Tuesday, 9 July 2013

the highs and lows

After some refreshing days here we leave Zabljak and whizz across the grassy plains and down into the Tara canyon. 
the Tara river

The road descends to a bridge which crosses and leads north to Belgrade, but we continue south eastwards along the gorge, past the rafting camps and the fabulously bright waters and gradually start to climb up again.  We stop for lunch and decide that we might as well camp - especially as Gayle spots a tap by the road.  In the morning we round the next corner and there's a campsite on a small ledge over the canyon.  Oh well, never mind.  We climb up around into a side valley before a nice descent out into a junction of valleys where the road splits.  We can turn left towards Kosovo or right and down to the coast again.  We hadn't made up our minds but eventually decide to stay in Montenegro and descend to the coast again.

spinach and cheese burek

We haven't gone far before we get to the entrance to another national park.  We know there's camping in the woods around a lake about 4km uphill, but at the entrance is a small campervan site with a barrier down.  It looks like it's never been used but there's shade and it looks like a nice spot for lunch and before we know it we're camping there for the evening.  The next day we ride towards the coast on the main road until we can finally get off it and take a more peaceful country road.  The main road heads over a climb and then straight downhill to Podgorica, but it's far too busy with trucks and buses and there are tunnels along the way. Hellish. The country road we're on leads us to Eden.

Sadly, although we can travel most parts of the world relatively easily, we are still restricted to border crossings.  There are tempting roads through the mountains into Albania that remain closed to tourists.  We are still following the Tara river but the valley we are in is now a wide green affair and the river is shallow and flat and winds it's way slowly through the hills.  We pass side valleys with stunning mountains peeking out in the distance.  A few locals shout 'Bravo' to us but the scenery is so pretty we don't really follow their sentiment until later on when the road climbs to a pass and we suddenly find ourselves descending quickly into a new valley.  We pass remote villages and ancient bucolic scenes of grass being mowed with scythes.  And then we climb once more. Looking back there is a row of huge monolithic peaks - the border with Albania.  We start a descent that continues the next day all the way into Podgorica.

The capital city holds no attraction for us except the possibility of a bike shop selling replacement parts we need.  When I Googled "bike shop Podgorica" I got one lead - but it turns out to be a disappointing shop - only a sales point for bikes - just spare brake pads for sale.  A nearby chemist's sign tells us it is 30 degrees and it's only just gone 10am.  We take a road out of the city heading southwards towards Lake Skadar.  We stop at a shopping mall to buy replacement earphones and then spot the bike shop Tempo over the road: joy oh joy it has the parts we need and for 10 euros labour they'll replace the crankset and cassette on my bike in the next two hours.  So if you happen to Google "bike shop Podgorica" (and this post comes up) you may like to know the staff were very pleasant and they have two stores: one opposite the Delta City Mall on Cetinsjski put and one near to the Mall of Montenegro at Bratstva i jedistva 57.
more new roofs

We imagine the road around to a village at the head of the lake is an easy stroll on flat ground so were dismayed to find ourselves sweating slowly up a hill on the main road to Cetinje.  This country is hilly.  Over the top we take a break in a cafe at a petrol station with wi-fi.  The staff tell us the turn-off we want is only 5 more kilometres.  They forget to mention the hill.  As soon as we leave the main road we feel better, and the road is at last going down towards the lake.  We camp in a disused field, hidden by metre-tall ferns.  Come morning and we have to get up quickly - it's already gone seven and the tent is like a hothouse.  The downhill road brings some relief but we soon realise there are still some mighty hills to climb once we cross the bridge at the bottom.  We are struck by our first clear view of Lake Skadar, with its dense carpet of water lilies, the limestone hills in the blue morning haze and the occasional comorant seeking shade under partly-submerged oak trees.  We are reminded of China.  The cycling through more isolated lush green karst valleys on an old road is hot and waterless but finally we emerge at a pass and descend quickly to Virpazar at the lakeside.  The riding has been reasonably tough sometimes but the views have been exhilarating.  We feel like a break and find a room where we can catch up on the usual chores and have a day or two out of the saddle.

Guilin anyone?

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