Since we live near the mountains, we recently took up some light hiking. Light is a very relative term because even though we like to think that we are in fairly decent shape, by the time we are getting on the trail (around 8 AM), there are already hikers going down. They all seem to be invariably over 60, and those older hikers who slept longer or went to church and got to a late start (say about 9) are somehow always faster than us, a pair of reasonably fit 30-somethings.
I have no real explanation for this magic, but I did some careful observation, and bring you here the secrets to traditional Slavic hiking!
Our destination: Sljeme, Medvedgrad (“Bear City”)
Medvednica is a green mountain in central Croatia, just north of capital city Zagreb. It’s actually just couple of minutes away from city core if you take public transport. Its highest peak is Sljeme and it’s just 1,035 meters high, meaning it will be a pleasant and healthy hiking. Most of the area is also considered a nature park so please be careful where you put your junk, it would be bad if we spoiled it.
Getting started with Rakija
When you see the first group of hikers sharing a hip-flask (or a plastic bottle) before they start hiking, you might think that they are just a bit unusual, but when it happens time after time, you start seeing a pattern. Every time we’d be starting off at the more or less same time as a group of hikers, they’d all first stand around sharing a little drink, because hiking is serious business and requires fuel.
Milldly (or wildly) inappropriate attire
Now this might be a bit misleading. Most of the hikers do have some sort of appropriate footwear, mostly jogging shoes (though I’ve seen people hike in sandals too), but the rest seems to be a complete free-for-all. Jeans and a t-shirt seems to be a popular choice for men, as are short trousers and topless, regardless of the actual weather outside. You can clear out forget any kind of specialized hiking clothing. All those quick-drying, breathable materials are for amateurs. You’ll be changing your shirt in front of everyone regardless of your gender the moment you sit down anyway, so it doesn’t matter. There is no place for shame when you are saving yourself from promaja!
Pit stop for a snack
At some point you have to stop to have a snack, regardless of how long your hike actually is (a very popular route is designed to pass by a sort of an inn in the forest), where you will have a cup of coffee, another shot of rakija, maybe eat an apple or a peach (because no proper Slav goes anywhere without peaches in the summer), and when the stragglers catch up with you, another shot. If the hike is longer than 2 hours, you are strongly encouraged to take out some bacon and bread, slice up half a bell pepper, maybe some smoked sausages, and, if you’re feeling fancy, a tomato. You can’t hike on an empty stomach!
Now this bit is absolutely essential. During your entire hike, you have to complain about everything and everyone, in between good-natured teasing of your friends. The preferable topics are: The terrain (something MUST have changed since you last took that trail, and it is a reason to complain), the amount of people, the lack of people, your general life, the speed at which you are hiking, the weather, the bugs, the weather forecast, your health… you get the picture. You are here to unwind and get some nature. You can’t do that if you don’t get rid of all the negativity in your life.
Lunch at the mountaineer’s home
A mountaineer’s home is a special phenomenon. Dotted all over the mountains are wooden buildings which, miraculously, provide food, water and rest for the weary traveller (and they are also mostly accessible by car. Mostly). They usually consist of a large patio with wooden tables and benches, a kitchen, dining area and sort of bar on the ground floor, and sleeping chambers on top. The most important parts, of course, are the bar and the kitchen.
If you didn’t bring your own bottle(s) of wine and mineral water, you can get beer at the bar, and even if you brought more food with you to eat up there, and decide to skip the traditional bean stew (available with or without sausage in these modern times), you will still get a cheese, apple or cheese and pumpkin strudel. After all, you will need the extra energy on your way down!
After all this hiking, you are strongly encouraged to rest at your destination for at least an hour or two, eat, drink and preferably sing suggestive songs at the top of your voice. Actual talent is of course, unnecessary, as your enthusiasm will more than make up for it. In fact, enthusiasm over skill seems to also be the general rule for any kind of hiking, but even if you do take the traditional route, remember that even they make sure to carry plenty of water, and at least semi-sensible footwear!
Would you hike now?