Montenegro (which sounds like something you might find in Monaco) welcomed us in with majestic vistas of the Bay of Kotor. Our bus weaved along tight, serpentine roads that circumnavigated the bay, hiding us from the world behind brooding mountains. We were dropped off not too far from the old town.
However, our apartment was a couple of kilometres back up the road so we thought we would dump our bags off there before coming back to check out this little ancient pocket that Nicky & Battye seemed to wet their pants over every time Kotor is mentioned. Despite having Google Maps in our hands, the lack of street names and house numbering proved to be an initial problem. It was only after a Montenegrin, who had been monitoring our suspicious movements through his neighbour’s backyards from his balcony, that we received some help. He spoke some English and was able to tell us he was part of the Montenegro Navy, had been to Australia and was proud to call himself a “Seaman.” He generously phoned our apartment for directions and then walked us up the road to where it was. One of the nicest “seamen” I have ever met.
Once the bags were dumped, we headed back into the old town for bit of a gander of the eyes. As Montenegro is so small (in fact, I hadn’t even heard of it 12 months prior and the entire size of the country is only one sixth of the size of Tasmania) our Lonely Planet only allocates about 2 and a half pages to it so information is scarce. But it was able to tell us that this old town was from around the 12th Century which always leaves you gob-smacked when you are standing in something that old. We only had two nights here and thought we would take that day slow, being a travel day (which always means a beer is the end of the day’s reward) and save the massive climb up to the fort for the following day. Instead, we found a bar that was playing the Australia v Netherlands game and saw Tim Cahill’s goal of the millennium! And, after that ridiculous yellow card, possibly his last ever game in the green and gold as well. I still can’t believe Holland were actually giving us a chance in that game.
The next day we ventured back into the old town to embark on our walk. Unless you’ve been, it’s hard to understand the sheer vertical slant of these mountains. An ancient stone wall climbs and climbs its way up the side of the mountain that protects the town and ascends to a defensive fort probably not even half way up. Foolishly, we had again done a series of leg squats the day before and found ourselves moving at a very slow pace as we made the trek. However, the views of course were amazing once we finally reached the fort and, upon seeing some stranded wine bottles, briefly considered making the walk again at sunset for a romantic vino guzzle. But our weary legs screamed in protest and put an end to that thought.
The other thing which really caught our attention upon arriving in Montenegro were all the cats! Hundreds of them. Mostly stray, some pets. But just everywhere. It was after this observation that we from then on referred to it as Kator instead.
After five weeks of sun in Croatia however, we just couldn’t convince ourselves that castles and forts were worth seeing over a chance to lay on the beach and do nothing but lie in the sun. So we followed two nights in Kator with 12 nights in Budva, giving us a chance to completely wind down, rest up and re-invigorate ourselves for Turkey in 3 weeks time. The thing with Budva is its a Russian hotspot and, from our experiences in Nha Trang and Mui Ne, we knew that was never a good thing. So we were back to Russian menus and big fat white Russian ladies prancing around in far too skimpy bathers, big fat white Russian men rudely pushing in your way and big fat white Russian everything else just doing “piss me off” stuff.
The other thing which did not particularly work in our favour was the fact our hotel was perched way up on a hill. Now their website advertised they were about 900 metres from the beach and yes, that might be true if you were a blue jay. But for us human kind, it meant a 40 minute walk down steep and winding roads in 40 degree weather just for a swim. In fact, (and this is one of very few times during our travels we have elected not to walk) our taxi that brought us to our hotel had almost stalled twice trying to get up and had embarrassingly had to roll back in some parts to get a better run up. Yes, it was that steep. So needless to say, as bad as the walk was to get down to the beach, it was the walk back up that really left us doubled over.
With those two negatives aside, we were of course at the beach for 12 days and so I don’t need to tell you in detail that there was lots of sun, surf and sand. I won’t bore you with events that took place every single day. But I think there are maybe two stories that are worth telling and so I’ll try to wrap up 12 days in Budva with just these:
It was in Budva that the changes a life as a backpacker might have upon you became very evident. And by that I mean we had become complete tight-arses who would take absolutely anything we could that might be free.
We had stumbled on what appeared to be a big hotel swimming pool one evening, drawn to it because the World Cup was being broadcast on a giant projector. The pool was at that time closed. Elisha had gone to the bar to grab two beers and when she asked how much they were to the lady pouring, the lady looked at her dumbfounded and confused, before eventually saying they were 2 Euro. Weird. When Elisha got back, she told me how weird the interaction had been and then also said that she might have thought it was a free-pour bar. We took turns to “go to the toilet” so we could try and observe how the bar was working, peering out like two secret CIA agents from the scrubs. And yes, there were clearly some people going up and just pouring their own beers.
But not just beers, but wines and spirits as well. Interesting. So after a bit of Dutch courage, we thought we’d see if we could benefit at all from this. Elisha went first and, a minute or so later, casually came back with 2 vodka and apple juices.
“How’d you do that?” I enquired, expecting the beer would surely have been the easiest thing to snare.
“Oh, I just went up and poured them,” she said. I just didn’t think I could muster enough confidence to do that so, once we were finished, off she went again and this time came back with 2 vodka and orange juices. What the hell! This was too easy.
To keep things interesting, she then went a third time and came back with 2 vodka and peach iced teas! This was insane. We were saving a bucketload!
But it did finally catch up with us and, on the fourth visit to the bar, the original lady asked Elisha “where is your red armband?”
“Armband? Right, yeah armband. Of course. That’s with my boyfriend.” She left the two half-poured vodkas, scrambled back to where I was and said “I think it’s probably time we left.”
But there it was. At least it finally made sense. We understood that the big fat white Russians must have paid a certain fee each day to wear a red armband that permits them to drink as much as they want throughout the day.
Despite this, we were to learn the next day that, for some reason, the pool is just open for all. (Well, I think so anyway.) We gave the beach a miss and instead sat by the pool here and had a few dips. After we had consumed a few beers later on in town afterwards, oh dear, the Dutch courage was back!
“I think we can do it again,” I said. “We’ll just act like we are full of confidence and see what happens.” In all honesty, I first went to the bar again expecting to pay for 2 beers, more interested in watching the World Cup than I was in stealing drinks. But when the guy handed me the two beers and didn’t immediately ask for payment, I stole the opportunity, grabbed them and quickly went back to our seats. Elisha had done the hard yards the night before so I thought this was a great opportunity for character building and challenged myself to see how far I could get. There were two big kegs of wine to the left of the bar so I found by walking quickly up to them with my “armband-hand” in my pocket, I was easily able to pour two reds and take them back. This was repeated four times before the World Cup actually finished for the night and we just decided to go home undisturbed. This was getting out of hand.
However, we thought we still had some dignity and thought we’d just go watch the game on the third night and remain sober. But alas, as it was still daylight they didn’t have the projector set up – we were too early. So we abandoned that idea and found a quiet bar not too far away playing the game. After a few pints, the game came to an end and we asked where the bathroom was. It was just out through the door and back into their restaurant which joined to the side. As I walked my way in, I realised it wasn’t a restaurant, but a giant buffet. I was way too full of confidence by this stage so I stood at one of the stations with all the other big fat white Russians and grabbed myself a chicken wing when it was my turn. I walked back out past reception with it in my mouth and arrived outside where Elisha was waiting for me.
“Where’d you get that?”
“But I want something.” So I threw my bones away, turned around and we both went back in. I couldn’t find Elisha anywhere near the chicken wings when I went to get my second and thought maybe she wasn’t really all that hungry. But when I got outside again, Elisha had smuggled out a piece of bread and some pork belly to make a little sandwich! Oh well, we had started now. So we went back to the pool and finished the night with perhaps another 3-4 rounds of wine before calling it quits. This could have gone on forever if it were not for the fact we woke up each day with the most awful headaches from the wine. By the fourth day we firmly said the rubbish wine was just not worth the effort, even if it was free. And from then on, we went back to using human money to purchase goods.
The second story is this:
We’re always conscious of needing more stories that don’t involve us drinking our way around the world. What better way to do that we thought than to book ourselves a day of precarious white water rafting with a bunch of big fat white Russians who don’t speak a lick of English and clear communication is critical to avoid giant, jagged boulders racing toward you.
We got speaking to a tourism agency one afternoon after accidentally stopping to look at their map of Montenegro, mainly to see where Niksic was located – the home of their national brewery. The guy was able to speak 10 languages (although we failed to test him on that) and quoted us a reasonable price based on the fact sales were down. Due to the conflict with Ukraine, there was a noticeable absence of big fat white Russians that season. Spending an entire day with Russians sounded like a stupid thing to do at the best of times, let alone when you’re stuck in a raft with them. Regardless, we smashed some Niksicko’s to help with the decision process and parted ways with our 110 Euros.
I think the only English we heard that next morning was when the bus driver picked us up and said hello. After that, it was russian, russian, russian. After a 4 hour bus drive all the way back up to the Bosnian & Hercegovina border, we stopped for breakfast somewhere between the two countries. I think the river actually acts as the divider between them so I can’t say with absolute certainty that we did step into Bosnia but I am pretty sure that at one point or another our raft must have veered across onto their side. We were promised an English/Russian speaking guide before purchasing our tickets and thankfully, we did get that. Unfortunately for me, he assumed I was the strongest and expected me to steer us out of danger all afternoon, screaming insults and commands that bruised my ego like a fallen mango.
For the currents in this particular river, the strongest person sits on the front left. The next strongest on the front right and so on. Elisha sat behind me, followed by another lady who paddled against our rhythm all day, often clunking her paddle with Elisha’s, and then lastly a small boy who was as useless as a marshmallow in a car crash. We had 9 in total, including the guide who sat at the back as the rudder.
After pushing off, we initially floated down stream whilst our guide ran through all the simple manoeuvres, giving Elisha and I a crash course in the Russian words for left, right and go. If I’m honest, I think I was up for a pretty relaxed day and assumed it was going to be like floating around at Calypso Beach at Wet n Wild for the afternoon. After our first practice row, however, I knew I was in for a lot more.
We approached our first rapid, just a little baby one to start with and, knowing I had to be the hero, paddled as hard as I could to ensure we avoided danger. We got through unscathed and emerged the other side all in one piece.
“Good work, Clintowski,” I thought to myself. It was just as I was finishing this sentiment that the guide started yelling at me, screaming that if I was to continue with such wimpy little paddles, we’d careen into a boulder for sure.
“You have to paddle harder!” he screamed. “You are the strongest!” Crikey. So we tried again and this time I tried as hard as I could which seemed to be on par with my previous efforts. Again, he yelled out my name and pointed to a passing rock that stood out from the water.
“We will hit that if you don’t row!” What more could I do? I was rowing as hard as I could, Elisha trying to help me out as much as she could whilst the bitch behind her just lazily patted the water with her paddle. The worst part was, the rapids we had been through were just the basics. Oh, I also haven’t told you that the water was 13 degrees which is far from a tropical oasis. It was here I started freaking out.
We had been paddling for about a kilometre. We were about to hit the actual white water where anything could happen and, if I didn’t paddle hard enough, the guide made it sound as though all 9 of us would die. To exacerbate matters, my entire left hand side was already hurting like hell from paddling on only one side and I still couldn’t work out if he was saying “Left” or “Right” whenever he commanded something in Russian. We were all paddling like mad to ensure we were travelling faster than the current was to avoid being pushed to the sides and imminent danger.
“Let’s go! Let’s go! Let’s go!” he barked. Paddle. Paddle. Paddle. Suddenly, we hit our first wave! An ocean of freezing cold water crashed over me, striking all the way to the bone. I shook my head to clear the water from my eyes, surged my paddle down to thrust us forward and found nothing but air. I tried again, this time collecting water but water that was returning back and working in the opposite direction. I couldn’t get the paddle to budge.
“Let’s go!” he screamed. Try again. More paddling. Another wave of arctic-like water drenched our clothes. But we could see the end. Which was great except for the fact some more monstrous rapids stood between us and the calm water in the distance. We went left, we went right. The water raced us past and over some more rocks. The guide yelled out some more commands in Russian. I just kept paddling, the lactic acid now forming all over my body. Oh no, another wave was approaching. We hit this one hard. I felt my bum leave the seat and dug my feet in beneath the ropes to hold on. The water ripped across the entire lot of us. I plunged back down and crashed onto the rubber raft, launching Elisha behind me like she was on a trampoline. I paddled and paddled. The guide continued to scream “Let’s go!” Paddle. Paddle. More spray. And finally, drenched, cold and fatigued, the end came.
I turned around, exhausted, and found that Elisha was clumsily laying in the middle of the raft, disorientated from when I’d launched her out of her seat. A bump the other way and she most likely would have ended up in the slop just like her sister Jess had done in South America. I counted everyone. I think I’d saved everyone. At least that should keep the bloody guide quiet for a moment, instead of singling me out all the time. It was after I’d made sure Elisha was back in her seat that I realised the guide was sitting comfortably at the back with a smoke in his mouth. Bloody arsehole. It couldn’t have been that dangerous if he had time to light a cigarette.
Over the remaining 13 kilometres, I think this version of the story was repeated about six times but you get the gist. When we were all safely back on land, we got seated down for lunch which, surprisingly, was one of the best meals I have ever had on a tour. Normally they feed you some rubbish soup and western tasteless crap but we were stuffed chockers with slow cooked beef that I just couldn’t get enough of. I think maybe now I realise where the “fat” comes from when they say big fat white Russian, even if I am the only one who uses that term.