The Balkans: Hiking Kotor
An hour-long nap was just what this normally bad napper needed to recharge my NPA (new-place adrenaline, trademark pending). Per a local's recommendation, my afternoon plans would begin with a hike through the back roads up to the hilltop fortress. After all, a trek to a location's highest point is a personal and perennial must-do for every place I visit.
Rather than joining other tourists on the main stairway up to the acme, I characteristically wandered to the less-frequented route, not completely sure where the path began. Fortunately, I was just tired enough to not care whether this was the correct direction, and just eager enough to get this footslog started before sunset in a few hours.
I began the ascent and did not pass another hiker for the first 10 minutes or so as I zig-zagged my way up the part-stone, part-grass pathway. I was the only walker going up; everyone else was going down. Is this a mistake?
The bay humidity combined with the fact that no one else I could see had chosen to take this path up the mountain provoked my sweat glands to slightly soak my grey t-shirt.
The sky-kissing peak to my left began to disappear into an ominous grey cloud. Having spotted rain in the forecast earlier in the day, the possibly impending rain shower did not deter me from this venture considering I was increasingly drenched with sweat.
Step by step, sweat bead by sweat bead, I wiped my brows while trying not to trip over the stones along the path. However, keeping my gaze on my feet did not serve me well as I nearly collided with a mountain goat who was innocently grazing and enjoying the view. I considered it a reasonable opportunity for a break and a small photo shoot with my mountain mate.
The trail continued to curve, and I along with it. A few levels up I eclipsed two cows being led up the hill by a 70-something woman (who I acknowledged with an awkward smile through my heavy breaths). The trail suddenly took a dip, leaving me concerned that this was a competing idea to eventually ending up at the fortress.
I broke my way through the tall grasses and branches only to espy a pack of goats on the other side. Five or six of them grazed among the ruins of a church, relishing the shade. I kept my distance and moved slowly, admiring them. Watching animals calms me; it takes me out of my mind and transfers my thoughts to these other beings with whom we share the world.
After a few moments of goat-gazing, I figured I had to be close to the fortress by now, but with the lack of signs, my current position deep in a leafy valley, and with no one else in sight, I went against my typical wandering ways and consulted Google Maps. I slid out my Smartphone, equipped with a SIM card I had purchased minutes before embarking on this excursion, to see that I was indeed close to the peak but without a clear course to get there.
Looking up, I could make out the outline of the fortress wall and thus used it as a guide to burrow through the brush, once again walking upward. Once my self-made path met the wall, however, I was stuck. The only option was to turn around, walk back down, and find another path, or to crawl through a conveniently placed hole in the wall through which I could see the bay and the town where I had begun the ascent. I chose the latter and tucked myself through the hole to find humans, a sunlit view, and the fortress to my left.
Only a few more inclines separated me from the summit but it took me longer than normal to reach the point as every angle was ripe for a photograph. The moment I put away my phone/camera and reminded myself to enjoy the views rather than capturing them on film, another view would emerge or the sun would poke through the cloud to shine one more ray of light on the vista, completely changing the perspective and warranting another 23 photos.
Teenagers sat among the ruins, playing cards and drinking sodas. Photographers stepped through the old rooms of the fortress, finagling their cameras to get the best shot. I tossed the wrapper of a recently consumed granola bar into one of the bright pink garbage containers atop the hill.
I had made it to the top just before the sun began to set beyond the hills on the opposite side of the bay. A few moments of solitude and admiration of the cloud-breaking rays allowed me to reflect on my journey to this point and its parallels to my life. I may not always know where I am going, but somehow I end up exactly where I need to be.