Route Less Travelled?
7/17/11 - 7/21/11
I think I’ve learned something new in every country that I’ve been lucky enough to venture into. In Thailand I learned that just because a person appears to be a woman does not necessarily make it so. In Turkey I learned how to play backgammon (poorly). In Malaysia I learned that you can find alcohol in Muslim countries, but you’re going to pay excessive amounts for it. In Laos I learned that Asian super germs mixed with open wounds are not a winning combination. In Cambodia I learned that maiden motorcycle voyages are best taken in a country with at least moderate levels of traffic laws. In Montenegro I would learn a new lesson: just because a country seems obscure to an American does not mean that it is off the beaten tourist trail.
I never really planned on going to Montenegro. The complex circumstances which led to my decision to indulge were as follows: I wanted to go to Croatia. I was in Albania. Montenegro is between Albania and Croatia. Profoundness adorns my many travel decisions.
The path into the country involved getting to Schodra, a city in northern Albania, then hitch hiking across the border to a city called Ulcinj. This is the main travel route from Albania to Montenegro, and is indicative of why Albania is so awesome. The main border crossing into Montenegro involves hitchhiking. I was travelling with two Swedish girls that I’d met in my hostel in Tirana, and together we seamlessly crossed the border. We never even needed to stick out our thumbs for a ride, as our waiter in a café in Schodra offered to drive us across the border after his shift ended. Again, Albania = awesome.
In my mind I figured Montenegro to be a perfect opportunity to unwind on a scantly populated pristine beach. Montenegro seemed like such an obscure country to me, why would it be crowded? Well, although undiscovered to Americans, Russians and Italians have been privy to the picturesque coastline for ages. So without further ado, the award for the most crowded country I’ve been to this trip goes to… Montenegro!
There's a beach under there, I promise
I stayed in Ulcinj for less than 24 hours. There literally was not a plot of land big enough on the beach to spread a beach towel. Add into the mix the pungent aroma summoned from the combination of eastern Europeans and abundant sunshine, and my senses were reaching overload status. I escaped to Budva, another tourist hotspot closer to the border of Croatia, and soon found much of the same. I was tempted to flee northern inland, a far less trampled portion of the country. However my birthday was forthcoming, so in order to keep up with my 25 year trend of awesome birthdays I would need a busy hostel. Although crowded, Budva did not disappoint in delivering the shenanigans. A perfect concoction of Canadians, Americans, Kiwis, and Australians blended in the hostel, a global cocktail of travellers known to induce shenanigans.
Hat courtesy of Jarred, giant beer courtesy of the Balkans being awesome
With my birthday in the books, it was time to escape the masses. I wasn’t ready to make my getaway before giving the country one more shot. Map in one hand, Tylenol in the other, a hostelmate and myself began to seek out a better locale. We had heard rumblings of a place about 30 minutes away from Budva with a picturesque lake and a beautiful trek up to a castle on the cliffside. It was settled, and the next day I would make my last gasp attempt for crowd sanity at the Bay of Kotor. A short, beautiful ride later, we stepped off the bus and, could it be? A not crowded beach! We had done it!
After relishing in the dearth of both body odor and back hair for a while, we decided it was time to tackle the trek up to the castle. It is a tactical defensive advantage for a castle to be at the highest point in the city, and the 45 minute trek up to the castle made it oh-so apparent why this is true. We huffed and puffed our way up the hill, unintentionally flaunting how out of shape we were. Apparently this was the last castle to fall to the Turks during their invasions, or so I was told by the other sweaty flushed backpackers on the trail. I don’t know if this is true or not, but the thought of doing that hike with arrows and hot oil raining down from the sky is certainly enough to make a believer out of me. Luckily, as with all treks I’ve been on this trip, the payoff easily justified the energy expenditure.
Not posing for pictures, this is just my natural stance of castle domination
I think I could have better appreciated all that Montenegro had to offer had I visited it earlier on in the trip. At this point in my journey, I find that I am becoming increasingly crowd averse. My birthday was great, and Kotor bay was incredible, but I think the rest of Montenegro was, unfortunately, forgettable due to the crowds. I had heard from other travelers that Croatia was also bustling with tourists, so I decided to take a bit of a detour before heading to the Dalmation Coast. Bye bye tourists, hello culture, next stop: Bosnia.