There is a special place I like to take people who are in Montenegro’s mountains for the first time . One girl told me it reminds her of the end of the world. Are you familiar with a feeling when you wake up from a deep dream, and find yourself back in “reality”? For a few moments your back doesn’t hurt, you cannot remember that your to-do list exists, and part of you is still there, in the warmth of a dream. That dream-like sense follows me every time I climb my favourite hiking trail on the Prokletije (in English, translated as the ‘Accursed Mountains’).
On the border between three countries, Montenegro, Albania and Kosovo, lies a huge mountain with a scary name. She is open to those who follow her rules and those who are seeking freedom and silence. Many people approach her amazing valleys and enjoy views of big rocky summits, but her real beauty lies when you get a little higher – above morning fog and low clouds, face to face with rugged ridges and amphitheaters shaped by the forces of nature. Today Vlado is with me. This will be his first ever real hike. After my stories, he has high expectations. We had to start early, as we expect rain in the second part of the day. The only noise you can hear is that from light wind on the top of the trees, and a few shy birds letting other forest beings know that we are here. It is not uncommon to see a bear in these forests, but I don’t want to scare Vlado, so I tell him that they are on the other side. As my friend slept just a few hours last night, he keeps asking me – how much longer to the summit? I tell him – just a little bit more. Rays of warm, rising sun are breaking through the forest; a few more zig-zag turns, and after almost two hours, we are there. A green valley surrounded by a circular ridge and three summits welcomes us, and as we make our first steps through Vlado’s face starts changing… He looks like a kid lost in a sweet store, never wanting to leave… “Woow! Look at the waterfall on the right! It’s like in a movie! I cannot believe that it exists! Man, thank you for bringing me here, this is like a totally new world for me! And my wife wanted me to go to Paris to see the Eiffel tower! I’m yours now!”
I smile because I see myself in him when I first explored this place. “You haven’t seen anything yet, trust me!” I tell him. We take some water from the spring and continue to the first summit – the lowest one. We pass remains of old shepherds’ huts, a nomad-like way of living that still exists in some parts of our country. Flowers are all around us. In some places they are replaced with strawberry, raspberry and blueberry bushes, waiting to bloom on a hot summer sun at the end of July. As you walk the last ten metres to the summit, the huge, grey cliffs of Karanfili start appearing over our summit, and your heartbeat just slows down – they pop up from nowhere, like someone uncovering a new world.
I could just sit here for hours feeling every part of the landscape. Steep slopes reveal the valley where we started, and sun coming through the clouds reveals deep forests, goat trails and sharp rocks with snow hidden between them that never melts. This is the lowest of three summits that we are walking on today, but with a most spectacular view. With crossed legs, sitting on a rock, I feel like years are passing in just few minutes.
The clouds gather above us. We prepare to continue our walk, over the ridge, and then back to the valley. We feel warm once again as we walk on the border line between Montenegro and Albania. Everything is changing as we walk, except the feeling of being an integral part of our surroundings. When we get down off the ridge, I take my friend to see something special – very close to a spring is a stone with paintings from Neolithic times. We are standing in front of the same mountain and under the same sun when someone from a long time ago left a message for us.
Following the path that leads next to the stream, we pass the waterfall, and we are back in the valley where it all started. It is hard to say goodbye to place like this, as the part of us remains here, waiting for us to come back. For some it may be the end of the world, but for my friend Vlado – just like it was for me – it is the beginning of a new one.