Now they teach you a lot of things about nature at school. I left knowing a little about ecosystems and predator prey models, maybe a thing or two about the human body. A night at Pesica Jezero, high above Biogradska Gora in Montenegro, taught me something else. Nature is scary. Things make noises. Things howl in the distance. Wind and tent can combine to make very good imitations of hungry carnivore noises. And so I learned that phrases like ‘idyllic unspoiled landscape’, certainly to be savoured by the intrepid group, should be carefully considered by the solitary hiker. Things weren’t helped by the fact that the quite enchanting snake catcher I’d met at lunch seemed not to share my guidebook’s relaxed attitude to snakes. Looking deep into my eyes she warned me not to stray into the long grass where I wouldn’t be able to see the ground ahead. “Yes, maybe you bit and tomorrow dead” was the helpful contribution of the shepherd come restauranteur whose summer cottage in the mountains had been my lunch stop.
Arriving at my camping spot for the evening, the truly beautiful Pesica Jezero, the first thing I did was check around for snakes. There were none, and I settled down to bread and cheese for dinner, read some Madame Bovary and dipped my toes in the lake. I was utterly alone. Now it is the duty of any father to give his son a basic grounding in Sun Tzu’s Art of War, and my Dad having done an excellent job I was more than capable of routing the mountain cattle on the two occasions on which they approached my tent, it was however the mammals with sharper teeth that I was scared of. As the sun went down I got into bed and waited for sleep. And waited. Eventually I plucked up the courage to listen to some Mahler and soon drifted off when I couldn’t hear the noises nature was making. And through the long hours of darkness I slept occasionally, wearing fleece gloves and woolly hat I also spent many cold hours waiting for dawn. Of course dawn did come, one of the most welcome sunrises of my life, and much relieved I slept another two hours before hiking back into town.
I then hitched a lift for forty miles with a member of Bijelo Polje FC, living the dream…