As part of the Monkey’s great trans-Balkan journey of 2002, he spent some time in Montenegro. At that particular time, it was not yet an independent republic, but rather one half of the short-lived state known as Serbia and Montenegro (the successor to the rump Yugoslavia). Whatever its name, the stunning scenery of this country came as a true surprise to the Monkey.
Montenegro (or Crna Gora as the locals call it) is a small republic of the former Yugoslavia with enough geographical variety for a country many times its size. From Adriatic coasts and fjords to deep canyons and mountains, Montenegro used to attract—and thankfully after the troubles is once again attracting—adventure travelers of all stripes.
Many of those travelers will have a stop-off in the ramshackle little town of Zabljak, which sits at 1,450 meters. Once a Partisan mountain refuge, Zabljak is now the gateway to jagged high peaks of the Durmitor National Park. The mountains were obscured by cloud cover when the Monkey passed through in May 2002, but the town’s charm shone through nonetheless.
The Monkey stops for a photo by the spectacular Djurdjevica Bridge, which spans the steep gorge of the Tara Canyon. At any time, the engineering feat of vaulting a series of concrete arches over a 154 meter span at a height of nearly 135 meters would be commendable, but is all the more impressive considering the bridge was built from 1938 to 1941 while Yugoslavia was wracked by war.
In 1942 shortly after work on the bridge was completed, Italian forces and a group of Chetniks (a royalist, Serbian resistance movement which, while opposing the German occupation of Serbia during World War II, more fiercely opposed Yugoslavia’s Communist Partisan resistance) arrived in the area. In order to thwart their advance, the Partisans who had constructed the bridge had to destroy it. One of the bridge engineers, Lazar Jaukovic, blew up the central arch, cutting off the only feasible crossing over the the gorge and thus blocking the Italian/Chetnik advance. It was a heroic act that cost Jaukovic his life: When he was eventually captured, the Italians executed the engineer on his bridge.
In 1946, the bridge was rebuilt. It remains an engineering marvel and the main crossing point over the Tara Canyon, and perhaps for that reason was fortunately not bombed by NATO during its assault on Yugoslavia.
You’ll have to look very closely (hint: at the rock on the right side) to spot the Monkey resting by the rushing waters of the Tara River, deep down in the Tara Canyon in west-central Montenegro. At times reaching depths of 1200 meters, the Tara Canyon is Europe’s largest, and some sources claim it is bested only by the Grand Canyon in the United States.
As you might gather from the photo, the Tara River is fast-flowing. The mean descent over the course of the river is 3.6 meters per kilometer, which makes for many waterfalls and rapids. White-water rafting is a popular activity in the canyon, and one of the things that keeps drawing visitors to the surrounding Durmitor National Park area.
This is the view up the Tara Canyon from the center of the Djurdjevica Bridge pictured above. In the distance you can see the mountains where the canyon gets more narrow and taller. The Monkey was unable to risk a photo here—it’s a long way down—but since visiting Montenegro he has developed a safety harness for this sort of vertiginous photography…
The Monkey rests on the shores of Lake Skadar (also known as Lake Scutari) in southern Montenegro. Almost 50 kilometers in length and 15 kilometers wide, Lake Skadar is the largest lake in the Balkans. Somewhere out there, across the water, beyond the mountains, lies Albania. The Monkey was ready to shove off in this canoe, but thought better of it: the border isn’t well marked in the lake, and tensions are still palpable in this area. He also couldn’t locate any oars.
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