We saw a picture of goats and went: road trip days 3 - 5

Europe » Montenegro
July 3rd 2015
Published: July 3rd 2015
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When nothing is planned, anything is possible. This was why we didn’t plan the road trip further out than the first two nights. The original idea was to drive to Durmitor National Park in Montenegro but with rain and cold temperatures in the forecast, we instead opted on heading to Lipovo to a farm we saw in the world’s worst guide book. The book pictured baby goats in one photo and cheese in another - there was no way I wasn't sold on this new plan.

As we drove in, we got a better impression of what we were in for, or rather decided we had no idea what we were in for. We followed a series of yellow signs for Milijanka’s cheese farm on a one-lane road past small farmhouses for what seemed like miles while it became increasingly apparent we were off the grid and the guidebook was definitely incorrect in saying the farm had an internet connection. We turned in when we saw a young boy flagging us down, Petr, the 12-year-old grandson who nervously held tight to his small notebook of English words for the first few hours of our stay. The farm was a collection of buildings - one that housed the kitchen, one for dining, one for sleeping and another for aging meats and cheeses and storage of all the non-refrigerated foods. Also, was a goat house on a hill where the proscuitto pig occupied the daylight basement.

Milijanka came out to greet us and showed us to our rooms in the building that housed four bedrooms, a living room, bathroom and storage room. She then sat us down in the dining house which was more like a museum with a dining table running the length of the middle of the room. Then Milijanka and Petr reappeared with the first of many, many delicious meals that completely blew us all away without fail. This meal consisted of: mint trappist cheese, prosciutto, kaimak (similar to a cream cheese texture but with a stronger, sharp flavor), pressed cheese (similar to mozzarella) bread, pickles, quince juice, raikja (the local liquor) and sour yogurt. At first we were abuzz, discussing the food placed before us, then we fell silent eating and observing our surroundings - a stark contrast to the everyday life we’re accustomed to. On the walls were local newspaper clippings about the famous cheese farm we were on, all because we saw a picture of goats.

We ate as much as we could in complete delight while wondering what else we were in store for over the next two days on the farm. Before sunset we headed up the hill to check out the goats who had been let out into their yard for a dusk wander. There we met Dragan who had been up on the mountain when we arrived bringing the cows down for the night. Milijanka then ushered us into the kitchen building to help with dinner. Here we met Misko, Milijanka’s husband. Meeting new people on the farm meant we all took a shot of rakija together. Misko is only allowed one shot per day due to his blood pressure issues. Milijanka had each of us help stir dinner on the stove which appeared to be a type of cheese fondue. The cheese looked smooth and perfect while she stirred but once she handed it over to us the cheese took on a much different texture. Convinced I single-handedly ruined dinner for the five of them and four of us, I made someone else stir. But with Milijanka still in the room cheerfully sharing stories with us, she didn’t allude to dinner being ruined and thankfully it wasn’t. As it turns out that is what was supposed to happen.

Petr was the only one who sort of spoke English. He knows basic words but we mimed a lot. We asked to see the goats by making goat noises. We asked him if they produce honey or have bee boxes on the farm by making buzzing noises and pretending to fly around. Milijanka, Dragan and Misko speak close to no English. Fabian and Allison’s Serbian language skills made this all possible although the dialect on a rural farm in Montenegro is much different than Belgrade Serbian so some stuff did get lost in translation.

Dragan arranged to take us on the hike the following morning, and Milijanka said to be ready for breakfast at the agreed upon time of 9:30am which seemed lazily late to her judging from her gasp when we suggested that time. Before settling in for the night Petr came in and every so shyly asked if we would allow him to accompany us on tomorrow’s hike. The glee on his face when we said, “yes, of course!” was unforgettable. We figured he wasn’t gonna sleep much that night.

Breakfast was served in the kitchen as we wiped a few ants off the table and benches. Ants are a farm animal too. Breakfast consisted of more cheeses, meats, breads and yogurt. And the most delicious Turkish coffee with fresh milk. I would have been happy sitting in the kitchen with Milijanka all day talking in charades and drinking that amazing coffee. But alas, the hike was calling. Milijanka fed us breakfast and coffee and tea. Misko fed us rakija. We said we didn’t want any since we were about to embark on a hike, but he said we’d drink some since we were about to embark on a hike, and we couldn't argue with a wise old Montenegrin farmer, so we had some rakija before 10am while Milijanka packed up water and lunch for our hike.

Dragan’s aging Audi wouldn’t make it up the mountain to the trailhead so all six of us piled into Fabian’s Jeep and off we went. What we weren’t expecting was a 45-minute drive on rocky switchbacks through snow up to 2200 meters. But that’s what we did with one minor setback that involved three guys pushing the Jeep through snow. We stopped in a field on what seemed to be the top of the mountain but the fog made it impossible to see anything beyond 10 feet ahead, so the mountain could have been another 2200 meters and we’d never know. Assuming we were still going on a hike, I was kind of confused as to where this trail head was, or if my ankle-length pants and sort of mesh shoes were prepared for this hike at 2200 meters with snow.

The field we were stopped in was dotted with small summer houses - where the farmers of Lipovo go in the summer. As we stood there at the end of May, the sheep were on their 10-day journey up to the summer houses. Dragan and Petr led us to their summer house, still boarded up from winter. This was the first day they’d visited. We joked that perhaps they were just looking for a ride up there to check on things. The door on the house was nailed shut and opened thanks to a lug wrench in Fabian’s trunk. We apparently planned this hike well. We didn’t know this at the time, but Dragan had already made the decision that we weren’t hiking. The conditions of 8 degrees (celsius, America) with fog and drizzle combined with our insufficient foreigner clothing for mountain hikes, probably led him to believe we wouldn't be good candidates for the hike. Instead we attempted to surf down the remaining snow and wandered around trying not to step on a single one of the millions of crocuses poking through the the hard-packed snow. We set up the table and benches in the summer house and had some of the lunch Milijanka packed. Despite still being full from breakfast I was so excited to be in the presence of such great food, I happily ate.

The drive down the mountain was less eventful, probably because we knew what we were in for. Arriving home we found Misko outside between the storage farmhouse and the dining house. Whatever he was doing was producing quite a bit of smoke. Wandering over we found him operating the still, making apple rakija. I have a fascination with the process of making things, especially foods. Seeing a live, working, and legal still in operation was incredible. I was at a Christmas-morning level of excitement while Misko explained to Fabian what he was doing. I understood no words but I oddly know enough about stills to understand what he was saying. Today was the second round of distillation. Tomorrow would be round three, the last distillation.

Milijanka then ushered us into the dining house to feed us lunch since it had been something like an hour and half since we last ate. Potatoes, beef, bread, kaimak, sour yogurt.

Later in the day Dragan was going to take us up the hill behind the farm to take the goats out so after our second lunch we had some down time that we filled by playing Uno. Again Petr’s face turned to sheer glee when we invited him to play with us. Petr’s job was to help Milijanka feed us. He would bring in serving dishes heaped with food, leave us for a while and return to collect the dirty dishes and leftover food. After we invited him to play Uno with us, at lightning-speed, he stacked the dirty dishes to the side and sat down to play. The dishes could wait today.

At 6pm, we met Dragan. The goats were already out of their house and up on the hill. We wandered toward them and their guard/herding dogs began to incessantly bark at us, not wanting us to get any closer to their goats. This caused the goats to flee in a half circle around us and straight back to their goat house. Mission failed. So now the goats were home, and we stood between them and the hill we were supposed to lead them to. We have a lot to learn about farming. Dragan didn’t seem phased by this small detail that we felt was a large detail. Instead, he took his horse and told us to follow him up the hill so now the goats were no longer the purpose but the outing was continuing on. Dragan on the horse met up with us a few hundred meters up the hill. He signaled Allison was going to ride the horse. Upon her agreeal, he lifted her off the path and onto the horse whose saddle unconventionally consisted of a square of egg-shell foam and Dragan’s fleece jacket. A bit later and he signaled it was my turn to join Allison on the horse. I’ve ridden a horse once in my life for maybe 5 minutes so learning to ride one on the side of a mountain in rural Montenegro on a rocky, narrow path seemed to be the natural progression of my horse-riding lessons. Dragan lifted me up, and Allison gave me some basics of how to ride. A few hundred meters later it was time for Fabian and Bob to have a turn, and so on until we reached a clearing where met some wild male horses who were interested in our female horse. With all of us dismounted, we took the opportunity to take some photos while Dragan dealt with the unwelcomed addition to our hiking cohort.

Soon we hiked our way to another farm, a farm only accessible by hiking up the hill. Or riding a horse up the hill, no roads went there. The farm owners, a couple and their three-year-old son, met us with smiles and waves. With huge grins we hung out with their calf that was born earlier in the day, still sporting the umbilical cord and stumbling around a bit, getting used to life on the outside. We were quickly ushered into the farmhouse. The simple house consisted of two single beds, a table, a wood-fire range for cooking and some shelving holding clothing and dishes. We sat on the two beds while being fed rakija and cheese. Dragan talked with the owners for a bit while the three-year-old didn’t break his stare at us, the four foreign visitors in his house, sitting on his bed and eating his cheese. Their dialect was too different for Fabian and Allison to understand, but we did catch they were laughing at our inappropriate footwear, lack of socks, my pants that didn’t cover my ankles. We were definitely not prepared for life on the farm. So we sat there eating, drinking and swinging our feet that hung off the beds wondering how we went from first-world civilization to a farmhouse without any access aside from feet, with no power and hours-old cows, within days. Bob and I had just spent 40-something hours on our modern world’s version of time-travel and now here we were eating and drinking farm specialties completely disconnected from the world we know.We wandered down the mountain in good company with sheep, goats and cows.

That night, after our final dinner and countless more rounds of Uno with a still-ecstatic Petr, Milijanka sat down with us. She explained everything in the museum-like dining house. The traditional clothes, the farm tools, the articles on the walls about their cheese. She explained they don’t get many tourists. When they do come, they come for one meal or a snack after hiking or biking in the area and are then off to the next, bigger destination. Rarely do tourists come for the full board and spend the night, as we had. Life on the farm was sometimes hard especially with the monetary strain for Misko’s blood-pressure medication.

Our three days on the farm are near the very top of my favorite days in all my days spent wandering around abroad. After packing, we went to our last breakfast. We were late, which Milijanka pointed out, but she still blew me kisses when greeting me for the day. Last night at dinner she told Fabian she felt like we were her kids. She was sad to see us go. Once we left, she’d be alone again on the farm. Petr has school he walks two hours each way to attend and farming duties, hopefully he will, one day, take over the farm. Misko and Dragan are often gone with endless work that changes intensely with the seasons.

We took pictures together and said goodbye. Guaranteed I would have cried saying goodbye if we had stayed even one day longer.

The days we spent on the farm is why I travel; to experience another life and culture that is in contrast to mine. It’s the highest form of learning I have encountered. It’s humbling and encompases every emotion from glee to fright. And to experience the farm with Bob and two friends I cherish was the best situation I could have imagined. It was akin to the excitement of summer days when I was young. When we spent the day swimming with the neighborhood kids, and we ate ice cream, watched Harry and the Hendersons (my favorite) and then my sister and I slept outside on our front deck. It was that fun. It was that feeling that everything was perfect. And it was thanks to a horrible guide book that showed a picture of baby goats and cheese.

If anyone is planning on being in the area and want to visit Milijanka’s cheese farm, please message me, and I’ll be happy to supply the information.

Up next, the beach!

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