We have a lot of time to think while cycling which leaves you thinking about a lot of different and sometimes strange things. One is the use, placement and type of road signs used along the routes we follow. Montenegrin roads have frequent signs dictating which sections can, and cannot, be used for overtaking, a blatant waste of money and metal as the only attention they seem to receive is the action end of the many guns people own – their current form would make them better suited as colanders rather than outlets for public safety information. The other sign that leaves me scratching my head is ‘danger falling rocks’ as I am unsure whether I should be watching for rocks falling or rocks on the road, and when I see the sign, what course of action should I be taking. It is used so liberally, on roads with the smallest inclines on the sides that the meaning is almost worthless. Today the danger falling rocks sign was put to good use and it was very clear why… the huge repair patches on the road, missing safety barriers and scrape marks left from moving car sized chunks of rock were testament to the fact that a lot of things want to fall down into the ridiculously deep canyon we were cycling along. I was still left wondering whether I should be looking up at the air or down onto the road, or a combination of the two…
After five days of tough cycling we were both exhausted and needed a day off, however our planned rest day at the Tara bridge could not materialise as Sheena had neglected to tell me we only had ten euros left when we left the large big town, so we didn’t have enough money to stay longer. The next place where there was a possibility to obtain more was 46km away and the route profile showed a brutal day of 1700m of climbing. The prospect of having to do this was not very inspiring, combined with the thick cold fog when woke meant we were slow to rise and get ready. Last nights shooting had gone on well into the night, after asking whether they were shooting blanks or live rounds the reply, complete with sly grin said that it depends if the guests are responsible or not. Quite the variety of small arms were being discharged, from the pathetic pop of pistols to the certain roar of the ubiquitous AK. Despite the late night arrival of an ambulance, we were ok so perhaps they were just blanks after all.
We had an eclectic mix of food left in our bags, none which any sane person would call breakfast, yet there were no shops nearby and, as we were unsure if the next town would even have a cash point, we had to save what little we had on us. Using the rest of our vegetables, and hesitantly opening the neglected emergency packet of polenta (which I have never cooked and the instructions were in every Balkan language but no English…) I planned a strange and perhaps World premier of curried vegetables avec polenta at 8.45am. In all fairness it was tasty, if a little confusing, but the 20 minutes of head scratching while deciding if the Bosnian, Croatian or Serbian instructions were clearer paid off and the polenta was not the bland mush we were expecting. It did resemble some kind of bastard creation concocted by a drunk Ghanan and Indian chef but it set us up for the day ahead.
Our nights camping had us half way vertically down at the top of the Tara Canyon (does that make sense??), and we planned to follow the canyon upstream towards the town of Majkovac. The Canyon is truly spectacular, the second deepest in the World and the deepest in Europe, a mixture of forest, huge cliffs and far below, blue water. Our camp was next to a high bridge spanning this, a precarious looking concrete arch with many patches on it that in no way looked capable of supporting the weight of the occasional truck that passed over. As we have seen all over the Balkans, memorials place remembrance to partisans who fought against the Italians and Germans here during WW2. The slightly cross eyed bust of the bridge designer, who later blew up his creation to hinder the Italians and was later captured and executed, stands at one side. On the other is a bronze scene showing how the Ottomans were defeated here. While the few other people passing through turn up to take a photo and leave, we were able to watch the sun set while enjoying a few beers with our feet dangling off the drop.
It completely confuses my brain when I stand and think about the interplay of processes to shape the land like this, the timescales involved for such a thing to be created and the complete insignificance of us as individuals in comparison.
What would it look like in another million years and what would be living there? Why should we consider such a thing ‘beautiful’ or ‘amazing’ to look at, is it our education or cultural background?
Our route started down hill and was seriously impressive. The small road was etched onto a huge, towering vertical wall of limestone, curving around and taking us down towards the river, all the time cold in the frigid sunless shade. Much to our dismay, just 3km in we came across a tunnel – fortunately only 170m long but with no lights or even good road inside. The limp, limited light given out by our torches lamely offers a hint at what might be in front of us until our eyes become more accustomed, yet we can’t or don’t want to hang about as there is little room for both us and a car. Shortly after we came across another, water dropping from cracks in its roof, puddles and a wet floor adding more of a hazard… then dismay became joy… it was happening again, we looked at our profile and the tunnels were cutting through where sharp inclines were supposed to be. The software we use for route profiling takes information from google earths altitude projections, so it has no way of telling whether a road tunnels under and incline or not! We had lots of tunnels, so even though they were still scary, the traffic was very light and they were not too long – more importantly they meant the road had a fairly limited change in altitude, just the general rise that heading upstream will cause. Due to the fact it was really impressive, and bits of the road were missing, we stopped regularly for photos so progress was very slow. Eventually, after a difficult 200m height increase we arrived in Mojkovec, happy to find a bank, a small place to stay and places to buy food. The town is small, and a mixture of old traditional buildings erratically situated between squat tower blocks. Belching lada nevas, rusting old VW golfs and passats (mostly in Indian red colour…)cruse around giving the impression that if you could just set your eyes to a slightly faded colour set, it could be 1990. The mines that led to the towns creation and gave it historical significance have long gone, closed shops and youths with little to do give it an air of decay, yet its pleasant setting have made it a nice place to wonder and have a day off. The socialist ability to make bizarre and bold statements with concrete mean there are some striking buildings, from the WW1 memorial that resembles a removed molar tooth to the closed hotel that is entirely made of triangles.
Signs that winter is rapidly approaching are clear all around, the air temperature is decreasing, the days are getting shorter and everyone is busing themselves with the collection, chopping and storage of wood. Everywhere here, from the small houses in the villages, to the tower blocks in town there are piles of wood. Men are busy chopping with axes and chainsaws as woman place the next log on the block, presumably with great trust or fear. Basement hatches are open, and quite the impressive variety of stacking techniques are evident. Lets hope the sun lasts as we make our way now through a small segment of Serbia into Kosovo!