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Montenegro II

Conquering Mountains and Laid Low by Food

sunny 75 °F

11 pm, our 2nd night in Zabljak:
Dan seems to have it the worst of us. Ever since we returned from our hike, he has looked terrible and hasn’t left his bed except to run to the bathroom 3 or 4 times. Ruby and I aren’t feeling great either, but try to get some sleep thru Dan’s frequent sprints to the toilet, hoping he’ll feel better in the morning. I’m unable to sleep, owing primarily to the knot in my stomach, but I count my blessings that I’m better off than Dan. The realization that it just took longer to hit me happens about 2 am when I suddenly bolt upright, hesitate for a second, and then make my own headlong SPRINT to the bathroom. My hesitation was costly as I made it into the bathroom, but not quite to the toilet before I’m spewing the little food I managed to eat that night. I’m in there for a little bit, mostly cleaning up my mess, but thankfully I got out when I did because not 5 minutes after I make it back into bed, I see Ruby, who hadn’t yet joined Dan and I in our sprints, take her turn at the toilet. At that point it was totally confirmed - food poisoning. I managed to get an hour or two of sleep after just one more sprint, but amidst my tossing and turning, I hear more trips to the toilet, though I didn’t check to see who it was at this point.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let me back up to our first morning in Zabljak, a small town just outside Durmitor National Park in Montenegro.

Ruby, Dan, and I woke up in our B&B in Zabljak ready to rule the day. We would only be in Durmitor a day and a half because then we had to get Ruby to Tivat airport near the coast, so we knew we wanted to make these couple days count. We knew that Durmitor offered lots of good hiking, but another of the major attractions was the Tara Canyon, the 2nd longest canyon in the world behind the Canyon that is Grand. Our B&B manager “has a friend” who offers great deals on rafting tours, so we had signed up for one in the morning.

I put that in quotes because we would learn after a few more days that everyone in the tourism business has many friends with deals. Every hostel or hotel worker has friends who give his customers good deals on cabs, or good deals on rafting, or rental cars, tours, or whatever you may need. In small doses, this is just good business and can be a mark of a great hostel worker, but it is so prevalent in Montenegro that we soon recognized it as a form of mild corruption. Everyone seems gets a kick-back to push business to particular groups, but you’re not really getting any sort of deal or better tour, just the person they’ve got an agreement with.

Before our tour, we head downstairs to get breakfast, and find the cute, lovable, non-English-speaking Grandma bustling around the kitchen. She sets down some bread and jam, and since there are things in the oven, we think there is more coming. There was more coming as she sets down 3 shot glasses and pours us each some rakija. Rakija, if I haven’t introduced it already, is a type of alcohol made throughout the Balkans and in many areas it seems to be a key component of everyday life. As a review on the Balkans put it, if you’ve been in the Balkans more than a day and haven’t been offered rakija yet, you must be doing something wrong. Lonely Planet describes rakija as a homemade alcohol distilled from just about anything (direct quote). Seemingly like moonshine in some ways, it is always at least 40% alcohol and can be found in all liquor stores, but the best stuff is apparently the homemade rakija, which is what Grandma was serving us. The further out in the country and away from what we might consider a “legitimate” seller, the better is the advice we were given. In Montenegro, it seems that 9 am before going rafting is the perfect time for rakija, as she refilled our glasses after we finished the first. We didn’t get anymore food, however, and that is how our accommodations came to be known as the Bed & Booze.

Our van to rafting soon came and 40 minutes later we are overlooking a beautiful canyon valley. This area of Durmitor is represented by its postcard-gracing bridge, 172 m (564 ft) high and spanning a gap of 365 m (1198 ft), which we saw from above and below. From here we can see that there are many companies that do the rafting trips (some at a lower price), but true to form, our place has rakija waiting for us when we arrive. When in Rome…

Tara Bridge, from the top
And from the bottom, during rafting. People laughed with me whipping my phone out and standing up in the raft to snap some pictures
Ready to shove off

The rafting itself was pretty slow and calm (translation in Bryan’s mind: boring), but the group we did it with was great. Our group was made up of 2 couples, our 3, and German family of 3. Tatiana, the German mother, had me pegged right away. After one of the only sections that resembled rapids in any way, I cheered and she told me - “Bryan, you are very spicy.” Probably one of my favorite compliments ever. We did go ashore several times, which afforded us some good pictures and a small spot for some cliff jumping.

Dan, photo bombing our friends' picture

Cliff jumping:


I think my favorite part was not when I led the group in taking the plunge, but when Tatiana worked up the courage to jump before even her son or husband did (“I never do something like this before”). If you look close, you can see her screaming during takeoff

Undoubtedly, Pierre had the best form I’ve ever seen (read: most awkward and hilarious). From this picture, it's possible to imagine Pierre turning this takeoff into a graceful dive, but let me assure you that that is as far from reality as it could be. I’m glad that the rock was not high because from any real distance, that landing would've be painful.

Pierre’s girlfriend, Josephine, thankfully did much better with the form, but I was ready to dive in and save her if it came to that ;)

After 80 minutes of rafting, we were out and being handed more shots of RAKIJA! Do you notice a pattern here? The rakija quickly warmed you up after the cold canyon waters, and before we were driven back to Zabljak, we received a large homemade lunch of soup, bread, “home cheese”, fruit, and fish, that we all agreed was quite tasty. Could this have been the culprit of our indigestion later that night? Unsure, but we’ll return to that later. For now, we were enjoying a wonderful meal in beautiful weather with some new friends, and we found that we were planning to hike the same peak as Pierre and Josephine in the morning - the tallest peak in the park called Bobokutuk… or Bobobock… or Bobo-gonash… like I said - the land of mispronounciations. We offered to meet up and drive them there to spare them a cab. I really enjoyed talking with them - I love the idea of couples from very different countries and cultures - Josephine was Hungarian from Budapest and Pierre was obviously French. In the US you can date someone from the opposite coast, or even the South, but the differences between experiences, customs, and values isn’t there to anywhere near the same degree. They also met on CouchSurfing - Josephine first staying with Pierre in Paris, then giving Pierre a large incentive to plan a trip to Budapest. Before heading back to Zabljak, we stopped by the bridge, giving us a great opportunity for some fun photo ops and to buy our own bottle of plum Rakija.

Posing with his array of Rakija
On the bridge overlooking Tara Canyon

We got back from rafting feeling great and with several hours of daylight left, so Dan and I decided to go out on a light hike. Ruby wasn’t feeling too great, possibly a sign of things to come but more likely just tired from our schedule the last few days, and decided to stay and rest. Truly intending to do a quick hike, maybe to a lake a few kms away, and set out with about a liter of water and a few Cliff bars. The way I’m narrating this, it sounds like our plans changed a bit, doesn’t it?

Little did we know, but this was the peak we were destined for

I’m still not sure how we ended up climbing that mountain. With clear skies and bright sunlight, Dan and I were loving doing what we love - being out in nature, hiking, and continuing catching up on everything that’s going on with our lives. You would think that this should have been completed in the last 2 days of constant contact, but I had a lot of stories to tell, and Dan can talk for hours on a number of topics. I remember 1 junction where we made a conscious decision to take the uphill direction to try and get some good views before heading back, and before we knew it, the saddle between to peaks was in sight. At this point we recognized that the water we had brought was almost out, but the saddle (or col) held the potential for some fantastic views of areas of the part that we hadn’t ventured to. Keeping in mind our dwindling water supply, we thought it was well within reasonable reach. Those of you out there can guess what happened next - once atop the saddle enjoying some great views, the peak was tantalizingly close. We raced up this last bit and spent a while on top, taking pictures and basking in the waning sunlight before it dipped behind more westerly peaks.

On the ascent. We almost stopped here, but the col was calling for us
Beautiful Black Lake. This is really the place to get the view

One of my favorite pictures all trip

The last rays of sunlight

Still feeling good, we began our descent. We had brought headlamps and flashlights, so the light wasn’t much of a problem, but we wanted to get below the section of loose rocks before those were needed. Having not eaten in 6 or 7 hours, I broke out on of the Cliff bars just below the rocks section. Trying to conserve our remaining water, I hadn’t drank anything in a while and my mouth was very dry. Swallowing my first bite of Cliff bar was a little rough, and as soon as I tore off my second bite, I decided no more. Before I could get that bite down, however, I was bent in half, bringing up the little bit that was in my stomach. Convinced that this was due to dehydration, I drank most of our remaining few sips, hoping that that would set me straight. There was a small spot where we knew we could refill with clean water, but that was down almost near the lake where we started. After a few minutes of rest, we set off again. 10 or so minutes later, Dan was also overcome with a fit of dry heaving, presumably needing to throw up also but lacking the liquid in his stomach to get it out. Thinking ourselves foolish for not bringing enough water, we came up with a system to take things slow, keep an eye on each other, and rotate our pack between the two of us as the bouncing of the additional load seemed to speed up the stomach problems. Dan had a couple more bouts of dry heaving during the next 45 minutes of descent, but eventually we reached our clean water salvation, or so we thought. Being careful not to chug down the water, a common mistake following dehydration, we took a bit of a break slowly hydrating before continuing down. A few minutes after our break, even after hydrating well, I threw up again, and we were puzzled. Dan had another dry heaving fit before we finally made it back to our room, some 5+ hours after we had left Ruby. Still thinking that our issues were caused by dehydration, or possibly the numerous shots of rakija we had had, we laughed about our brashness, but we openly admitted to also feeling a bit proud that we had spontaneously climbed a peak called Savin Kuk, 2313 m high. It wasn’t until Dan, maybe an hour we made it back, did the first sprint of the night, did it start to dawn on us that there might be something more going on than just dehydration and foolishness.

Dan seemed to have an intuition that were weren't just suffering from dehydration. When we were climbing down the mountain and initially started having stomach problems, he said, “I feel like there is just something wrong in there, and my body is trying to get it out.” Once we had each made a trip to the bathroom, it became obvious that we had food poisoning. The initial reaction was to blame the homecooked meal, with the “home cheese” as a character under high suspicion. We all uniformly agreed to this, but the following day thru messages with Pierre, we learned that they did not suffer the same fate as us, so I find it most likely that the sketchy “mixed meat” platter the previous night was to blame.

This was my first bout with food poisoning, but both Ruby and Dan seemed to agree that this was one of the worst they had ever experienced. The plan had been to wake up early, pick up Pierre and Josephine, and get an early start on Bobokinish. We were on a somewhat tight timeline because the hike was supposed to be about 6 hours round trip and the airport was a 3 hour drive from there, so there wasn’t much time to kill. My alarm woke us up at 6:45, an hour or two after I had finally fallen asleep, and I felt... not good, but not terrible, and voted to give the hike the old college try, knowing we could always turn back if we didn’t feel well. Thankfully (praise the lord), I was out voted. No Bobotuk (real name) for us. I sent a message to Pierre, explaining that we were sidelined and couldn’t give them a ride, and we went back to sleep. I woke up a few hours later feeling worse than ever.

Ruby and I somehow managed to drag ourselves out of bed and all the way down the street to the grocery store to stock up on fruit juice and some fresh fruit and veggies - anything that we thought we could keep down. After we sloughed back to the room, we both went right back to bed. At noon I stumbled my way to the shower, but had to lie down again after that. To get some fresh air I made my way outside around 1, and ran into Grandma and her son (also no English). Thru some miming, they asked how I was feeling. Either they had heard some of our trips to and from the bathroom, or more likely, had heard from other guests. I gracefully mimed some upchucking and a stormy stomach, and the son nodded, and drew me into the kitchen. “Rakija - good for stomach!”. Almost laughing, I shook me head, “No, no rakija”. Puzzled, by my response, he counters with, “Grappa?”, and I wonder how anything gets done in this country. The Bed and Booze doesn’t disappoint. By 3 pm we are all still feeling terrible, but we don’t have much of a choice except to start driving because of Ruby’s flight. I drive for a couple hours and Dan mercifully takes over so that I can lie in the back. By the time we drop Ruby off around 6 pm, we are starting to feel like human beings again, but it was still a large effort for Dan and I to decided to go out and split a meal at a restaurant that night.

This food poisoning sidelined the 3 of us for almost 24 hours. We couldn’t decide if it was a good thing that we were all going thru it together, or that we would have really preferred to have just one of us fit and able to take care of the other two. In the end, we made it, and in retrospect, Dan and I were super glad about our impromptu mountain summit. Once we had established that our stomach problems weren’t solely due to our poor planning (though it still wasn’t the best idea), and especially when we were unable to do our hike the next day, we were very thankful that we got at least some of our hiking needs fulfilled. Montenegro kicked our ass during that day, but we at least got in some good licks before going down.

Posted by danza 09:06 Archived in Montenegro Tagged hiking rafting dehydration food_poisoning home_cheese rakija

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