The Balkans: A night on the farm
Four hours of driving and winding my way through curvy mountain roads and rocky tunnels and construction sites and cars passing me on two-lane roads have brought me here: to a cozy cabin living room with a belly full of homemade, organic food made from the products of the garden and farm animals 100 yards away, digesting the Montenegrin hospitality while a fire burns in the cast-iron stove.
The sun has long since disappeared behind the rounded peaks of the mountains, where patches of snow cover sporadic spots like misplaced wigs. Every sound is natural: a dog barks here, a cow moos there. I imagine that the rooster I met earlier will be crowing come morning.
Every smell transports me to my childhood. The wood burning in the stove sends me 20+ years into the past, to nights spent with my parents, sisters, and dogs, watching movies in the dark by the fireplace. Climbing the ladder-like stairs to the top floor bedroom mimics climbing the folding steps of my family home's attic, both of which smell of decades-old wood and infrequent habitation.
Upon arriving to the farm house this afternoon, I was welcomed by Dimitrije, a tall, 20-something, lifelong local and certified tour guide who would serve as my host (and translator) during my farm stay near the town of Ravna Rijeka. After having researched the most authentic and as-peaceful-as-possible Montenegrin experiences, I jumped at the chance to book a night on a farm with Balkan sustainable tourism group Meanderbug.
"Sorry, it is very old," Dimitrije said to me that afternoon as he showed me how to lift the top of the stove with a fork to add more wood to the fire. I reassured him that I had neglected the need for modernity the moment I arrived in Montenegro. No Wi-Fi, no TV, no problem. He then attempted to demonstrate how to use the stereo, but I politely told him that it would not be necessary. "Or you can use your laptop for music," he added. Not only did I purposefully not bring my laptop, but I also had no intention of listening to anything but the melodies of the birds outside my window.
Hours later, Dimitrije and the Bulatovic family have left, and I am alone on the couch, revelling in said silence before settling in for bed. I get up and walk to the black stove in the corner, opening the top door. I add three pieces of wood from the pile next to the stove that Dimitrije had assembled before he left. The hip-high refrigerator hums and then abruptly stops. Upside-down tulip lamps illuminate the perfectly square room with two out of the four bulbs lit.
I think about how much I have changed as a traveler, as a person. Having visited mostly major cities and fallen victim to generic tourism, I now long for stillness, tranquility, miles away from guided tours and overpriced tchotchkes. Now when I visit European capitals, I use them as my home base and search for ways to get out of town. I rely on the cities for their proximities to airports, public transit, convenient amenities. But I find that the best adventure and cultural exposure involve removing myself from surface-level sufficiencies.
The chirping from outside has grown quiet, and the sky is now a soft cerulean. A few crackles pop within the iron stove. I debate sleeping in this comfy room heated by raw nature or retreating upstairs to the designated bedroom where an electric heater would keep me warm in the late-spring mountains. I surrender to my desire for simplicity.