My host mom works in the emergency center of the hospital in Nis and she was required to work on Easter. My host dad, quite the zealous outdoors-man, decided that it was time for me to come with him kroz planine (through the mountain). I've hiked many times in Hawaii but in the past when my host dad left for what he refers to as planinarenje (mountain climbing--not hiking mind you, mountain climbing), he wouldn't return until dark so I wasn't quite sure what to expect.
On Easter Sunday at 8:30am we headed out with his brother and a friend to a mountain about 30 minutes from Nis then the path got fun and bumpy as we charged up this mountain in a tiny Yugo (a common car around Serbia) for another 20 minutes. Finally we disembarked and set off kroz planine.
My host dad, his brother, and their friend are all a few decades older than me but their slightly puerile sense of humor and agility kept me very entertained and challenged the entire hike. They have a handshake and matching hiking caps and sticks, and at least twice a month they take to the mountain together, even in the winter.
My host dad said after he saw me fair well on Kopaonik, he wanted to take me on his favorite trail that provides a great view of Serbia by winding through four mountains. As we were just starting out he warned that my legs would most likely feel limp the next day. It's been a day and a half and so far my legs seem to be holding up splendidly but during the hike there was one moment of doubt when we were literally trekking up a narrow path on the peak of one mountain, forceful winds badgering the balance and steep cliffs on either side messing with the mind. However I really enjoyed every other moment, even when we faced that same narrow stretch going down.
The trail was 17 kilometers (around 10 miles), from the first mountain to the peak of the fourth and back. After three hours of hiking and water breaks we reached the peak we took a super long break for lunch.
Since it was Easter we all brought dyed eggs and we played an egg-cracking game where you try to crack someone else's egg by hitting it against your own while saying "koots koots," the Serbian interpretation of the sound a hen makes.
Somehow through our good conversation, relaxation, and fire-making and sustaining, nearly three hours went by. I'm still amazed at how quickly time deceived us. I'd never made a fire in the midst of a hike before because I never needed to, but it was pretty chilly especially with the wind so it was much appreciated during our extended break.
We gathered our things, put out the fire, and retraced our steps to embark on the second half of our hike. During this half my favorite part of the day came to pass.
On our way up we saw a cabin and we waved to a few people standing outside the house. On our way down we met them.
Initially I thought the hiking crew knew them since they've done this trail before but they were actually complete strangers. The beautiful part was that it didn't matter. We just walked up to them and introduced ourselves, and they insisted we come inside for some food and drinks. We were greeted by more people when we got inside and immediately conversation arose and the two groups were friends. More rounds of the "koots koots" game were played and we were offered everything on their table. In a typical Serbian way the offerers seemed slightly taken aback by refusal, continuing to offer more and more while conversing. My host dad taught us all the handshake he, his brother, and his friend often break out and it was quite amusing practicing this handshake with ten people who I'd just met. Unsurprisingly they were curious about what the Hawaii girl was doing in some little-known trail in Serbia, so I (hopefully) answered their questions and we discussed the differences between America, Serbia, and Europe. Again time performed some beguiling tricks and 45 minutes went by unnoticed. As we packed up again they loaded us with dyed eggs and sweets, and one woman gave me a handkerchief she'd embroidered that I had complimented.
While saying goodbye I was struck with how nice it was that people would just open their doors for passerbys on Easter, but my host dad corrected this thought explaining that it need not be Easter for this to occur. It's just people being trusting and friendly without reservation.
Unfortunately it was getting darker so we had to finish the last quarter of the trail and we sped right through it in half an hour.
My host mom had returned from work by the time we got back around 8pm and she surprised us with these delicious mini sandwich cakes that she makes. A wonderful way to end a wonderful day!