I guess it had to catch up with me at some point. The rain. Up until October I could count on one hand the days of rain that I’d had. Now I would need at least two, maybe three hands.
My rest day in Mostar was very wet but fortunately I was staying at a wonderfully homely and friendly hostel (hostel majdas) and some of us went out for a Bosnian feast to pass the time. The sun came out in time for us to watch the setting sun beneath the iconic Stari Most bridge which was destroyed during the war and later reconstructed in its original style.
It’s become a tradition to dive from this bridge and the red bull cliff diving competition was held here this summer. A jump of 27m into the freezing river below. Tourists can pay 25 euros for the privelige and the price includes two divers on hand should something go awry. With the hostels tales of at best bruises and at worst a broken back I stayed firmly behind the railings.
From Mostar I made a dash for the coast and managed one dry day before the rain found me again. These wet days are punctuated with regular stops in petrol stations and bus stops for a bit of respite, adding yet more glamour to an already glitzy lifestyle.
At the very tip of southern Croatia, just a few kilometres from the border with Montenegro, Marko’s natur park can be found. I heard about this place, offering free camping to cyclists, backpackers and woofers, through the warmshowers network. With better weather forecast in a few days it seemed a good place to hunker down for two nights and surrender to the mighty power of mother nature.
It’s certainly an unusual place. Two cabins resembling temporary classrooms sit amongst what looks a scrapyard. There a tools pinned to the walls, a bike hanging from the tree and a mezze of hoses, bits of wood and pieces of furniture lying around. This is the kind of place my Grandpa dreams about! There were two swiss couples staying who had been there all summer and built a very impressive house out of things they had found at a junk yard. They had a wood burning stove burning merrily away and it made a very comfortable place to warm up.
One evening Marko invited us to dinner at his place. His cabin only had one room and we piled in desperate to escape the chilly damp outside air. He showered us with stories of the war and his desire to reconstruct the local narrow gauge railway for tourists. Huddled round the small table, smoke hanging in the air, illuminated by the dim orange glow of a single table lamp we were united by the life-giving powers of a spaghetti bolognase.
Trudging back up the slope to the camping area in the beam of my head torch I caught a glint of the two guilty blue eyes of Marko’s dog slinking past us back down the hill.
‘That doesn’t bode well’, I thought.
My suspicions were confirmed when I reached my tent. Chuck (the dog) had managed to crawl under the outer layer of my tent, prise open the zips of the inner sleeping compartment, somehow open my pannier and locate the baguette which I had bought for breakfast the next day. He had devoured the lot, leaving debris of crumbs and paper bag strewn all over the tent amongst a trail of muddy paw prints. It resembled a canine crime scene.
Furious I managed to remove most of the evidence but a few telltale prints remain on my sleeping bag. Well at least he didn’t wee in there.
That night a giant storm hit. I lay curled up in my tent with my headphones in trying to block out the roar of the thunder overhead. It sounded like buildings were collapsing all around us and bright white lightning lit up my tent. Desperately I counted the seconds between the crashes and flashes until thankfully it began to drift further down the coast.
The next day I soon arrived in Montenegro and spent an enjoyable day cycling around the bay of Kotor before a much needed night with warmshowers host Fred. He cooked me a ratatouille, providing the vegetables that had been sorely missing from my life, and let me have lie in which is very hard to come by when cycle touring.
I whizzed past the Montenegro coast line which is unfortunately very commercialised. The sparkling waters seem suffocated by the high rise hotels adorning every inch of land around the curved bays and an oppressive main road wraps its way all around the edge. Because of the steep terrain all the development is restricted to a small area and to me it seemed like very little natural beauty remained. For the highlights of this small country I think you need to head to the mountains but unfortunately there was no time for me this trip.
The contrast between Montenegro and Albania is stark. As soon as you cross the border you can tell you are in a poorer country and the roads are certainly interesting! Bulls, chickens, sheep and even the ocassional pig roam freely down the carriageway, people wander across roundabouts and through junctions, drivers regularly stop in the middle of the road for a chat and bikes frequently cycle the wrong way up the street causing me to worry for a while that Albanians drive on the opposite side of the road. All of this combines to create a crazy, high stakes slalom. Although it has to be said that the drivers are conscientious (they have to be) and nothing moves fast enough to ever feel threatening.
Furthermore the people in Albania are the friendliest yet! The children holla hellos from up to 50m away and many run over to high five me, shake my hand or wish me a good trip in Albania. I have also been stopped a couple of times by people offering me cups of coffee and it is nice to take a short break from cycling for a drink and a chat if our language skills allow it. I arrived in Shkoder at a hostel expecting a free nights camping and left two days later after being allowed to stay in the hostel as a guest of the owner, treated to a slap-up Albanian feast and a scooter tour of the city!
A question I am often asked during these conversations is, ‘Are you single?’. My reply quickly followed by, ‘Why?’. I’m not really sure what the right answer to this question is. Do they expect me to have been inflicted with an evil curse as a baby causing lovers to die a gruesome death? To many of them this would be more plausible than the actual answer that I am happy being single and that travelling alone allows me the freedom to do whatever I please. Sometimes for an easy life I pretend that I am married and have a wet blanket husband sat at home knitting and playing house until I return. Although secretly I am pleased at their outrage and disbelief that I could possibly still be single at the haggard old age of 27!
I am certainly still having a wonderful time and can’t believe that my journey will be over in less than two weeks time. Recently I have noticed a beautiful connection has developed between my bike and I, allowing me to steer without turning the handlebars just using subtle changes in body position to guide us. I will miss the ever changing landscapes, the fascinating encounters and the comforting rhythm of the pedal strokes which have become my constant companion.
So I guess all that is left is to make the most of these last two weeks and say see you soon back in blighty!