Saturday, 3 November 2007

STEPH Tivat to Budva 01/11/07

There is something delicious about rainy days in cold countries that quickens my heart and lights my spirit. We’re on the road early, the mists lying low over the crowded mountains back up the inlet, the water choppy and grey, smoke curling from chimneys.

The rain is holding off, for the moment.

We walk a few kms into Tivat proper and by the time we’ve stocked up on supplies – bread, cheese, chocolate and no mandarins (the quality of the fruit and veg is terrible!) – the rain is a steady downpour.

We walk all day into the traffic in the driving rain. I am looking for photographs and realise that we have come to expect the beautiful, or the extraordinary, from landscapes and architecture . . . ordinary is no longer enough.

And this stretch of Crne Gore is either bog ordinary or ugly.

We get the feeling Crne Gore – Montenegro from the outside – is a nation just-recovered.

Like most developing countries, rain means mud as water pours through stop-gap infrastructure and barrels through the streets, carving new fissures as it goes.

As for her people – Crne Gore’s folk, as we’ve met them so far, are extremes of lights on or lights out. Those with the lights on are the strong-hearted, their spirits full and present and glowing, their faces alive with love and welcoming smiles and the surefootedness of knowing who they are.

They are a minority – in any culture, for that matter. Yet they are here.

Others have foreheads creviced with confusion. They have frozen stares and eyes of stone.

I saw a woman with lips so tightly pursed it was as if she’d sucked in all her breath just as the wind changed, leaving her face poised with a sudden and terrible and neverending grief. I tell myself a story that it is because of the war . . . and then wonder which war?

There are hostile hearts amany in Montenegro. Yet there is a softening peace around as well . . .

And madness on the roads . . . 40k speed limit, blind bend, unroadworthy car – yeah mate, gun it why don’tcha, there’s plenty of room to overtake! Sometimes, this is how I play backgammon.

As I walk through these lands, watching and witnessing people and places, I wonder if the world would look any different to me in my own country, if I were to walk, say, from Cairns to Melbourne?

And then what stories would I tell?

The road today is hard work. Reckless winner-takes-all driving is one part of it, fumes from a plethora of barely functional vehicles another.

Late in the day, we find a backroad that cuts through the mountains into Budva. It is such a relief to let the spirit rest as we walk, grateful for the respite from the eternal vigilance of the main road.

Dripping wet we find a hotel at a great price with a heater to dry our clothes and a wonderful man to welcome us at the desk. We are in wet pilgrim heaven – warm bed, clean sheets.

Budva has an aliveness we’ve not found elsewhere in Crne Gore. The food’s pretty good, the people have a spring in their step – even if the sight of the turtleback strangers brings them to a sudden halt.

From here, according to our map, civilization is about to thin right out as we turn our backs on the ocean, Adriatica’s darker shore, and head for the mountains of Albanija and Macedon.

I am reminded of a quote I used to carry around with me when I was young: In order to discover new oceans, we must first have the courage to lose sight of the shore.

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