For the last five days we have been cut off from society, living inside a cabin within the boundaries of Durmitor national park, all in the name of research. Without communication to the outside world you always worry that you will miss something important while away. Glad to see that scientists only went and discovered the God particle in my absence then…
In the last post, we had just left the citadel of Kotor and were heading north into the more rural areas of Montenegro. Žabljak was our destination and upon arrival it was clear this was going to be a very different type of experience. Žabljak only has two roads (one of which is a dead-end) and the junction where they meet has a tiny hut marked “tourist information”. Our contact for the cabin turned out to be the local policeman and although friendly his English was, well, non-existent. “Enjoy. Goodbye” he said almost immediately after handing us the keys to the cabin. “But wait, what time shall we meet you on Thursday?” Alex had asked in return. “Yes. Enjoy. Goodbye”.
So “enjoy goodbye” we did, which was not hard for it is clear why Durmitor is a UNESCO world heritage site. The natural beauty of the landscape is outstanding – I leave it to Alex to paint the picture with words. Staying in the rural mountains also brings with it a whole new soundtrack: grasshoppers, the incessant buzz of the fly, the echo of the neighbour’s dogs howling at the full moon, the rumble of thunder that sounds as if the sky is collapsing – all of these elements, coupled with the complete absence of human activity, combine to create that sense of “being in the wild”.
Indeed, in looking for nature we soon had many instances where nature came looking for us. The first of these arrived in the form a tarantula (might not be the exact species name, but it was a big meaty spider the size of my palm) that I encountered by the side of the motorway. I unknowingly stepped right in front of his web having consumed two bottles of water and in desperate need of some relief. Upon realising my poor choice of location, I shouted something along the lines of “Oh my goodness” which, for the record, is probably what the tarantula was saying in return. We both scuttled away quickly.
In Durmitor there have also been a number of lesser sized spiders caught sauntering around our cabin but they were all duly exiled upon request from Alex. At one point I caught a fly and decided to keep it hostage as a warning to the others because my insect repellent just wasn’t doing the trick. But the sheer quantity of moths, mosquitoes, butterflies and general airborne nutters in existence here meant that I didn’t have anywhere near enough glass tumblers to keep up the pretence of hostility, so in the end I caved and let him go.
Aside from the insects, another rustic element of our experience has been the task of cooking for ourselves. Here is an actual shopping list: bread; ice-cream; water; pasta; sauce. As you can tell, we weren’t exactly setting new standards of culinary brilliance, but there is definitely something about cooking in a location that makes you feel all the more endeared to it. How many of us remember with ease a place we have cooked over a place we have simply stayed? Probably most of you I would imagine.
A plus side to the rustic cabin is that it came with a flat screen TV (ok, so we weren’t totally cut off from the outside world) and in amongst the local channels we have been fortunate enough to watch extreme sports and Lord of the Rings. While this is not exactly the cultural diet I am used to, it nonetheless made me appreciate the difficulties of navigating a bike over a pit full of broken logs and resisting a horde of hungry Orcs.
Outside the cabin we were fortunate enough to explore some of Durmitor national park, although it is so large I would probably recommend a bike as the best way to see it. The Black Lake is stunning, sitting in front of the most incredible mountain scenery I have ever seen. I couldn’t believe how still the water was too for such an incredibly vast lake. I would have liked to have explored more, but persistent thunderstorms and a succession of mosquito bites (payback for the captive fly, I fear) have prevented me from doing so.
Still, the good news is that Alex has managed to gather some vital data for her research by conducting key informant interviews. It seems that Durmitor is still very much in its infancy with regards to tourism, and opinions amongst the locals as to whether it is a good thing vary wildly.
So now we head off to Kolašin, the final leg of our official journey, a place that should be in theory somewhere culturally and geographically between Kotor and Žabljak. All that is left for me is to point faithful readers in the direction of my fellow friends who are currently on their own research missions abroad. As we speak Viresh Patel and Jonathan Balls are in India collecting data. Check out their amazing journeys!