'Sama?' 'Ja, Sama'. Don't go out into the mountains alone, rule #1, which I am breaking. Big time. About 1500km-time.
This summer I am exploring the Balkans. I am lucky to be hiking a new long distance trail: the Via Dinarica (www.viadinarica.com). On June first I started my trip at the Italian/Slovenian border, hiked the Nanos plateau and Snežnik mountain in Slovenia, where I was very lucky to spot a bear. Well actually the bear spotted me and ran away.
In Croatia I hiked through pretty sounding areas like Risjnak (http://np-risnjak.hr/), Bijele Stijene, Velebit (http://www.np-sjeverni-velebit.hr/) and Paklenica (http://www.np-paklenica.hr/) And pretty they were! The trail leads through amazing white and dry karst mountains with dramatic views of the Adriatic sea, fields full of colorful flowers, quiet villages and empty roads.
Most of the time I do not meet other hikers or people for days on end. I've hiked in the blazing sun and in unstoppable showers. Every four or five days I walk, hitch or take a bus into a town or village to buy supplies, take a shower, binge on local dishes and ice-cold and sugary soda pop, and charge my devices so I can blog about my adventures.
And Adventures there are!
The Via Dinarica is a new trail. Even though volunteers are working on it, it is a trail in progress. Sometimes it is like hiking a red carpet (mostly in the more touristic areas like the national parks), while other times the trail is no more than a GPS-track ending in a heated and headhigh bushwhack.
After Croatia I've almost tackled Bosnia and Herzegovina - the last challenge is climbing Maglić, BiH's highest peak, tomorrow or the day after tomorrow. Then I'll cross the Montenegran border.
In Bosnia and Herzegovina there are gems like Cvrsnica, Prenj, Bjelasnica and Zelengora: mountain areas with dramatic views, green meadows, amazing canyons and lush fields. All very close to civilization but, once exploring these areas on foot, so far from civilization.
Along the way there are challenges, things don't work out as planned, there's extreme heat or endless rains or I manage to first lose my phone and drown the replacement a week later. But, out here in the Balkans there is, with a little flexibility and creativity combined with some luck and meeting helpful people, a solution to every problem or challenge.
Sometimes there's a hut or shelter where I sleep, other times I use my bivy and tarp to make a shelter. Whenever I meet people the first question I get asked is where my ‘kolega’, friend, husband or whoever is. I hike alone, ‘sama’.
And no (next question) I'm not afraid. Not of bears: out here they run from and don't hunt for people. Not of snakes: I'm careful about where I sit down and where I put my hands and feet (I admit, I do not enjoy encounters with snakes). Not of bugs and spiders: they're annoying, that's all. Not of being alone: I'm cautious about where to sleep and who to trust. Not of the people out here: every single person I've met has been friendly and accommodating. Not of mines: there are suspected areas, but they're clearly marked on the maps, described on the Via Dinarica-website and there are warning signs. They're just another factor to bear in mind, like the weather out here or drinking water along the trail.
When I meet people along the trail, making contact is easy. It might be a language mixture containing English, French, German, Italian and Russian words. I've even managed to have an entertaining conversation with an old man speaking Croatian and me speaking Dutch. No problem!
Up until now I've had no time to get bored. The days are long and filled; besides the physical challenge of hiking up and down a mountain with a backpack, there's the weather to check, there's planning involved (where to stay overnight, how much water to bring until the next water source) and sheltering myself from the cold or the heat. Breaks are filled with eating and drinking, checking my progress, the route and the weather.
After all this work there’s time to enjoy what I am experiencing and to wonder at all the stunning views out here.
Then, when everything is under control, there's room for thoughts. What am I writing in the next blog, what pictures am I posting? After a day of hiking, preparing and eating supper and getting ready for the night I write a blog on my mobile phone while lying snug in my sleeping bag. I'll post it later in town or at some mountain peak holding the phone out. With a bit of luck it will connect with the World Wide Web and the people out in the other world, the non-thru-hiking-world.
Read more about the Via Dinarica on www.viadinarica.com. There's lots of information and GPS-data available on the website.
In case a 1500km hiking trip is too much for you: there are many possibilities for day hikes, multi-day hikes, mountain bike trips and more. Most of the areas are easy to reach by car, bus or a short taxi ride out of town.