are the ancient stone foun­tains that can be found par­al­lel to the tarred road.

Anoth­er excit­ing attrac­tion is the com­mun­ist, dilap­id­ated resort dir­ectly at Valdanos Bay. The tur­bu­lent his­tory of this bay has left its mark. The huge hol­i­day para­dise fell apart after the dis­in­teg­ra­tion of Yugoslavia. It was sup­posed to serve as a mil­it­ary base and then be revived as a lux­ury resort, but now it still lies idle.

Take a close look at our pic­ture gal­lery below. You can redis­cov­er the places in the image film from the 80s. It is very excit­ing to feel the his­tory of this place. If you want to learn more about the back­grounds of Camp Valdanos, check out this art­icle.

Cities of Interest

But not only the nature of Montenegro is worth see­ing and has inspired me. No, also some cit­ies have their stor­ies to tell. Podgor­ica did­n’t really con­vince us with its flair, which is why we will show you oth­er cit­ies more closely.

Cruise ships fill the UNESCO cul­tur­al her­it­age city of Kotor with tourists

Kotor is one of them. With its old churches, the well-pre­served 5km long city wall and mount Sveti Ivan with the fort­ress over­look­ing the city, there is much to discover.

View from the old town of Bar (Stari Bar) 

Anoth­er coastal town is Bar, just 30 minutes away from Ulcinj. If you have ever been to the Hohentwiel in Sin­gen, you can ima­gine the old town of Bar, which has unfor­tu­nately not been inhab­ited since an earth­quake in 1979. But the dif­fer­ence is the loc­a­tion. On one side the more than 1000 meter high peaks of the Rumija moun­tain range, on the oth­er side the sea. Here I did a dive to a wreck. We also vis­ited two second-hand shops with col­or­ful clothes and an ortho­dox church with hand-painted frescoes.

View from above — The old town of Ulcinj 

In the coastal town of Ulcinj there is a 2000 year old fort­ress. The old town can be explored along wind­ing stone paths. As about 75% of the pop­u­la­tion is of Albani­an ori­gin, there are mosques and even an old Hamam here, in con­trast to many oth­er Montenegrin ortho­dox cities.

Apart from the old town, Ulcinj is sim­il­ar to the oth­er cit­ies: many hotel and apart­ment com­plexes. Con­crete and tar have also spread here. And many stray cats and dogs and garbage unfor­tu­nately, too.

Environment and life in Montenegro

So, here the next top­ic: Envir­on­ment and life in Montenegro. Through our travel exper­i­ences in the Balkans we have already got­ten used to the not very “Ger­man” con­di­tions: garbage every­where, power and water fail­ures, honk­ing and stink­ing cars.

This image fits to ours, but not to Montenegro’s image of itself. Montenegro declared itself an envir­on­ment­al state in 1991. But the actions of the gov­ern­ment and the pop­u­la­tion do not fit in. And the EU is also not par­tic­u­larly impressed by the pro­gress made in envir­on­ment­al pro­tec­tion and man­age­ment. Montenegro wants to become an EU mem­ber state and still has a lot to do in the com­ing years.

Waste man­age­ment is a major prob­lem. Almost every­where you look you can find garbage: water bottles, chocol­ate bar pack­aging, energy drink cans, plastic bags, cigar­ette butts, … You’ll find them espe­cially on road­sides, undeveloped plots of land and rivers. The bad thing is that the earth will nev­er get rid of the plastic again! Once in the envir­on­ment it only gets smal­ler and smal­ler and comes back to us some­times via the food chain. But before that it accu­mu­lates e.g. in huge trash vor­tices in the sea or is washed back ashore.

In Septem­ber we there­fore took part in the Inter­na­tion­al Coastal Cleanup Day and cleaned 300m of coast­line in Ulcinj with 15 oth­er com­mit­ted people. We col­lec­ted A LOT of trash! The tra­gic thing: After only one week with a small storm the whole coast was full again with plastic bottles, broken garden chairs, flip­flops etc.. That’s why we avoided plastic wherever pos­sible. At the bakery, at the mar­ket, in the super­mar­ket. We always had our cot­ton car­ri­er bags with us.

Unfor­tu­nately the tap water was anoth­er prob­lem, mostly not really drink­able, so we had to buy 6l water con­tain­ers more often. This was also due to the fact that there was two times no tap water at all in Ulcinj for 1–2 days. So we also learned that there are weekly deliv­er­ies of water, which are trans­por­ted in trucks. Crazy world.

There was also power fail­ure from time to time. We actu­ally did not care about that. What we don’t like, how­ever, is the sup­ply with non-renew­able ener­gies. In Montenegro, des­pite the strong wind, there are just 2 com­pleted wind farms. The first one has 26 wind tur­bines and is loc­ated in Krnovo near Niksic.

The second one is the Mozura wind farm between Bar and Ulcinj, which has been in oper­a­tion since the end of 2018. 32 wind tur­bines worth 40 mil­lion euros pro­duce 46 MW of green energy. Unfor­tu­nately, sol­ar energy is not yet so en vogue des­pite the fact that there is plenty of sun.

Hydro­power, on the oth­er hand, is more pop­u­lar, but this is not very pleas­ing, since there are still great, nat­ur­al rivers in Montenegro with endem­ic (only here occur­ring) fish spe­cies. The cam­paign “Save the Blue Heart of Europe” by EuroNatur draws atten­tion to the prob­lems of hydro­power plants. Over 2800 are planned for the entire Balkan region!

One thing we have been won­der­ing about since the begin­ning is the life in the Balkans. The aver­age wage in Montenegro is about 400 Euro. But the food is at least as expens­ive as in Ger­many, maybe even more expens­ive. Many things have to be impor­ted, because there is hardly any pro­cessing industry in Montenegro. At Lidl you could even buy cheap­er and more eco­lo­gic­al food! Also the hous­ing costs are hor­rendous in com­par­is­on to the salary! In the high sea­son it is dif­fi­cult to find an afford­able apart­ment in the coastal towns. In the winter the heat­ing costs are high due to the bad isol­a­tion of the build­ings. That’s why many still live with their par­ents. Under­stand­ably. The dream for many young people: Emig­rat­ing. We have met count­less people of our age who hope to live in a European coun­try. Wheth­er in Novi Sad, Skopje or Ulcinj. Those who stay live mostly from tour­ism. Espe­cially in the coastal towns. And they are doing rel­at­ively well, not as well as in Yugoslavi­an times, but not bad either.

Speak­ing of Yugoslavia… Yugoslavia has been a bet­ter time for many of those we have met: more industry, more work, more free­dom, more unity. The sad legacies from that time are notice­able every­where: aban­doned hotel com­plexes like in Valdanos or Ada-Bojana, the engin­eer who now runs a small super­mar­ket or the uncle who works in Germany.

Back to the present and a Montenegrin spe­ci­al­ity: honk­ing the horn. Day in and day out I have suffered nervous break­downs because of it. The Montenegrins have per­fec­ted their honk­ing. A real lan­guage has emerged. The ingeni­ous thing: every­one under­stands it! Here are a few expressions:

  1. Short, joy­ful honk­ing of the horn (1−2 times): “Hello!” (mostly with­in the city and at a slow pace if you see friends in cafés or on the sidewalk)
  2. Longer obtrus­ive honk­ing with short and long honks: “Out of the way!” Or “Drive on!” (hap­pens very often)
  3. A short honk: “Care­ful, I’m com­ing!” (Espe­cially used while over­tak­ing cyc­lists close by)
  4. Short honk: “Thank you!” (To be used after 2. or 3. when everything has worked out and noth­ing has happened)
  5. A few times short and a few times long in the rhythm Hooonk, honk, honk, hooonk: “Bye!”

So now I fin­ish with a Hooonk, honk, honk, hooonk and hope that you enjoyed our insights into the land of the black mountains.

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