There is something about being Turkish and mountains. In our songs, stories, legends and other cultural elements, we live in them, ascend them, go beyond them, pierce through them (“dağlari delmek”), and so on. During a 22 day road trip with my two close Turkish friends, we constantly found ourselves climbing higher and higher, reaching every summit on our path, unable to escape these ubiquitous peaks. So it is only fitting that, at the top of a mountain in Kotor, Montenegro, I ran into two other Turkish guys, Can and Alp, with whom I embarked on an adventure to ascend and explore even more of these vertical protrusions of earth.
Meeting in the late morning hours, Alp, Can and I got some very cheap yet delicious burek for breakfast and filed into the small rental car, ready to work our way through the countryside towards the Bosnian border.
In retrospect, I am even more grateful for my two new friends’ invitation because the drive through the countryside was absolutely stunning. The small country roads wound through a beautiful landscape of rugged hills and mountains, with interspersed rivers, streams and wildlife.
On the way to Sarajevo, we would be taking a one-day excursion to Tara Canyon, the second longest canyon in the world at 78 km, following just behind the Grand Canyon. The Tara River flows from South to North, hugging the border between Montenegro and Bosnia and Herzegovina in its final stretch. This incredibly well preserved river canyon is popular for rafting, twisting and turning through a beautiful landscape of waterfalls, cliffs and remarkably bright greenery. The color of the chilling water is a crystal clear blue, not quite as striking as the color in Aups but a close second. As we began our descent into the canyon, that breathtaking blue came out of nowhere, and we took a break to enjoy the view.
Can pulled our car up to the small booth, and inside there was a middle-aged Montenegrin man with a tired look. The border was a very remote one, with maybe a few cars passing per hour. Can and Alp had rented the car in Belgrade, so the first thing that struck the border officer was the Serbian license plate. Taking our passports, the grey-haired man shuffled between the red and blue booklets, his fatigued look turning into one of confusion. I have been traveling with my American passport through the Balkans, and assumed it would be easier to continue doing so. For about two minutes, he looked at the passports, turned his stare to us, ran his gaze over the car, and repeated. Then, in a rough, thickly accented voice, he grunted “Serbian car…Turkish…American?” We returned his empty, skeptical stare with a shrug and a smile, realizing it was indeed a strange combination, especially at a border crossing usually used by locals. Not keen on thinking too hard about the situation, the officer gave another cursory glance at our documents and stamped us out of Montenegro.
Our campsite was located about 10 kilometers from the border crossing, but interestingly, we never crossed into Bosnia and Herzegovina. After getting our stamps, we continued along the mountainside in no man’s land. The road turned to a rough, gravel path and the ensuing 10 km seemed to last hours. Eventually, our campsite came into view.
Can and Alp had reserved a bungalow, and lucky there was room for me.
I was not expecting anything like this. We were in a little paradise. The water was numbingly cold, but refreshing in the summer heat. Not to mention the incredible meals..
To top it all off, we had a 3 hour rafting trip taking us through a 16 kilometer stretch of the Tara river (photos from french friends on our raft). A remarkable journey that gave me two new friends and an unforgettable adventure through the Montenegrin country..thank you Can and Alp.