Saturday, August 3, 2013

Montenegro: windy roads, raspberries and rafting

Podgorica, Montenegro, hasn't made anyone's top 10 places to visit for a good reason. It's the capital of a very small country and isn't designed to attract tourists. But, we dutifully visited it and walked around it. In fact, our fitbit counted over 30,000 steps that particular day so you can be assured that we walked around all of it.

Plus, our hotel room smelled funny, and we didn't even cause the funny smell, which is saying something.

Fortunately, we only stayed one night in Podgorica before heading off for bigger adventures. I wasn't feeling well when we got in the car Monday morning, but that didn't stop us from climbing things. That's the Lucas family motto:  When in doubt, go up. We went to the highest tomb in Europe, or maybe the world. All I know is that it was at the top of a very windy mountain. Everything in Montenegro is at either the top or bottom of a very long windy road.
We only had to walk a kilometer or so and then climb up 350 steps and when old, fat ladies in flip-flops were passing me, I should have taken that as a hint that I was, actually sick. Fortunately, the tomb was marble and underground and very cold.

But the grounds gave a fantastic view

After that, we went to a monastery. Well, the monastery required walking up, which I was in no mood to do, so I sent the camera with the family and sent them up, while I sat in the shade and worked on the primary program. This is one of the most sacred spots to the Serbian Orthodox. Here are the pictures from the monastery:
In retrospect, I probably should have given the camera to Jason rather than Daniel.

We then headed down yet another long and windy road where we all thought vomiting might be a good idea until we arrived at the rafting camp. We'd arranged a white water rafting trip that included 3 meals and overnight lodging. We had no idea what to expect. I mean, what would you expect from a rural Montenegran rafting camp? Well, because you're reading this, you can know what to expect:

 This was our cabin. It sleeps up to 6 and it was brand new. It came with a fireplace, which we used, because it gets cold in the mountains.

This is fresh raspberry juice. It was so incredibly delicious you wouldn't believe it. The waitress assured us that it was just raspberries and a bit of sugar. You've never tasted anything like these raspberries before. Honestly and truly. They were amazing. In fact, all the food at this place was amazing. And fresh. We watched the cook go get additional cucumbers--by picking them from the garden. 

I don't know why they had an astroturf covered car.

But the bunnies were adorable.

And the kinder even got along with each other.

And did I mention the food? It was, amazing. Except for the fact that the bacon was raw. I just couldn't bring myself to try it. Jason kept saying, "It's been cured like ham!" Yeah, well, I couldn't do it. He did, though. So did Daniel. They are brave.

We left the Ethno Selo and followed the directions to the actual rafting camp. Turns out we were in the overflow, which was AWESOME. 

To get to the actual camp took us about an hour. On very, very, windy roads and through lots of tunnels. They don't believe in actually putting in lights in most of the tunnels and it turns out that tunnels are quite dark without lights. Also, they just left it after they blasted it--no finishing of the tunnels at all. I would have taken a picture, but it was, well, dark. Dark and friendly. For instance, if you ran into a friend, you could just stop and chat for a while:

Also, if you needed to pee, just pull over and go! Yeah! No need to walk away from the road or find a bush or anything, just go ahead and go. Of course, after we joked about this for a while, we realized that part of this probably comes from living in the part of the world where landmines exist and wandering off well traveled roads isn't a good idea, even if you need to go.

We did finally arrive at the river. They suited us up in wet suits, helmets and life jackets. Let's just say that it wasn't our best look. 
 Well, the kids looked awfully cute.

The Tara river is the cleanest river in the world, according to our guide. He insisted you could drink straight out of it, which he did. The other people (a nice couple from Finland) did as well. The river was spectacular. I wish we had pictures from the white water parts, but it would have ruined the camera. 

 During the slow parts, the guide let Daniel be the captain.

The water is straight from the mountains and is super cold. (Hence, the wet suits.) It didn't feel terribly cold through the wet suit so when Jason jumped in he was pretty surprised at how cold it was when it got to his unprotected arms and head. Brr!

Sarah was just as brave as her father and hopped in.

The rest of us waited until we were at the shore and then just waded in, but Jason and Sarah did the full deal. All in all, it was an amazing day.

After the rafting, we went back and had lunch and then, on to Kotor, Montenegro.  Because the road had been so windy we thought, hey, let's take the less windy way through Bosnia. It's only 20 kilometers longer and not nearly as windy! Well, it should be one of those givens that when someone says, "Let's take a shortcut through Bosnia," the answer should be no. Unfortunately, Jason and I are dumb as rocks sometimes.

So, we're driving along and Jason gets stopped by the police, who stand on the side of the road and hold out a little sign. Sigh. I would have taken pictures, but I didn't know if we were about to be hauled off to some jail or something. And we weren't even in real Bosnia-Herzogovina. We were in the Republika Srpksa. Heard of it? No. We asked our Bosnian river guide to explain it to us, and he couldn't even do it. We've read the wikipedia entry and it didn't help.

Anyway, the police didn't speak English and well, our Bosnian isn't great. The guy they had pulled over right before did speak a bit of English and he explained that Jason was being ticketed for driving without his lights on and for driving in barefeet. Jason is never barefooted. Never. Except for the one time he gets pulled over in the Republika Srpska. The other victim explained that we would have to go into the next town, go to the post office and pay a fine immediately. But, through a lot of hand gestures, the police indicated that what they really wanted was cash--Euros were fine--now. So, Jason paid them 10 euros, they laughed and slapped him on the back and we drove off on our way.

And we just kept driving, because it ended up taking 4 or so hours to get back to the town. We used google maps on the iphone, which is an awesome tool. (We have unlmited global data.) Except for the fact that the iphone sent us down the hill of death. It was narrow and had potholes and if was utterly terrifying. Fortunately, we didn't encounter anyone coming the other way, mainly because the locals are smart enough to stay off it. They should put a sign at the top of the hill saying, "We realize your iPhone is sending you this direction, but they are wrong."

We did finally arrive in Kotor, Montenegro, which is a lovely little seaside town with castle ruins (where else?) up the side of a mountain. 1325 steps of the side of the mountain, which, of course, we had to climb up.\

So, the next morning, we climbed up, and up, and up. Sarah was a trooper and lead the way. Daniel whined a bit, but we all made it to the top. 


Then it was time to climb back down. You'd think we would have learned from our drive the day before that we should stay on the main roads, but  no, we (read Jason) decided to go down the alternate path. "It's on the brochure!" he said. Yeah, well, ouch. Most people don't go down (or up!) this way because it was overgrown with pokey bushes, had broken steps and was very, very scary.

 Jason was wearing long pants, but the rest of us had shorts or capris on. Sarah had no socks on. We got terribly scratched up legs. Terribly. About 2/3 of the way down we ran into a couple climbing up. She was wearing sandals and short shorts. We should have grabbed them and forced them to turn around, but we didn't. We hoped they survived.

So, at the end of that, we weren't that sad to leave Montenegro and all it's scratchy bushes. On to Bosnia-Herzogovina and the Republika Sprksa.

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