The Bosnian border. Again 🙂 This time, coming from the magnificent river Tara canyon, i found myself on a very small borderpassing and the only cars passing were packed with rafting equipment, apparently a very popular activity on the Tara.
I passed quickly and found myself on not so well maintained roads again and the landscape turned from rocky mountains (Montenegro means Black mountain) into endless wild green forests (Bos means forest in Dutch :p, it fits!). It was spectacularly beautiful and was quite excited to bike there all day 🙂
My only mission was to exchange some euro’s or Kuna’s into Bosnian Marks, the local currency. It turned out to be quite the challenge! Almost no villages, just some rafting centra and restaurants, no ATM or money exchange. Meanwhile i was climbing mountains in 40 degrees and started to get a little hungry 😉
Around lunchtime I stopped at a restaurant to refill my waterbottles, and while i was doing that a couple of Norwegian tourists winked me to their table. They had seen me on the bike and we started talking. Their trip was very different from mine: 10 countries in 15 days, restaurants, expensive hotels, boattrips etc. They were decadently filling themselves with beer, all kinds of meat, bread, French fries and salad. I was there talking to them with one eye on all that food 😉 when they were finished eating, i thought about what a shame it would be if the waitress would collect all those leftovers and probably throw it away.
So… you sense what’s coming? 😀
I gathered my nerves and went real hobo style asking whether they would mind if i was to finish the leftovers, whaha, I did it, I actually said it! A chair was pulled out, a drink was offered and a little bit embarrassed, but with full stomach i could continue my climb up the mountains along the river Drina.
Around 6.30 pm i still didn’t find a place to change money and i stopped at the only little bar i saw in many kilometers. There were no guests and nobody responded when i said ‘hello, anybody here?’. While filling my bottles again, the owner came downstairs. I asked him where i could get some money and instead of answering my question, he replied: ‘why? What do you need money for?’ I told him: I need food, and then i need to find a place to camp. After 90 km in this heath i was kinda done for the day. He never told me where to go. He insisted i would stay there, take a shower upstairs and he made me a fantastic vegetarian meal, we shared some beers and laughs and the next morning he made me salad and cooked eggs for breakfast.
Haha isnt that amazing?! Still no money, but a great first day in Bosnia 😀
The next day was beautiful
But so crazy hot and there was no shade to be found anywhere that at some point in midday I was about to collapse and decided to hitchhike a little bit over the highest mountainpass, knowing there was a 2 km tunnel coming up as well. Soon a danish car stopped and helped me over this toughest bit and without asking stepped out to buy me a liter of icecold water! People are so nice!!
That day i made it to 30 km before Mostar, where i could pitch my tent in someone’s garden.
The mother of the family brought me homemade spinach pita (my favourite!!) and some watermelon, wow. I really dont know why Bosnia has such a bad reputation, because i was having the time of my life!
The next morning I was waking up with a nice 30 km downhill to Mostar, in the midst of a big wide flat area; a very different view from the days before.
I spent some hours visiting the town, which was very impressive because of the many visible signs of Mostar’s troubled recent history.
It was formerly one of the most ethnically diverse cities in the country. The city was the most heavily bombed of any Bosnian city during the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina following the breakup of Yugoslavia. At the beginning of the war, air strikes destroyed many important buildings and structures, including the Old Bridge. Mostar was named after the bridge keepers (mostari) who in the medieval times guarded the Stari Most (Old Bridge) over the Neretva. The rebuilding of the bridge was completed in 2004 and nowadays there are Red Bull-championships where people jump from this bridge!
I was happy i was on the bike and not with some other transport, because i would have missed the surprisingly different areas outside of the old town. Mostar has architecturally noteworthy buildings in a very wide range of styles! I passed ugly 21st century buildings, Venetian-style villas, French-like Elysees and more..
It was very clear they kept the old town the way it was on purpose for remembrance (and for tourism?).
I biked my way up the mountain in the hottest hours of the day (Mostar lies at only 50 meters, which means lots of climbing to get out!).
But i felt strong and was so excited my friend was coming soon, i was singing songs all day and i actually made it to the border! (and beyond), after taking a small holy nap ;).
The scenery was again very different and i biked through wide-streched vineyards and fields where people were growing vegetables. Big pumpkins!
Finally, at a small town i stopped and asked some people whether they would know a place to pitch my tent. They were very confused about what I wanted and after some asking around two guys took me home (they were actually going the other direction) and soon i found myself in the midst of this nice family, where the parents asked me to come sleep inside,
insisted i would have dinner with them and the daughter started playing guitar and singing in her angelic voice, again unbelievable! The son and cousin took me out for drinks before i collapsed; I had biked too many kilometers in 40 degrees and wasnt feeling very well. The universe helped me out by popping up another son who happened to go to Split the next day by car and after me saying ‘no thank you’ a couple of times sort of insisted me to bring me to Split by car. I was glad I did because the next day in Split i just layed on my back in the shadow, while my body clearly didn’t agree with the day before. It was begin evening when i started to feel a little bit better. Luckily i found a warmshower (contact from another cyclist) close to Split where i could stay the night and recover a little. Thanks Tomislav!
The next morning I woke up feeling much better, gladly, because Anne would arrive that night and I still had to arrange a bike! I spent a day asking around at some bikeshops, having the help of locals (at the bikeshop, in the street, at the bakery) making phonecalls for me, so i was finally able to find and buy a secondhand bike from a guy that didn’t speak a word English, it was quite the adventure! The bike was in absolute horrific condition but i felt like I had no choice; a new bike was way to expensive for only ten days of biking. I tried to improve it a little by doing some work on it and told Anne her new favourite colour was green 😀 We named the bike ‘The Hulk’!!
And oh dear, the adventures this bike gave us hahaha
I welcomed Anne at the busstop around 11 pm that night with a big bottle of wine to celebrate 🙂 It was great to see her again! We studied together and we spent two weeks in South Africa, where we found out we are the perfect travel companions! We enjoyed a walk around ‘midnight Split’ (very lively!),
People like their icecream at night, what a line!
before passing out and enjoying a walk around ‘daytime Split’ the next day 😀
We secretly entered the theatre and indulged ourselves at the fantastic local market 🙂
Then it was time to start our bicycle trip.
We had the seat adjusted and asked about the crooked pedal, but the bikeshop assured us it would hold untill Sarajevo. Within five minutes we had a flat tire! Oh-oh We walked to the other bikeshop I had been before. I had been allowed to use their workplace and tools to adjust my spokes and had fun with his colleague, who helped me find this bike. This guy wasn’t there, but he had already told his other colleagues about me. Igor turned out be our hero (and lots of fun)! He fixed the bike up, while we went to the coast to have a last swim in the Adriatic sea J. And he only charged for one tire, wow! Igor even showed us a great wildcampingspot, but Tomislav had invited us to stay at his place another night, which was already on the route. We had to pass a horribly busy traffic road to get there, but the first ten kilometers were a fact! Podstrana is a little bit of heaven (quiet, peaceful, nature) just outside the big fast city. We slept bad because of the heath and i moved outside to sleep, waking up from a host passing me and taking a piss in his own garden! Interesting..
Anyways it was nice of him to invite us and the next morning we were on our way, adventure-time!
The route was fantastic, getting better and better, biking through the middle of nowhere, lots of small villages, beautiful sights, mountains we couldn’t believe we climbed and lots of fantastically nice people.
Anne’s crank kept coming off though and we asked a guy to help us. We noticed many white doves on his rooftop and decided the universe brought us here 😉 Peace, man! He fixed the crank and we ended up drinking coffee with the whole family of his neighbor 🙂
Later we found the perfect place to enjoy our lunch and a little swim
and Anne told me she was so happy!
I was very happy to hear that, since this is what i enjoy the most and really wanted to share it with her, but i could imagine she might not enjoy it so much with this crappy bike and would be worrying in stead of enjoying. I was so happy she could let go of her worries and trust in some sort of solution whatever happens and just enjoy everything, the whole adventure 🙂
We make good partners doing that! Luckily.. because the problems weren’t over yet :p
Later that day the crank came off again and we stopped at a mechanic in Cista Provo, who fixed it again by tightening the boult. I had been worrying about the extreme heath from the days before (Anne doenst handle that too well with her milkwhite skin), but while we were waiting it had also started raining, cooling down our route a lot.
Again, perfect! The universe made us stop here exactly in time 🙂 Another customer arrived (who did speak English) and arranged for us to sleep in the neighbors garden that night. The owners didn’t talk to us but came bringing a bag of fruits, so nice 🙂
The next morning. Biking only some 200 meters, the crank was coming off again! Anne was smart enough to ask someone in the middle of the café, where all the men were looking at us already and one of them stepped up and called a bike-mechanic-friend who came with the brilliant idea to have the crank welded and showed us the way to get to the welding shop!
Despite being a little bit worried, we were having lots of fun and we thought this time we would be fine for a while 🙂
We had a beautiful route and when we stopped for some water, we got invited for chicken, bread and drinks.
Beer kept coming so I needed a little nap after that 😉
Later that afternoon, at another café, again we were offered drinks, people are so nice everywhere! The Dutch government warns about getting robbed in Bosnia, but we kinda experienced the opposoite.
We made it to Busko jezero, a beautiful lake,
where we found a fantastic camping spot in the immense garden of the first person we asked. We did some skinnydipping, washed our hair and enjoyed the private beach (except for some fishermen and some cows) and beautiful sunset!
Next day we started climbing the mountain towards Tomislavgrad when the crank completely broke off. Oh dear! This was just getting hilarious :p One day without trouble on the bike, is one day less adventure!!
We decided to hitchhike to the city, where we knew there was supposed be a bikeshop. Within 5 minutes we were sitting in a van towards the city, the guy asking around where the bikeshop is, dropping us there and explaining the mechanic in Bosnian language what was wrong, only leaving after being sure he could fix it. Wow!
We were learning pretty quickly that to every problem there is a solution and there is no reason in the world to be worried about anything. People are so nice and willing to help. The West can learn a lot from this! We agreed we should look out for others more often and more intensely back home, see if we can do something, at least offer. Have our minds less focused on ourselves and our tight schedules but more open and taking care of each other. Inviting people, sharing drinks and food, offering our time and love. Makes the world so much nicer 🙂
The bikeshop fixed us with a new crank for only 5 euros and we were on our way again! Stopping at the café for water brought us another round of free drinks, before we entered the emptiness of park Blidinje. Wow! That was a big highlight of the trip! A beautiful route through and over the mountain, the 1200 meter plateau, fantastic views.
It is hard to describe this beauty and even pictures cannot capture the feelings we felt. The guy at the last café had assured us the route was ‘perfect for biking’! Which would have been the case if we didn’t have all this luggage haha. There was lots of offroading!
Also on steep climbs. But we did some great teamwork and made it up 🙂 ‘perfect for biking’ became our new favorite saying when roads were tough :p
We found one motel on the plateau where we stopped to have a drink.
On the wifi we discovered we (against expectations) already did most climbing, so obviously we ordered more drinks :p, then dinner, and we spent all evening having fun at the motel 🙂
Sun was down for quite some time before we pitched the tent behind the motel (i was a little drunk). We enjoyed some scrambled eggs in the morning, crazy luxury! (this is not something I do on this trip usually, but Bosnia is pretty cheap and it’s Anne’s holiday so we gave ourselves this present!)..
There was almost only downhill the next morning, which was tough without paved roads but it gave us the time to enjoy the fantastic views. It was one of the most beautiful downhills i had seen so far!
We were warned about mines,
found another perfect lunch break stop
Had some rock throwing competition with these local kids, we named kwik,kwek and kwak 🙂 (kids around the world are all the same :p)
and made our way down to Jablanica, well, see for yourself..
There was a small tunnel (Bosnian mainroads are full of them) so i wore my helmet; it was the first time Anne saw that, so picture time 😀
We arrived in sablanica early so we (in fact, Anne :p) decided to do a little detour up the lake to have a look at this magnificent dam and these bridges where we couldn’t resist to jump in 😀
I had two ‘blond’ moments that day and was happy Anne was there to make fun of me 😀 biking towards the dam felt so so heavy but from the perspective off the road against the mountains I was sure we were going downhill all the way and started to be very worried about the way back and not so sure anymore i wanted to do this detour haha luckily we pulled through, it was worth it for sure, and what i thought was a downhill turned out to be a pretty tough climb, so the way back was very easy! I was so confused :D!
The next blond thing was when we rode our bikes on the bridge in Jablanica to see the old collapsed railway bridge.
I lost one flipflop with getting of the bike and it felt deep down in inaccessible thick bushes (i tried!). Damn.. Wearing heavy hot shoes from now on.. Pfff it was funny 😀 stupid Tamar. Two things to add to my list, already consisting of completely missing the Croatian border, falling of my bike after four rakijas and taking a pee in some nettles 🙂
The night we would spent at a warmshower host. I had only had very good experiences with warmshowers before and wanted to share this with Anne. Also, we were both looking forward to a real shower after these days of camping J. But this warmshower was very strange and uncomfortable. Our host picked us up from the restaurant parking lot close-by and brought us to a nice little house on the lake. He parked us at a table and didn’t speak to us at all anymore! He never asked whether we were ok, where we were coming from, if we needed anything, didn’t show us the bathroom, nothing.. Finally I decided to talk to him and with the shortest answers ever to my questions we found out that all the other people around were his family members, the 12 chained (thank god) dogs were his and they were busy working on their weekendhouse. We could sleep there and we sort of understood everyone else would go home that night. We found out by ourselves that there was no shower. And later, also no electricity. Very strange. In the end it was all fine and we slept well in our private house with a great view but yeah, strange.
From Jablanica we biked all the way along the beautiful lake towards Konjic, where we arrived early afternoon. We asked around for a small hostel we had seen online (Anne really wanted a shower by now :P) but ended up sleeping in the most beautiful ottoman house!
It was owned by Naim, with whom we also ended up having coffee, drinks, dinner, breakfast, lunch; insane unexpected hospitality! Cevapi here, Cevapi there, Cevapi everywhere…
Naim wins awards for the most beautiful garden every year and the drink made from his roses was veeerrryy nice and soft 🙂
His friend Orhan was there all the time too, both drinking and smoking all day (everybody smokes a lot, cigarettes are only one euro), and singing to traditional music from an actual cassette tape 😀
and Orhan thaught us how to make traditional Burek on the fire, fantastic!
It took a lot of time, because everything goes veeerrryy slow in Bosnia :p I like it 😉 and we had to go back to the butcher twice to make sure we had the freshest meat.
The Burek was fantastic!! Anybody wants the recepy, ask me 🙂
We went for a swim in Neretva river and Orhan arranged a friend to bring us by van over the highest mountain on the dangerously busy road towards Sarajevo, awesome!
He even contacted a friend on the way, so we had a place to pitch our tent. No tent though, we ended up sleeping in Edo’s beautiful weekendhouse on a beautiful hill after another night of drinking and cevapcici’s and kaymak with Edo and his friend Mickie. Wow.
The next morning we went to a close little ranch where we were waiting for the chicken to actually lay the egg (while we were drinking rakija before breakfast!),
before cooking the egg for breakfast, along with some salad from vegetables Edo picked directly from his garden. WOW WOW WOW.
Mickie Joined us and we gave him the bike as a present; after promising us he would love it as much as we did.. Goodbye Hulk!
With only one bike left, Mickie drove us into Sarajevo (yeay for not biking these horrible roads into town!).
He did some detours, playing mister tourguide J and dropped us off in the middle of Old Town Sarajevo. We had made it! Every day is another adventure and great unexpected things were happening all the time:) Bosnia is fantastic 😀 The country is incredibly beautiful, and so are the people!
In Sarajevo we stayed with a German couchsurfing host (Lutz) with a fantastic house with three extra rooms and an extra bathroom for guests, say what?!
We both didn’t know anything about the city, didn’t do any research and had no clue what to expect. I am becoming extremely lazy/indifferent in my research and just let things happen to me. Also, i feel no need at all to see everything and tick my boxes ‘been here, done that’. I completely skipped the word planning from my vocabulary. My perception of time is getting close to nonexistent and i have big difficulties answering simple questions like: how long did you stay in Croatia, when were you in Venice, what did you do on friday, where are you going next, which route do you take, when will you be in Turkey? I have absolutely no clue what day it is, or what will happen the next day. I dont know where i will sleep, which road i will bike or how much elevation there is. I let go of absolutely everything and live in the moment completely. Ill just see what the day brings. By now i know it is always good 🙂 This freedom is impossible to describe, and fantastic to experience! Im finally letting go of everything, I really needed to leave everything behind back home and not be on a time schedule. A half year break from work would not have brought me to this, so I am really happy i quite everything and went. These are the conditions i needed. Never felt more free! It’s crazy how one can feel so trapped in a country where you have everything..
Anyways, Anne and I reached the mysterious Sarajevo! Without a plan we just started walking, bought some fantastic cheap and great tasting fruits at the market (10kg watermelon for 2,50 euro!)
and ended up at this square where the local men were playing chess on this big-ass chess board, cool!
I love playing chess, because it’s a game without chance or luck, it’s your own doing if you win or lose. And especially in foreign countries i like to play, because language barriers dont exist in this game 🙂 We sat for hours watching the pro’s play. These guys are playing here everyday! At one point Anne challenged the guy who had been winning all this time to play against me. Haha, nice Anne, thanks a lot! (I love her for that, she had also signed me up for bungeejumping at Blaukrans last year :D).
It was an exciting game, almost last an hour, and more and more people came to watch and start giving me advice, which was more like a lot of men all shouting at me in Bosnian using grand handgestures, it was crazy!! We finally lost the game but it was great fun 😀
That evening we met with our couchsurfing host Lutz from Germany, who welcomed us in his beautiful house. Lutz is a very nice guy and we felt very lucky we could stay with him! I even stayed four days 🙂
We joined the walking tour in the morning, enjoyed the view over the city
and with the immense portion of history the guide threw at us, finally all the pieces were falling in place for me. I can see the big picture of the Balkans now. From the great ottoman empire to WWI (Principe shot Franz Ferdinand here) to the Kingdom (!) of Bosnia to WWII to liberation by Tito and his death in 1980 to the Yugoslavia war which started right after the majority of Bosnians voted for independence at the referendum of 1992 (Serbs didn’t agree!) and the complicated mix of cultures, religions and politics in Bosnia nowadays. Within Bosnia there is an Serbian republic and the border is directly noticable by the fact that the islamic graveyards have changed into Christian ones and.. that the signs no longer point at Sarajevo but at Belgrade!
Things were getting even better when one of the group members, Timothy from Singapore, joined us for the rest of the day. Also Fabio from Italy, who we met at the chess adventure, joined us after i spotted him taking secret pictures from the prayers at the main mosque. Later Zahar joined us, a palestinian Muslim from Tel Aviv, also willing to share all his thoughts. This group was very very special and i dont think i ever had such deep conversations so short after meeting anyone. Tim is a missionary on his way to Congo, Fabio has his personal reasons for travelling (i wont reveal them here) and we were constantly giving each other goosebumbs by our stories and lots of inspiration. It was very special each one of us felt safe enough to share our deepest feelings and strongest emotions. These guys really got to me!
Anne and I had a beautiful dinner up the hill with great view over the city as ‘the last supper’
and we joined the guys after for a looooooong night of drinking, dancing the streets, great fun and more chess 🙂
Anne left me the next morning… So sad.. I love her so much and we experienced such great adventures together! But i know she’s living her personal dream in Holland, im very happy she’s happy 😀
That night I joined the guys again! We walked the graveyard (my strange preference) up to the yellow fortress, a fantastic place to be at night!
Again, it was 4.30 when i finally came home. I just couldnt say goodbye to them, i really wish i could spend much more time and i’ll try to make sure we will in the future. They touched me so deeply. But hey, we are all on our own path and i think we all changed our perspective and direction a little bit after these days, it feels like we were meant to meet. Beautiful 🙂
With the whole group leaving Sarajevo in different directions, it was time for me to get on the road again as well. But jou after i stayed one more day to go hiking with Lutz, his colleague Suzanne and two other belgian guests who were on a roadtrip. It was beautiful!
I moved towards Srebrenica and felt a strange combination of sadness, happiness, tiredness and lots more emotions 🙂
With so little biking the last weeks my legs didn’t want to move anymore after only 65 km and i asked to pitch the tent. Not a word of english, but very welcoming, coffee, and I could even use their toilet which was this wooden shed with a hole in the ground 😀 they were so poor i turned down the food they offered and went to bed hungry. It felt good.
My last two days in Bosnia I spent in Srebrenica, where in july 1995 over 8000 Muslim Bosniaks were murdered (officialy declared genocide!) in the Bosnian war by units of the Bosnian Serb Army of Republika Srpska (VRS). I will write a separate post on this experience, because it deserves that. On how the UN’s first ever declared ‘safe zone’, under protection of Dutch soldiers, became the biggest massacre in Europe since WWII.