Budget Holiday in Montenegro, Part II: Planinica Fail Trail in Durmitor National Park

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Day 3: Žabljak 

On the third morning, I caught a minibus to the small mountain village of Žabljak. A student ticket cost only 6€, and the 2.5-hour trip doubled as another sightseeing tour – I’d never tire of admiring the Montenegrin landscapes. Žabljak in itself wasn’t all that impressive: like your average hikers’ resort, the village is built around the road leading to Durmitor National Park and consists of houses and hotels, many of which have already been abandoned mid-construction. There is a grocery store, a post office and an outdoor gear shop, as well as a handful of middling restaurants. The food is well-suited for enthusiastic carnivores looking to stretch their stomachs, but don’t expect any unforgettable gourmet experiences. I had the best 4.50€ pizza at the pizzeria next to the post office, but every other restaurant I tested was a bit of a disappointment in one way or another. The village is not the main attraction here, anyway.

IMG_20180618_161440Durmitor National Park: the best (and perhaps the only) reason to travel to Žabljak

I arrived after noon, and the weather was not looking optimal for any outdoor activities anymore. I spent the rest of the rainy day by the huge picture windows at the Hotel Soa restaurant, sampling some local wines. Not bad for a Monday.

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IMG_20180618_162003In addition to mountain views, you can also spy the abandoned hotel next doorIMG_20180618_170634Yes, that’s a live damn horse lurking on the porch of the ghost hotelIMG_20180618_172316Same guy
IMG_20180619_071040Forecast for the next day: no rain!

Day 4: Durmitor National Park, Planinica Fail Trail

This is the tale of a failed hike.

Contrary to my usual habits, I was already at the national park gate right after seven o’clock in the morning, bursting of energy and excitement. I had been told to visit Planinica, a spectacular viewpoint five hours away, so I wanted to reserve the whole day for the long trek. I asked the stern-looking ranger in the ticket booth for a three-day ticket, and offered to pay by Visa. The card payment terminal seemed to be functioning normally with all its lights on, but the man demanded I pay cash. He dug up the change from his own pocket, and it seemed like a bad idea to even try to ask for a receipt. Even though I usually try to travel on a budget, I’d be more than happy to pay any and every entrance fee to national parks, provided that the money actually goes toward the upkeep of said parks and not in the pockets of chunky, mustachioed men. Annoyed by this Great Injustice, I stormed off into the park – and immediately stepped into a steaming pile of fresh dog shit. So the day began just as well as it would continue.

IMG_20180619_074027Foggy Black Lake before the arrival of tourist buses

The most popular tourist attraction within the park must be Crno jezero, the Black Lake of the Black Mountain, which despite its name glimmers in different shades of turquoise. There is no shortage of visitors to the lake, since dozens of tour buses trundle daily to the park entrance, and from the entrance it’s only a short and easy walk to the lake along a paved road. At seven in the morning, however, there was not a soul in sight, so I got to enjoy my breakfast snacks in full peace and silence. After this brief moment of solitary luxury, everything started to go wrong again.

IMG_20180619_153809Ignore both markers pointing to the right and carry on straight ahead

They say the trails in Durmitor are very well marked. Maybe so, but they’re also all marked with the same red-and-white symbol. The signs are sometimes slightly confusing and/or placed in imaginative, semi-hidden spots. Once you are on the trail, it’s fairly easy to stay on the trail, but it’s imperative to pay extra attention whenever there are crossing paths. Or at least pay more attention than I did. I started the trek by wasting an hour walking in a circle, just because I turned right too early at the crossroads in the picture above.

IMG_20180619_085854 This was not the right trailIMG_20180619_091634

When I had finally found my way onto the correct trail, I was immediately hit by the next plague: after the rainy night, the forest was buzzing with millions of mosquitoes, every single one of which attacked the sweaty sloth buffet I were with full force. I couldn’t stop even for a second if I wanted to avoid fainting from loss of blood. I was so busy cussing and swatting off the bloodsuckers that I accidentally missed another turn and ended up in a cul-de-sac, where even more mosquitoes were waiting to feast on my feeble body. I had to retrace my own steps again.

IMG_20180619_093454No, you’re not meant to keep going straight here. Can you spot the minuscule trail marker on the left? (The signpost was hidden away behind the bend and some bushes.)

IMG_20180619_100202Another great spot for another mosquito ambush

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I couldn’t stop swatting the mosquitoes until a couple hours later, when I finally made it out of the cursed forest and onto the plains dotted with snowbanks. At this point, the sky was forecast to start clearing, which obviously didn’t happen in reality.

IMG_20180619_105002That’s one way to mark a trailIMG_20180619_105656Back when I was young and foolish and still had faith in everything good and in clear skiesIMG_20180619_105348Back when I still had the optimism to stop and smell the flowersIMG_20180619_110517Massive snow craters on the wayIMG_20180619_112304 Looks like everything but clearing skiesIMG_20180619_112940Just some light fog, it will surely lift soon, yupIMG_20180619_120215Crawl-through trailIMG_20180619_120129Crawling through

Planinica was only about twenty minutes away when the wind picked up. Then it started to rain. Visibility kept getting worse, and I really didn’t want to get lost again by veering off the marked trail. The trail went through some brushwood, and I had no option but to crawl through. Muddy, soggy and cold, I finally made it to my destination…

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…Only to find a stick in the mud and fog as far as the eye could see (which really wasn’t far at all). On a clear day, the miraculous views might be there or they might not, who knows? All I know is this hike of mine was a complete and utter failure. Why must the Gods of Fog adore me so? All I could do at that point was return to the forest to get eaten alive by the damn mosquitoes again.

IMG_20180619_121644SIGH.
IMG_20180619_121304GuestbookIMG_20180619_123225Views behind the fog curtain. Maybe.

IMG_20180619_123440The start of a long journey back downIMG_20180619_125940Still on the way backIMG_20180619_150244More mud, yay!

As a recap, the day consisted of: corruption, shit, getting lost, pain, fog, rain, wind, cold, mud, sweat, blood, and no views whatsoever. As a cherry on top, the old RSI in my knee made a glorious comeback all thanks to the sweaty eleven-hour hike with plenty of elevation. It would be a great idea to start slow with these sport vacations of mine, but I never remember to unstupidify myself before I strain myself. Too ambitious for my own good when it comes to mountains, I guess.

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The best part of the whole day was this view of the Black Lake on my way back to the village. I could have just hopped on one of those tour buses with everyone else to see it, no pain and a lot of gain. Maybe next time.

To read all my posts on this Montenegro trip in English, click here: Montenegro18EN

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