maandag 2 september 2013

GR2013 Day 21 & 22: Zabljak & Blagaj

Getting up in the South of Montenegro the heat was immediately upon our camp. Soon enough, it was 40 degrees, with a humidity of obscene dimensions. Long live the Mediterranean coast!

I drenched my coolvest, and we were once again on our way.

We had agreed the night before that Maria and Kostantinos would stay another night at the camp site in Ulcinj, but they'd ride along with me towards Kotor and subsequently Cetinje, after which they'd return to Ulcinj and I'd head on northbound.

Time to twist the wrist, and overtake the feeble!

This was also something particularly unnerving - Montenegrin tunnels. There's no lighting, alot of moisture, and you can't see anything because of that.

Nothing but light at the end, if you're lucky!

The hills were omnipresent. Yesterday we'd already been gobsmacked by the first Montenegrin views, but they just kept on coming.

The traffic was OK too... although in this pic, it looks worse than it is.

But ofcourse, soon enough I learned I'd spoken too soon.


Luckily, me and Konstantinos both thought the same thing. 'That's a mighty interesting sidewalk over there'.

Excuse me, coming through!

Just as we suspected, people in Montenegro also adhered to the credo of 'Screw the rules, respect each other'.

The immediate problem with the Montenegrin coastal roads also became apparent.

They are really nice, flowing roads in the mountain side...

...but as soon as you get to a city, that's when things get difficult. Konstantinos, with his soft luggage, was more maneuverable than I was, so sometimes he had to wait up for me.

The Montenegrin drivers didn't mind, though. The oncoming traffic even made room for us.

It was getting pretty tiresome in this heat though, but luckily...

(sorry, lost me train of thought again. Where was I? Oh, right)

...luckily my friend Murphy had brought his buddy Thor along again. We chose to pull in, and have some lunch whilst we awaited the rain

And we basically left off where we'd stopped in Shkoder. Time for an Albanian lunch! This time, Konstantinos finally gave in and let me pay.

It wasn't too long after this that we reached Kotor. I rode up front, but eventually I noticed Konstantinos and Maria were nowhere to be seen. I waited up, but after consulting a map the penny dropped. I'd already passed Kotor and was now miles north of it, going straight where we'd said to go right. 

Not the way I'd wanted to say goodbye... but luckily, the road leading North toward Niksic made up for this.

Here, have a look.

As I climbed the temperatures kept dropping. I had started with 40 degrees in the sunshine this morning, but now, it was less than half that. It was nice to be out of the sweatbox for once, but in fully ventilated heat gear, things got rather chilly real soon.

But still, the views were spectacular.

I plowed on towards Zabljak, which is a winter skiresort in winter.  Because of this, there are alot of people renting out rooms in their house... so I found one, for just 10 Euros. And it had everything I needed. Half an hour after I'd arrived, two Polish riders came to stay as well - one on an oldschool Triumph Tiger, and the other on a Transalp. 

We spent the evening exchanging stories and trying the local cuisine - thankfully, just across from our hostel there was a small restaurant. The kitchen was tiny, the owner was also the waiter... but the place was packed, and the food was tremendous. If you ever get to Zabljak yourself one day, make sure to visit "Old Wolf" - you surely won't regret it.

The following day, I was to go up a bit further to see the Tara river gorge. Then, head back South and into Bosnia.

Just for future reference - the place you see just left beside the road (inside the bend), that's the restaurant I was talking about.

Zabljak is a town at an altitude of nearly 1500m, so if you want to go and visit a gorge...

...that means you'll eventually have to descend down a string of hairpins.

One thing I also didn't like about Montenegrin roads (beside the tunnels) was the way they'd have ridged tarmac on a few places. In a car, you hardly notice it... but the narrow tires of the Beast kept on following the ribs in the road. Ribbed, but certainly not for my pleasure!

At the Tara Gorge, I was lucky enough to score a Montenegro sticker. Long live souvenir shops!

Oh, and before I forget... here's a vid of the ride across the Tara Gorge bridge.

After, I turned around, and headed back to Zabljak.

So back on the hairpins, dear boy!

Oh come on, there's plenty of space to overtake. POWEEEEER!!1

And there I was, back on the high plains. The vastness came in handy, because I could now see far more easily where bends were going and if there was any traffic. The speed, the speeeeeeed!

And the views, the vieeeeeeeews!!!1

These roads made for some spectacular riding. I hadn't seen that many motorbike tourists the past few weeks, but here, in Northern Montenegro, they were everywhere.

And I could understand why. These roads were just a joy to ride. Lean in, throttle out!

This also fufilled me with a bit of sadness, really. I knew it wasn't long until my Montenegrin adventure was over. I was curious though about what awaited me in Bosnia - a piece of Earth that to most Dutch people signifies a war, rather than a country.

Just one quick fill-up, and let's go.

On my way to the Bosnian border, Montenegro etched itself into my memory once and for all. You can already sort of see what's up ahead in the above picture.

But I guess this clip will tell a better story (nevermind the skewed perspective, I forgot the turn the lens back after doing some onboard footage). Now, I've got a smartass comment on everything, but this road just took my breath away. For fun, also try and count how many tunnels there are. I had to cut some of the long ones out, but it gives you an idea.

The road came by a huge dam... 

...and then continued in precisely the same, mental way.

I could almost start myself feel giddy again.

Oh look, the border! Yet again, I first had to exit one country, and then enter the other. Inbetween there was a river, crossed by a single track bridge (see the randomness vid for that). It gave the border crossing a sense of occasion.

When I come to power I want single track bridges entrenched by cliffs at all Dutch border crossings!


The first few miles in Bosnia proved to me what I'd been hoping all along.

That it was a staggeringly beautiful country.

The roads just kept on getting better and better, as well as the surroundings.

Little did I know though that I was yet to experience how close the difference can be between life and death on a trip like this.

Let me tell you about the term "SMIDSY". A SMIDSY is a type of accident where the motorcyclist is in full view, but simply overlooked by the driver of the car. Most of the time, this involves a car waiting in a side street, pulling out at the exact moment that the motorcyclist approaches the junction. SMIDSY therefore stands for 'Sorry Mate, I Didn't See You'.

So imagine this:

I was riding down a hill with about 70 kph, on a straight road for about 3 kilometres. A wall to my right, trees and houses to the left. In the distance, I could see a white car waiting to exit a side road to the right. It was standing still, so I figured he'd seen me already and waited until I had passed.

However, as I got closer, he started moving slowly onto the road... and before long, his entire car was blocking my way through. I couldn't go anywhere. I started braking, but I was convinced I was too close. This was the end. The trip was done, the bike was done, and I was done. I was going to have a monumental accident.

By this point two voices started running things in my head. The first one started to run amok shouting 'MURDER! FIRE! OMG WE'RE GONNA DIE', whilst the other quietly grabbed control of the Beast. 'Nevermind that other guy... I got this.'

Amazingly, with a front wheel fighting for grip, I eventually came to a standstill no more than 15-20 centimetres from the driver's door. Just take a moment to measure how small that is, taking into consideration a 600 pound motorbike, and coming to halt from 70 kph. Had I been on slippery Greek tarmac, then I would not have been writing this.

The guy driving the car slowly backed up, stuck his head out of the window and asked: 'Are you OK?'

I couldn't say anything. I physically couldn't say anything.

I continued on the last few miles to Bara river camp site, and upon arrival, I gave the Beast a little peck on the cheek. This had been far too close for comfort, for either of us.