Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Peaks of the Balkans Trail: Day 4

Like every other day on these trips, Day 4 started off with a steep climb.  This time it was to a meadow that the trail description said would have a good view.  They weren't kidding:



The day's route involved briefly crossing into Montenegro but then returning to Albania for several more kilometers, passing through the small village of Doberdol, and then crossing over into Kosovo for the third section of the trail.  As we climbed out of Cerem and crossed into the next few valleys, the scenery changed from Alpine to a bit like the Pyrenees:


All was going well until about 1 kilometer after the summer shepherds' village of Balqin, where our trail markings abruptly ended in the middle of a large meadow.  It was back to map and compass time, which was a slight mental blow when we had gotten used to being off navigation duty.  The real problem was that we weren't sure if the markings were actually gone or if we had just gone the wrong way, so we spent a fruitless hour or so searching for the trail before deciding to plan our own route to Doberdol.  On top of this, we had pretty much polished off our remaining pite and the few snacks we had managed to buy in Valbone.  We sat down and assessed our situation:

Alicia:  So we have a couple of snacks left but no dinner?
Maria:  Right.  And no breakfast.
Alicia:  Okay.  So we have no dinner, no breakfast, and we don't know where we are, but other than that...everything's good?

After what felt like a very long time of making our way across a ridge in the hot sun, we arrived in the village that we had assumed from a distance must be Doberdol.  In one of our few lucky navigational breaks, it was.  When we got there, though, we stared up at a signpost, trying to figure out how the arrows pointing toward various other villages could possibly fit with what the map was telling us.  This problem was solved a minute later when a friendly guy from the village walked up to us, looked up at the signpost himself, and then rotated the entire post about 90 degrees.

The guy, who we decided to call Dimples, then took us back to the Doberdol mountain hut for some food:  milk, yogurt, fresh cheese, bread, tomatoes, and cucumbers.  All good, though at this point I was really ready for some variety; we'd largely been eating this same meal, or parts of it, for the past few days.  We ate a little and put the rest in our packs to save for dinner.

Hiking up the very steep hill out of Doberdol, we met a shepherd and proceeded to have a conversation that we'd also been having over and over again for the past few days:  the discussion of where we were going. This was not exactly a language barrier but more like a fundamental state of mind barrier.  The problem was, our trail was essentially a long, thin oval.  This meant that at any given point, it would have been faster to go across the oval to get to a particular town further down the route, rather than to continue around the oval.  So when I would say to someone that we were going to Town B via Town A, they would invariably point out that we were in fact going completely the wrong direction to get to Town B and that Town A wasn't even remotely on the way to Town B.  In most cases this eventually led to an impassioned discourse on why we needed to turn around and go a different way; I didn't have the language skills to explain that the whole point of the trip was to go the long way around.  The upshot was that we left a trail of people in our wake who believed we were complete idiots. Much the same as everyday life, no doubt.

After continuing on up the hill, we made it to the triangular border area between Albania, Montenegro, and Kosovo:


This was a beautiful, very runnable section of trail, though we spent far too long trying to decide if we should be looking for trail markers, since the trail description claimed that the whole section was marked, or if we should just use the map to get to the next village by the best route we could come up with.  It got frustrating quickly, especially as the day went on and the sun started to go down while we were still on the high border ridge.



We knew we needed to get down before dark, partly because the trail description warned of a scary descent and partly because we didn't have warm enough sleeping bags to stay the night up high.  Our bodies were starting to complain from the long day and various aches, pains, and niggles appeared (Maria, staring at her feet:  "Is that my skin?!").  Eventually we found the right route--there was in fact no scary descent, and what the trail description called 4km was actually 10km according to signposts--and headed down to find a camping spot just above the village of Roshkodol, Kosovo.


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