The great thing about hostels now is that they are so empty I’m sometimes the only guest. In this case, I wasn’t: there was a Japanese guy who snored like hell and a really tall Serbian guy who spoke no English but did like to speak loudly on the phone all night. At least I was only staying the night. Thankfully it coincided with a ferocious rainstorm, and I stayed dry another day. Tomorrow, I’ll be in Montenegro.
A quick breakfast was to be had in order to make a blast for the border. This calls for the pekara – the bakery. One thing you’re sure to find in any pekara here is burek. It’s some kind of oily pastry with either cheese, meat, vegetables or all inside. To my everlasting regret, I went for the mushroom burek.
On the way back to the hostel, I managed to buy some extra clothes to keep me a little warmer from a second hand shop. It was pretty strange catching my reflection wearing my “new” jumper for the first time. Who is this guy? I’d been wearing the same clothes for six months. The trademark red t-shirt had a new friend.
I cycled off. The day passed rather blandly other than the kitten I fed my dinner at the side of the road. It cleverly ran beneath my front wheel continuously, meaning I couldn’t continue without hitting it. Hopefully it doesn’t try the same tactic with a car. The only way to get it to leave me was to distract it with tuna and leg it. There are (too) many stray cats and dogs here.
After only a short distance, I grew very tired and weak. Something was wrong. Immediately, the burek sprang to mind. I was out of breath, yet I wasn’t doing anything particularly difficult. I thought I’d better camp as it was getting dark.
In my delirium, I chose a spot down a hill, in a part of the valley that receives barely any sunlight, making it colder than the surroundings. There was also a river which meant the air was very thick with moisture. If I happened to leave a pannier open, even only slightly, the contents would become wet within minutes. I wrapped myself up. It was going to be a cold one.
But at least tomorrow, I’ll be in Montenegro.
The first light came dimly through the tent. I was rested, surprising considering the first few hours I was shivering myself to sleep. I could see my breath filling up the tent. The outside of my sleeping bag was wet and icy around my feet. I went to go pee but I couldn’t even get out my tent. The zip had frozen shut. I took this as an excuse to sleep a little longer.
When I went out after things had thawed a little, I could see everything was covered in ice: the grass, my tent, my bike. I became aware of the worst part about wearing all your clothes to sleep: when you get up you have nothing else to put on. I swayed and struggled to stand. Dizzy. I had a fever. I got ready to go. I tried to put on another pair of socks but as it turns out, three is the limit set by my shoes.
Trying to drag my bike back up that hill was incredibly difficult. I was out of breath again and needed to sit down for ten minutes to recover. When I checked the speedometer it said I had moved 50 metres. I had only moved 50 metres and already needed to sit down and rest. It wasn’t good. I needed to get inside somewhere warm and figure out what was wrong with me. The nearest town took great effort to cycle to, despite being only 1km away. There, I pilfered someone’s internet from the street (unprotected wifi is everywhere in Serbia) and found a place to stay. Up the road was a ski resort, and many rent out apartments in the area. I got there, eventually. It had taken me three hours to move a mere 5km.
As it turned out, it was food poisoning. I would stay in the apartment for two days to recover. All the movies on TV were in English with Serbian subtitles. So at least I could entertain my numb and delirious mind with the box.
And tomorrow, I’ll be in Montenegro.
I packed up and squared up the old guy who spoke no English, shook his hand and left for the hills. It was still quite cold. I pedalled a good 80km through thick orange-coloured woodland following ice-blue rivers through narrow valleys towards the border. But as the day wore on it became clear I wouldn’t make it. It was dark, there was still a huge climb and I was out of energy. I looked around for a camp spot in the last town before the border—only 15km away. Kids listening to music outside the school forced me to change my camp spot to a large empty field across from a mosque. Something I wasn’t bothered about until the thunderstorms arrived. Lying in my tent in the middle of the field and feeling rather exposed, it dawned on me that I had only eaten an apple all day. My energy was seemingly coming from thin air. Nonetheless, the border was right there. And tomorrow, I’ll be in Montenegro.
I woke up to the sound of thunder but it soon gave way to cloudy sunshine and I could pack and get going. A man stopped and asked me where I was from, though this proved to be near the limit of his English capabilities. The only other word was “Coffee?” How could I refuse.
The situation spiralled quickly out of control when cakes and rakia were introduced. Rakia is a sweet brandy drink famous in the Balkans and when it’s homemade—as this batch was—it can be pretty strong. 80% is not uncommon. It was hands down both the worst and strongest rakia I’d ever tasted. My insides felt like they had just been set on fire, and it was only 11a.m. All the while I remained oblivious that I had not quite fully recovered from food poisoning. When I later checked, the two things which you should completely avoid when you have food poisoning—coffee and alcohol—I was thoughtlessly ingesting at my pearl.
Then came the climb. I had grossly underestimated the effort required to power me over this final hurdle. It was clear too that I was still sick. I was completely out of breath and for the first time, I walked whilst pushing my bike. It was a new low. I felt horrid. So light-headed. If I had pushed any harder I would have been sure to pass out. I felt my steps getting closer and closer together. My legs weaker and weaker. The hill seemed only to get higher. But the thought of spending yet another day in Serbia annoyed me so greatly that I forced myself to go on. Eventually, confirmed by a little sign, I had reached the top: some 1250m. Not the highest. Absolutely the hardest.
Finally the border came into sight. After some grilling at the Serbian side it was through the longest no-man’s land I’ve seen: around 1km—and strangely with a church in the middle. I arrived at the Montenegrin side. This is it. I did it. Finally—five days later—I did it.
Kerplomp went the stamp. He looked at me. Smiled. And said, “Welcome to Montenegro.”
I laughed. No border guard had ever welcomed me to their country before—I thought it was only in the movies. He looked at me sternly and was wondering why I was laughing. Then I cycled off before I could get into trouble.