On Mountains and Impermanence | Bosnia & Montenegro
The things I am writing about now feel like a lifetime ago – yet it’s only been a couple of weeks, but life on the road moves fast. A lot happens, even when you’re a slow traveler like me.
As I reflected on my time in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Montenegro, I was wondering, where was the golden thread? Certainly, mountains were a common theme, but then I realized, so was impermanence.
Life can change so quickly, only sometimes we’re not patient enough to flow with the changing seasons without causing ourselves at least some suffering. But let’s start from the beginning.
Just an anxious solo traveler longing for the mountains
All those weeks have been leading up to the Peaks of the Balkans, a trail which I will start in Albania soon – so naturally, now more than ever, I wanted to spend time in the mountains to prepare for that challenge.
Since last summer, I had not spent a single night in my tent. I had to get back in the groove. And as I packed my gear, getting ready to head into Sutjeska national park, I felt nervous for a moment.
I can’t hide that the past year was very challenging – my mental health got twisted by an unexpected psychedelic experience and I’ve been recovering ever since.
All I’ve been doing those past months was trying to get back to normal. Because suddenly, everything that I did with (relative) ease before, felt like an enormous challenge.
Heading out to travel again felt scary. Hitchhiking again felt scary. Starting to travel with a van instead of going from hostel to hostel as well. And hiking and wild camping, of course, too.
In January, when I started my 52 weeks hiking project, I could feel my heart racing every time I went out into the mountains alone – not just from physical struggle, but from this new, unknown fear that I would not be able to make it. But I was determined to beat anxiety hike by hike.
Eventually, it did get better, the panic attacks ceased, yet there were still things that I felt like I needed to do to find back into my old strength. Spending a night alone in the mountains was certainly one of them.
Regaining my backpacking confidence
So that day, when I started walking with my fully equipped backpack, something I had not done since last summer, I was nervous at first. But then I felt a wave of joy flow through my body. I had missed it!
Anxiety often fades when we only dare to take the first steps. Again and again this proves to be true.
And the incredible landscapes around me made it easy to forget what’s uneasy. For the first time, I was taking on a longer hike again, and not just that, I was doing it with my big backpack.
With a combination of hiking (and hitchhiking!) I made it up to 1700m. I was at the foot of Maglić, Bosnia’s and Montenegro’s highest mountain.
Wildflowers were blooming everywhere. It was quiet. What a wonderful world that exists high above life as we usually live it.
After a strange back and forth (I actually almost continued to a lake, but then turned around), I decided to stay at the perfect camping spot I had almost dismissed. Am I confused and terrible at decision-making? Umm.. yes. Also, I’m still learning to set my priorities right and to allow myself to rest and not push onwards when there’s no need.
Because I realized it’s not about the kilometers or elevation hiked or the achievement – all I actually want is to immerse myself in nature, enjoy the beauty around me. And for that, sometimes you just need to stop moving, stop exhausting yourself, sit in a meadow and take a couple of deep breaths.
As the sun sank and the cold of the night began to rise, I suddenly felt scared again. I did not even light the fire for which I had collected plenty of firewood, I just curled up in my sleeping bag.
Tears rolled down my cheek as I gave myself a little credit for how far I had come nevertheless. There’s nowhere else I needed to go – being here was enough and I had taken enough precautions to make sure I was safe and warm. Slowly, I started to calm down again.
If I learned anything about those weird new feelings which I’ve never known before, it’s that they always pass. It’s just a moment out of many. You can be anxious and overwhelmed and still live your life. Of course, it would be nicer not having to feel that way but I was determined to not let anxiety get in the way of doing what I love.
The stars were spectacular that night. I wish I had the patience and skills for astrophotography, but I guess I will always choose the comfort of my sleeping bag over the pictures I could potentially take.
So you just have to take my word for it – those few minutes outside after having to leave the tent to pee were spent in pure awe.
What followed was more hiking, an encounter with several snakes and a wildly roaming horse as well as an an invitation to a wonderful Bosnian family’s house who let me pick cherries in their garden and protected and cared for me as if I was their own.
But those are different stories and they shall be told some other time.
Montenegro mountains & vanlife loneliness
Traveling south, we (meaning, Alois and me) entered Montenegro next. Another country I’ve never been to but I was looking forward to seeing its incredible mountains.
One of the first things that happened was bumping into a random group of Serbians who solemnly bestowed me a gift bag in the middle of a mountain road – simply because their club’s colors matched the red of my van – full of bright red Montenegro merchandise. I swear, they even had their personal photographer to capture the scene as if it was a press conference. I had absolutely no idea who they were but loved every second of it.
Let me tell you one of the main reasons why I travel: It is the human connection. Travel, especially solo travel, brings the most unexpected people and stories into your life, yet… there is one flaw. You can’t rely on it to happen.
As I was entering Montenegro, I was going through some rather lonely days. I met some nice people, had a few chats here and there, but nothing really clicked.
And it made me question why I am choosing this life. One of the things I long for most is connection, yet here I am, constantly moving away from people. As beautiful as life on the road is, it does not allow you to have a steady group of friends.
And sometimes you will sit in your van in a forest and feel as isolated as one can be.
It did not exactly help that I cut a piece off my finger that day and that a lot of grief over important relationships that are no longer present in my life came up.
I knew I was choosing loneliness as one of the main drawbacks when I decided to walk further down the path of being a permanent wanderer. But, I am also certain I would not want to live a different life.
Those days, the ‘side effects’ of my chosen path were weighing heavy on my soul. Little did I see that I was missing one thing: Patience.
The importance of keeping impermanence in mind
It’s been a while now that I understood that impermanence is what keeps the world going. The phrase “This too shall pass” is frequently on my mind and even in this low moment, I remembered that change is the nature of things.
However, this phase of loneliness showed me that I still need to learn how to handle those moments with more grace. More kindness towards myself. More patience. As everything, it’s a work in progress.
And as if life was to remind my of this very lesson, the next days blew away my worries entirely.
Suddenly, I was meeting so many people – great people, young people, adventurous people who shared a similar journey like mine!
I was laughing at myself for feeling such despair the days before. All I had to do… was give it time.
So, if you’re reading this and you’ve been feeling a little ‘meh’ lately, remember that your life can literally change from one day to the next.
And I find that especially while traveling, change happens so quickly. Everything is amplified, more intense. That means the lows may hit you more strongly, but the highs – oh my, they’re something else.
Soon I was dancing on a beach with strangers whom with a ‘normal’ life path I would have never encountered. We were living a sweet summer dream, a bunch of human beings with entirely different stories and aspirations, yet united in that one perfect moment.
A moment that will stay carved into my heart. Full of bliss, laughter and gratitude. And: One hell of a sunburn.
Lessons from my adventures in Bosnia & Montenegro
If I could give myself a couple of reminders that showed their importance in the past weeks, they would be:
- Life can change so quickly, and that’s wonderful.
- Take it slow. Those who rush to the future miss out on the beauty of being present.
- Allow yourself that child-like joy that you’ve been missing, because…
- Life is here for you to be enjoyed.
- Whatever you are struggling with, it does not have to be a struggle forever.
- Your story does not define who you can become.
- Sometimes, it is enough to just be. Make some time for doing nothing.
Now, you’ve been listening to my inner musings for quite a while – oh wait, you came here for travel stories?
Well, this is my travel story. I am not here to tell you about the top 10 sights of the Balkan countries, because that’s what Google is for. This is the personal story of a woman who chooses to choose courage over and over again because her heart is longing to see the world.
But let me tell you, I am already falling in love with the Balkans. People are kind-hearted and the nature I’ve seen in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Montenegro is absolutely breathtaking. You could probably hike around here for years and not get bored.
My wild mountain heart feels at home here. I am sure you would love it, too.
What happened previously on my journey from Germany to Iran: