Rumija – sea, lake and mountains – all in one
It seems fitting to start my first blog post typing on the phone, on a mountain peak where you can see both the Adriatic Sea and the biggest lake of my country – Skadar Lake. The mountain is Rumija, in the South of Montenegro, north of city of Bar. Far in the distance you can see my favorite Prokletije, a mountain range that spreads across the eastern part of Montenegro, Albania and Serbia, covered with the first snow this year. Hiking tours usually start from the Old Town of Bar (Stari Bar), but in that case it takes 5 hours just to get to the top of Mount Rumija, so we took a shorter road as we wanted to check the lake side too.
Our hiking tour to Rumija started the climb from the seaside from a Russian church with golden onion domes (I didn’t even know we had Russian churches 🙂 ) that stands on the mountain pass of Dobri Do. It is actually the monastery of St. Sergei Radonješki, the Miracle Worker. We got there on an old-fashioned pick-up truck, and that’s only because the truck driver saw our tortured van and offered us a ride. This strange transportation explains both the rough road we used and the friendly people who live here and heartily offered help to a group of 15 people. We were happy and excited like children.
The climb was around 600 m from the road to the top in only 2.2 kilometers (from an altitude of 970 m to 1595 m). Hard and steep, through stones and bushes. I can only imagine how hot it is during the summer. After around 400 m of climbing we arrived at the mountain pass, from where we could see the lake on the other side for the first time. The difference in colors between the water surfaces of the lake and the sea was astonishing. One of the professional photographers in the team explained this phenomenon by explaining the difference in clouds on the sea side and a clear sky on the lake side: the wind that was strong on the lake. That’s why the lake water had no reflection, so the color was strangely green. You learn something cool every day ;).
About the beginnings
I have this strange weakness when I start to climb, where I only think about giving up, about how heavy I am and how I am never going to the mountain again. But when I get closer to the peak I start almost flying. It happened this time again. So I almost ran on all four (legs and arms) through the last part of a steep climb. That strange shift of how I feel seems like new every time, but it’s actually always the same. I don’t know why it happens and I am never fully prepared. Seems like I can’t learn from experience. Hiking pulls all sorts of emotions from me, from desperation and weakness at the beginning, to the highest exaltation when I get closer to the top. And I bring that happy feeling down the mountain and carry it for days later. That’s why I will go again next Sunday, and forget about the weakness part.
The church on the top
When you get closer to the peak you can see up there on the mountain top a tiny tin metal church, white with a red roof. It’s the Church of St. Trinity which was placed there by an (at that time Serbia & Montenegro) army helicopter. The story of the mountain top itself is so much better though. It is a place of a 1000-year long tradition, the place where the cross of St. Jovan Vladimir is brought, every year on St. Trinity Day (usually the end of May), by people from three different religions – Orthodox Christians, Catholics and Muslims.
St. Jovan Vladimir was the ruler of Duklja or Doclea (former name of Montenegro) from around 1000 to 1016. At this time, Christianity was still not divided between East and West and this ongoing tradition marks unity between the religions of this region. Jovan Vladimir (or John Vladimir) was highly respected at his time, not only in Doclea, but also in Dalmatia, Albania, Macedonia and Bulgaria. One of the most romantic stories in Montenegro is about Vladimir and his wife Kosara, who was a daughter of Samuel the Tsar of the first Bulgarian Empire. They fell in love when he was captured by the Bulgarian army. He is often pictured as St. John, with his head in his arms, as he was beheaded like St. John the Baptist.
When we got on the top, one side of the church was frozen, even though it is early in October, and we could hear pieces of ice falling every now and then. We took mandatory photos and tons of selfies. At one point the dripping ice struck the church bell. There are some churches on mountain tops, which stand like monuments of culture and the human need to get closer to God, but I didn’t get that feeling with this church. Maybe because of all the politics around it and because it was made of metal and brought by a helicopter (?!), but it felt empty and deserted for me.
It was windy when we started the descent, and heading to the Skadar Lake side we got into the mountain shadow, so it became cold. Usually, going down is not that demanding as climbing, but this time it was different.
We met another group of mountaineers going up and we greeted each other. There were some of them that I knew from other spheres of life. And what struck my mind is that Facebook and Instagram give you this connection with people you accidentally friended years ago and through the same interests you became much closer.
Soon after we started the descent we entered a forest that had clear marks of summer fires, and you could still smell scorched wood and burnt leaves. The soil that had collected leaves for years created a ground that was very hard for walking, soft and slippery. Our boots went deep into the black earth and the ashes covered with leaves, which sometimes got even dangerous. All of this, together with fallen wood, made our hike down harder than expected. We were all muddy and dirty once we reached the end of the forest. As is usual in this area, a big part of the hike is through rough stones and bushes, where you basically jump from one stone to another. Path markings are sometimes washed off from the stones, so you can easily get lost. But we knew we only had to reach the village, so the houses in the distance were a nice goal.
After 3 hours and 1150 meters of decline (passing only 4.5 kilometers) we stepped into a village Gornja Briska with the biggest chestnut tree I have ever seen. It was half rotten, but the branches still had lots of chestnuts. The forest of chestnuts around the village looked like a fairy-tale and we started collecting fallen chestnuts around.
The only conversation during our drive back home was about recipes for chestnuts.
Natasa is an avid hiker, but still discovering herself and the world of hiking. This blog is a place where she shares her thoughts of the mountains.
An economist by education, Natasa is the chief marketing officer of Domain.ME, the international tech company that operates the internet domain “.ME.” She’s spent her entire career at the intersection of airline, banking, social media, leadership and technology, and is constantly trying to figure out the secret to being in three different places at the same time.