The wind grows petulant in the night bullying the clouds to tears so we stay reading in the tents for 19 straight hours until cabin fever consumes us and we start scratching and conversing with the faces drawn on our hands. When we do finally exit the tents we discover that someone has tied a horse to a nearby hedge.
Our November rendezvous date in the Peloponnese means that we have too much time and not enough distance so we cycle 20km further down the coast and through the city of Bar, a dilapidated place with rusting frigates docked in the marina. We exit and in a village we stop at a mechanic’s garage for water and find 2 boisterous figures bellowing a variety of languages at us in bombastic jest. They try to fix my broken dynamo on the front wheel, reattaching the wires to the light which although doesn’t fix the problem, does diagnose it as a sodden switch. They give us cake and one of them makes a baby cry. Further along we find a closed road leading to an water facility so we ascend and make camp overlooking the ocean.
Deep, unperturbed sleep causes us to rise late. Dogs with collars appear to bark their dissaproval. One remains, emaciated and skittish, and after eating plants it vomits and then licks it back up. We cycle 20/30km to Petrovac and from the mountains surrounding the city we see the sea for the first time since the 3rd day of our trip. Huge swirling downhill facilities speeds of 64km an hour without helmet, breaking personal records. The city is modern, touristy, and expensive, with new building projects surrounded by white holiday apartments. We sit in a seaside bar and watch old people get drenched by waves as they crash over the barricades. We climb out of the city and camp next to the road.
We hope to stay with Philippe another night but previous American guests have overstayed their welcome, and pissed off his mother and she is anxious for us to leave immediately. She doesn’t portray this emotion as she cooks us another meat feast for breakfast while Philippe teaches me a Johnny Lee Hooker lick and gives me the gift of new guitar strings which I use to restring my guitar. We stop at his mother’s roadside fruit stall to say goodbye and she gives us some giant pomegranates. Ride out of the region is flat and on good roads, passing through Mahala, then crossing a lake and wetlands in Skadarsko Jezero national park to spy reeds and otter crossings. Soon after we reach a 13km tunnel prohibited to cyclists, forcing us to cycle over the mountain. Contently eating figs from trees is the pleasing prelude to the annoyance a new chain snapping as I climb. The cause is a rusty spring in the derailleur which is no longer supple enough to position it properly, causing it to twist the chain. I take out links but because the mechanic in Sarajevo took out too many the chain is now too short and unable to access a number of gears. We camp behind bushes next to the side of the road. We are very isolated up in the mountains, and feel a new sense safety as we delve into the tents to evade the mosquitos which we have encountered again for the first time since Serbia.
We pass through Niksic, Montenegro’s second city, with a castle on a hill. Then a long downhill past a beautiful whore standing on a bridge, all dark skin, tall with long legs, and dressed in denim. Entry to Podgorica is quickly followed by the exit to a suburb to find the house of Philippe. Ladies in a local shop phone him for us when we get bamboozled by nameless streets and numberless houses. Philippe welcomes us in with beer and biscuits. We talk about his cycle touring plans and we discover that while buying a bike near Belgrade he met Istok, a cyclist we met on our second day in Rotterdam. Philippe’s mother returns and cooks a meat feast of rice and mince wrapped in something similar to kale leaves, kebab sausages, steak and salad. His mother offers to make us a pie for supper but we assure her that it is not necessary. We catch a bus into the city and Philippe gives us a tour. The centre is small but lively. There are statues of transformers made out of car parts. We have surreal conversations with a bike shop owner who wants staffy pups from Ireland, while a tabac seller blows us kisses. We meet Philippe’s friends walking their dog in a park, then later to Bar Berlin to be introduced to a handsome pimp. Philippe has to rise early tomorrow so we reluctantly release the balloon to be followed home by men in hoods.
The campsite is deserted and peaceful, the sun coaxes the water to sparkle, the mountains encircle us, our tents have become islands amongst the brittle, autumnal leaves that have fallen around them. The owner says we can stay for free but we must depart. We climb high to exit the town. At the summit two women stop their car and venture over. One wants to smoke the other so corpulent I try to save a beetle by giving it warning before she sits down. They speak a few words of English and for a reason we cant understand one of them gives us her phone number. We pass them stationary in the next layby, perhaps handing out their number again. We cycle 40km and ready to camp we spy a hut by the side of the road. Recce reveals a stone hut with a wooden roof and an open door. Inside there is a bed with mattress and blanket, clothes on the floor, and on a table a selection of expired butter and yoghurt. Black stain on a wall indicates fire, and human presence, as does the excrement behind the hut. We haven’t seen any good camping spots, it is threatening to rain, and the terrain is not flat nor conducive to camping so we decide to stay. We place breezeblocks against the door to prevent access. Raindrops drip through cracks in the roof as we sleep in fragments.
Day of loafing as we decide to stay another night. We watch films, eat the walnuts that fall on our tents, and swim naked in the lake, washing ourselves vigorously to remove the malodorous stench that envelops. The owner collects money in exchange for rakia. We rebuild the fire and press repeat.
Following the river Drina from Foca we cycle 20km to the Montenegrean border. The road is a motorway but at times becomes a one lane dirt track that curves around the mountainside. We pass through the Tara canyon and by a surprising amount of riverside rafting lodges and fields of wood huts and campsites. Dropping down to the border at Scepan Polje we leave Bosnia and Herzegovina via a bridge over the river Tara, one of the two rivers that join there to form the Drina. On the other side of the bridge we enter Montenegro, back to the Euro, and, although we hadn’t realised its absence before, back under the protective wing of the European Health Insurance Initiative. We follow the other source of the Drina, the river Piva, south through the Piva canyon. The scenery epic once more, the roads empty of cars, abundance of tunnels as the road blasts its way through steep rock, courageous trees protrude stunted but ardent from fissures in stone like a tatty, threadbare blanket draped over the landscape, their virility causing rocks to crack and cascade onto the road. Dam in the river introduces us to Lake Piva, its low level demonstrated by the waterline and contrast in colours of the sheer rock perimeter. Arrive at the touristy town of Plecince where we discover an empty campsite for 3 Euros a night. We are eradicating distance quicker than anticipated and need to kill time so stop, erect tents on the edge of the lake, and build a fire to gaze at.