Although there are apparently ways of ‘unofficially’ meandering across the border without any consequences, the team decided to play it straight and cross into Montenegro at Vermosh – legally. We had stayed in Albanian longer than expected. There were too many enticing mountains and moments not to. But the show had to go on. Enter magical Montenengro.
Many of the seemingly impassible jagged peaks of the Albanian Prokletije’s appeared ever-so-slightly more approachable from the Montenegro side. With the help and know-how of Enes Dreskovic, the Prokletije National Park director based out of Plav, Kenan, Elma and Benjamin would soon find out if their hunch was correct.
This larger than life figure, towering over the entire team like the mountains in the backdrop, was the best host we could hope for. We had ‘lost’ a few days exploring northern Albania a bit more than we had planned and keeping pace with our already tight schedule would be no easy task. Enes to the rescue. Once team leader Kenan explained the vision and the situation, the 2 meter plus Prokletian giant took charge. Instead of the previously planned trekathon through Prokletije National Park, the following two days would be a whirlwind jeep tour of the Accursed Mountains.
I think everyone was secretly thinking that nothing could compare to what the team just witnessed in Albania. The raw wilderness and challenging hiking of the Albanian Alps would be hard to beat. Montenegro would not disappoint, however.
After getting the low-down on the Montenegro side approaches to Zla Kolata and Maja Jezerce, two of the Prokletije’s highest and most challenging peaks, Enes took on the task to show what Plav and Gusinje had to offer. In sharp contrast to the rough roads (or complete lack of them) on the Albanian end of things, the roads and infrastructure – even dirt tracks – were in good working order.
The low valleys in and around Plav and Gusinje are chock full of exciting sites and sounds. There are a plethora of natural water sources that come in many forms. Alipasina Izvor in Gusinje is a classic and the easiest to find, just follow ones nose to the aroma of fresh grilled trout. Navigating a bit further into Plav’s wilderness frontier with Albania is Oko Skakavice. And high up in the border region between Kosova and Albania is Hridsko Jezero. All of these water wells are created by the limestone formations that make up almost the entire bulk of the Via Dinarica. The harsh karst topography of the high mountains makes for a plush and water rich lowland region. For this very reason, Plav and Gusinje have it all – top notch high Dinaric hikes, superb light adventure or leisurely outdoor activities in the lowlands with campsites, biking and walking trails, and more natural monuments than I can count on my hands and feet.
That’s not to say that there aren’t some missing links in Montenegro’s Prokletije. Enes is the sole employee of the park and although he is a Goliath of a man, covering that much ground is nearly impossible. During breakfast on the second day of the tour Enes got a call from a local villager – the sounds of chainsaws had woken him. Enes literally dropped his fork on his plate and abandoned his warm first meal of the day to investigate. Kenan joined in the odyssey.
Enes admitted that on occasion he would turn a blind eye on a villager cutting small quantities of wood to heat their homes for the long and harsh winters. But that wasn’t the heart of the problem. It was the forestry service and their powerful lobby. Enes claims that it is both legal (yet irrational) and illegal logging from the forestry industry that is the biggest threat to the park. And he didn’t hold his tongue at his discontent. Kenan and Enes stumbled across the freshly cut remains of a large beech tree but found no culprit was in site. They carried on.
As they moved on through the forested lowlands Enes spotted something suspicious. Kenan admittedly didn’t notice a thing. A large camper van in the distance seemed out of place to Enes and the jeep parked perpendicular to it looked familiar to him. As they approached the camper van Enes’ suspicions were confirmed. A large trailer, fully loaded with fresh wood, was hiding behind it. The culprit? The son of a forestry inspector. The startled son first tried his hand at flattery. He was going nowhere quick with that strategy, though. His second go would be ‘sanitary cuts.’ That just pissed Enes off. The wood was clearly healthy with no signs of disease or drying out. The third and final attempt was to be whiny and pathetic. This didn’t fly with Enes either. He gladly wrote up a hefty fine and scolded the inspector’s son. Enes claims guilt and shame work almost as good as hitting them where it hurts – in the wallet. Protecting the lands of the Via Dinarica will be no easy task, but with champions like Enes Dreskovic at the helm of Prokletije National Park we left optimistic.