Hiking the Peaks of the Balkans
Day 4: Milishevc to Rekë e Allegës
This is the fourth in a series of posts about our experiences taking on the Peaks of the Balkans trekking circuit. I traveled with my daughter Rebecca and a friend Nev Chamberlain from the UK. We decided to make this journey without hiring a guide.
If you want to read the series from the beginning, start HERE.
In the last post, I will provide the resources that we used to make this excursion a success. I will also discuss the pros and cons of hiking the Peaks of the Balkans independently.
At the end of each blog post is a video recapping highlights from the day’s journey.
We started out walking uphill on the road out of Milishevc. All throughout the valley construction of new guesthouses is being carried out—an indicator of expectations that this will become a more established trekking route in the coming years.
Beside the road is the grave of two very young men. The gravestone reads, “Ambushed by the strong Serbian-Montenegro army on 11 September 1998.”
They were 18 and 17 years old, respectively.
Then we had to climb a steep hill with no real trail—just using our GPS to get us up to the main trail. Even then, the trail was non-existent in places, and we had to rely on GPS and the occasional Peaks of the Balkans trail markers.
Once we found the trail, we continued up to the top of the pass. Then at the top, we had about three kilometers of rolling terrain on open meadows surrounded by rounded hilltops. These broad meadows are my favorite terrain.
A recently-built shelter provided an excuse to rest for a bit.
THEN, we had 1130 meters to descend in 4.8 kilometers.
The steep descent was not too difficult for the next two kilometers. It was easy to find the trail and it was not difficult to find our footing on the terrain.
At one point, I felt an insect on my arm. I kept trying to shake it off, but it would not budge. I finally looked down and found this brilliant little guy crawling along. It looked like a “color not found in nature”—but it was!
After the next kilometer, which was easy walking on a 4WD road, the trail led us into dark woods with another steep descent. This one would have been easy if not for the layers of dried leaves covering the trail. Anytime a foot was placed facing downhill, we risked sliding onto our backsides. I only fell completely down twice, but every time my feet would start to slide, I took a breath. I was never injured, but I was tired and each fall left me more dispirited.
But I had no choice. I had to slowly make my way to the bottom of that incline—380 meters descended in 1.6 kilometers.
Once we reach the bottom (at a paved highway), we had over six kilometers to walk uphill on asphalt to reach our guesthouse. This surface, while easy to walk on normally, can be painful on overworked feet.
But first! That nasty leaf strewn trail dumped us right out at Rogova Camp—a nice hotel and restaurant. We found a shady table. We had already planned to stop for coffee there, but after one coffee each, we decided to eat a late lunch as well.
When we asked for a menu, we were amazed at the prices.
Becca and I shared fried trout and fried potatoes and Nev got a dish of rice and yogurt (which he reported tasted much better than it sounds.) Nev is from England and we teased him because he was able to resist the fish and chips!
We also ordered a dish of “Rugova Cream” which the server assured us was delicious. It was very similar to the kaymak I had enjoyed in Turkey—just a bit saltier. (It tastes like a cross between sweet butter and whipped cream. It is actually a kind of clotted cream.)
We ate and ate. There were two trout on our plate, apparently retrieved from one of those ponds just minutes earlier.
Although Nev did not order any chips, we caught him in the act of creating a “chips sandwich” from our French fries. Nev could not believe we had never heard of such a thing—it’s something the Brits do. (And apparently it has a name: “chips butty.” Don’t ask me to explain that one!)
Then for the finale, we each ordered Skënderbeu cognac for “dessert.” (Skënderbeg was an Albanian hero of the 15th Century who led a successful revolt against the Ottoman Turks. Many things, including this cognac are named after him.)
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We sat there for two hours. At the beginning, we planned to hire a taxi to take us the six kilometers up to our guesthouse. But by the end of the meal, we were so refreshed that the hike in the mostly shaded uphill climb was a piece of cake!
We arrived at one of the more hospitable guesthouses of the trek: Ariu Guesthouse in Rekë e Allegës.
A couple tour groups was well as several other independent hikers were staying the night. The dinner table was fully seated by the time we finished our showers.
Unfortunately for us, our hosts had prepared one of the best dinners we had seen so far on the hike. And I was still stuffed with trout and potatoes—even after six kilometers of hiking. I could only take a little taste of the stuffed peppers in a luscious cream sauce and a bit of the fresh spinach borek. What a disappointment! But I certainly did not regret my earlier meal. It was just that we had experienced so many “so-so” meals on this trek and to have two presented to us on the same day seemed to be too much of a good thing.
Nev, on the other hand, had little trouble doing justice to this second dinner! Later, after I was in bed, Rebecca and Nev sat at one of the outdoor tables and talked for a while. The host, according to Nev, left them a bottle of homemade Rakja (a kind of local plum brandy) “to look after.” I cannot believe they were able to hike the next morning!