We visit the Black Lake on the first day of the Great Balkan Ride.
Photo by Juan Alberto Garcia Rivera
The Great Balkan Ride minimal assistance rally begins in Sarajevo, capital of Bosnia, and teams drive — on roads which vary drastically in quality — all the way to Thessaloniki, in Northern Greece. We see all sorts of dramatic scenery — mountains, coasts, and whatever Meteora is — as we weave through Bosnia, Kosovo, Montenegro, Albania, and Greece. The most stunning lake that we come across, however, may be one we reach within one day of driving: the Black Lake, in Montenegro’s Durmitor National Park.
A Little Montenegrin Lesson
In Montenegrin, the Black Lake is known as Crno Jezero; crno means black and jezero means lake, it’s quite simple, as long as you know that in slavic languages ‘c’ is pronounced as ‘ts’ and ‘j’ is soft, like the ‘y’ in ‘yes’. Anyway, the lake is close to the stunning mountain resort of Žabljak, where we spend the first night of our adventure. It’s located in Durmitor National Park, a remote paradisethat can sometimes seem like a more dramatic (and sunnier) Scottish highlands. There are actually eighteen lakes on the mountain range, which are collectively referred to as the mountain’s eyes: gorske oči. More useful Montenegrin vocabulary: gorske mean’s “mountain’s” and oči are “eyes”.
The Two Lakes of Crno Jezero
It’s time to come clean: we may have lied. The Black Lake is not a lake at all… it’s actually two lakes. However, this gives you a chance to learn even more Montenegrin (which, whisper it, will also be understood in Bosnia, Croatia, and Serbia)! The large lake, which has an area of 338 square meters, is veliko jezero (“big lake”) and the smaller, only 177 square meters, is called malo jezero (predictably, “small lake”). It is actually one big lake in winter, when water levels are higher, but by the time we arrive in summer there is a clear ridge between the two bodies of water.
Many visitors to the Black Lake do so just to admire the view, or take a pleasant stroll around the edge. However, our event tends to attract adventure seekers, who of course want to go for a swim. While this is safe, and a great way to cool down, we know from experience that it can be quite tricky to get out of the water again. This is due to the incredibly muddy floor of the lake. If you try to walk out, you may end up sinking. So be careful, or you won’t get out in time for the traditional meal awaiting you in the evening!
p.s. They charge a fee to visit the lake, but if you come with us, we know a secret route that will get you in for free!
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