Sunday, November 23, 2014

Even little Montenegro

Will and I have been trying as much as possible during this trip to use Couchsurfing, a website that helps locate local hosts while travelling, rather than hostels.  We send out blast requests to anyone in a city (or, in the case of Montenegro, a country) whose profile looks close to normal.  The response rate has been low, but sometimes the system works, and when it does, it works remarkably well—as in the case of our stay in Montenegro.

Will and I stumbled across the profile of an Israeli captain, Ofir, who has been docked in Tivat for the last three months.  The owner of the 70-foot Princess luxury yacht he pilots is upgrading to a larger boat (naturally), and selling this one to an American.  Ofir is obliged to stay with her until the new owner picks her up, which has meant months of waiting in an off-season port town.

So what’s a sailor to do? Well, Ofir’s been relieving the boredom by bringing the party to him, via Couchsurfing.  Serene, a girl from Singapore, came to stay more than a month ago.  They started dating, and she hasn’t left. 

When Will and I finally arrived in Tivat, Ofir instructed us to go to Porto Montenegro, a port billing itself as a luxury yacht residence.  We had been travelling all day, via three different modes of transport.  We were lugging our large backpacks, and looked like exactly what we were: tired, grungy, peripatetic wanderers.

What we did not look like were people who belonged in Little Monaco, which is what we immediately nicknamed Porto Montenegro, a haven of affluence on the Adriatic.  The whole place sparkled with understated lighting, from upscale boutique windows to carefully maintained gardens and fountains on the promenade.  We passed an organic health-food store, and a place for helicopter rentals.  The four jetties for docking superyachts bobbed gently in the dark waters beyond a screen of palm trees.  Well-dressed men and high-heeled women strolled around, pushing prams or dragging silly little dogs on expensive leashes.

The view of the jetty by day.

After a confusing interaction with the customs police— like I said, there’s a type of person who frequents this place, and we ain’t it—we found the boat, at anchor in the last berth on the pier.  As we walked towards it, we heard music spilling down the dock.  Ofir, a smiling, burly man in his late twenties, met us on the gangplank with a hearty, “Come aboard!”

Ofir showed us to the crew cabin below deck, where we would be sleeping in the unoccupied bunks. Ofir and Serene had just started cooking, so Will and I padded around the thickly carpeted yacht in our sock feet, goggling at the high-definition, 3-D capable flatscreen television and gingerly perching on the edge of the master bedroom’s 8000 € mattress (my derriere’s not particularly discerning, but for the record, it felt like any old mattress to me).  We took hot showers and had a few beers on the deck, the couple popping in and out of the kitchen to join us.  At around 10:30 pm, their Montenegrin friend Jasna arrived from town, and we feasted. 

The crew cabin: not made for tall people, but surprisingly quite comfortable-- and free!
Me, Jasna, and Serene

It turns out that besides being a sailor and captain, Ofir in a master chef.  Our meal was incredible: French onion soup with homemade croutons followed by cannelloni, made with breaded eggplant “shells”, stuffed with ricotta and mushrooms, and baked in tomato sauce.  Will and I made salad as our contribution, like a pair of daughters-in-law at Thanksgiving, and we finished the meal with candied mandarin oranges the two had stolen from the ornamental trees at the port’s four-star hotel and cooked in syrup that morning.  

Will and I ate like orphans recently released from Fagin’s grasp, devouring soup and shoveling eggplant into our mouths.  Luckily, this amused our new friends, who obliged by putting more food in front of us.  Eventually, stomachs sufficiently ballooned, we retired to the upper deck for a postprandial rum—it  seemed appropriate—which we drank out of 60 € crystal glasses (or, as Will put it, “Laura. We can’t. Touch. ANYTHING.”)  True to stereotype, Ofir drinks like a sailor, and the five of us stayed up talking, laughing, and listening to Serbian pop music until 3:00 am.

The last few days—we intended to stay one night, and have as of going to print been on the boat for four; this is why we’re so far behind our initially proposed itinerary—have been like a vacation from our vacation.  We sleep in absurdly late. We go for early afternoon runs on the road that strings the length of the Montenegrin coastline, enjoying the sparkling water and sea breeze.  We eat late brunch, once Ofir and Serene are finally up; Ofir prepared real Israeli shakshuka yesterday, to remind me of my time in Tel Aviv.  We lounge around the boat, reading, drawing, or napping on the upper deck until sunset.  We enjoy the night life around the port; one night we ended up in a darts tournament at a local bar.  On another we went to neighboring Kotor—an old walled fort city—to go dancing at a bar whose music echoed down the steep, narrow cobbled alleys.   One evening we took the motor dinghy out to the opposite side of the bay, where we had dinner and watched the sun set before flying back over the quickly chilling waters.

Shakshuka, an Israeli egg and tomato breakfast dish

But all good things must come to an end—all dreams must end in waking—as our tightly budgeted bank accounts are screaming to us.  Today we (reluctantly) plan to leave, hitchhiking north to Croatia.  We'll go back to eating street food once or twice a day, instead of gourmet meals thrice daily; our lives will probably involve less lounging. This was a wonderful pause, and we're eternally grateful to Ofir for making it possible!

Tivat from the sea

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