Sleep beneath the highest peak of Bosnia
My visit to Sutjeska National Park was crowned with spending the night in a mountain hut just below the highest peak of Bosnia, Maglić. The area is called Prijevor and is about half an hour (by car) from Tjentište entrance. There are three traditional huts with 15 beds, built by Oxfam a few years back. Huts are basic but have running water, a toilet inside and a fire place, as well as a table and some chairs. There is a caretaker around who will help you out with everything. He is also a guide. During the summer, katuns are often occupied so you should reserve in advance.
The place is breathtaking. 360 degrees of rugged mountain peaks and valleys make this a fairytale land. I couldn’t make up my mind whether I was more impressed by the magic of the night and the sheer number of stars, or the magic of the day and the stunning views of surrounding mountains. Walking just short distances in this area will give you a variety of different views and landscapes.
Cross the border
As I mentioned in the last post, Sutjeska NP shares its border with Montenegro and you can actually hike right across to Trnovačko Lake in Durmitor NP. It is only about 5 km but it will take you 2 hr to reach the Lake. It is accepted that hikers can enter Durmitor NP in Montenegro to climb Maglić and visit Trnovačko Lake (you may not even encounter a border guard), but it is expected that one returns to Sutjeska NP afterwards.
Sunrise, storms and canceled plans
I woke up early in the morning to enjoy the sunrise and then planned to use the day to hike all the way to Trnovačko Lake in Montenegro. However, the sky didn’t look very optimistic and it seemed that the storm was cooking up. So my plans had to be changed. Thinking I was gonna just quickly eat and head home before the storm I prepared a delicious breakfast and sat outside to enjoy my meal. However, a man with a big smile and a kind face tapped me on the shoulder and changed the course of my day.
The man introduced himself as Radovan, last of the real mountain folk. His house is situated just 50 m from the katuns and as it turned out, he actually lives here. At least for part of the year. Typical of Bosnian hospitality he immediately invites me for breakfast, coffee and rakija (local grappa) and would not take no for an answer. Intrigued by this unusual man, I stayed for a few more hours and listened to his story.
At Radovan’s hut
After giving me a good dose of rakija at 8 am (and having a couple himself) Radovan begins his story. It starts almost two centuries ago, in the time of Ottoman rule when Turks gave the land to his ancestors. ‘Some time between 1830. and 1850. they divided the mountain between the people od Bileća (a town in southeast BiH). My ancestors built a tiny house that could fit 2 or 3 people and have a bit of milk.’ He came here for the first time as a small boy and has been coming back here ever since during the summer months, from May to October. ‘After that’ – Radovan says – ‘not even 10 jackets and pants would help. When the lightening and thunder strikes it can be really nasty.’ Seeing the serious mountain peaks around and how fast the clouds gather I imagined he knew what he was talking about.
As he makes a brief pause to pour us some more rakija I enjoy the silence of this place broken only by the sound of the bells of the few cows grazing in front of his hut. ‘I also have horses and sheep’ – Radovan continues his story – ‘but this year I sent them to Zelengora Mt. for grazing. They became too much work for me alone. Most of the time I am here by myself, though my relatives come to check up on me almost every week.’
The sense of meaninglessness of time is felt strongly. As life here moves with a different pace I feel it could be the middle of the last century. Still, Radovan says, he used to live a much harder life before the luxuries of light and a cooking stove made it a lot easier. And not only that, he loves the advantages of internet and the way he can, now, communicate with people all around the world through social networks.
Home made and organic
Radovan makes a lot of products by himself and he proudly shows me his kitchen. He makes the best kajmak (local sour cream type product) from fresh milk he gets from his cows grazing here (no wonder it tastes so damn good). He also has bees in his home town of Bileća and makes organic honey. Bileća is famous for heather and his honey has supreme healing qualities for sore throat, lungs and inflammation. Local legend says St. Sava brought heather to Bileća to heal his people. Naturally, he also makes rakija (grappa made from local herbs) with a few of his friends, but ‘to be perfectly honest only half of it is sold. The other half is for private use.’ – Radovan says with a chuckle. ‘Rakija keeps me healthy and in good spirits’. And from what I’ve seen it seems to work for him.
There is no doubt that Radovan and his way of life are an irreplaceable part of the cultural experience for travelers coming here, so pay him a visit. Try his delicious organic products and listen to a few of his stories. He loves company and you can even spend the night at his place as he welcomes all travelers. Even if you don’t understand the language you will not be bored. He does speak a bit of English, but more importantly, he speaks volumes with his energy.