- Jamie Shannon
Cycle touring through a wonderful land named Bosnia. What a surprise you are!
Having spent the night receiving some much needed energy and rest for my weary stumps, I set off in the morning with hope that I was indeed nearly over the pass. As it turned out, I was! I had slept about one kilometre from the top and after admiring the wonderful views, spent the morning rolling steadily down the other side. Looking around on my left, I just couldn’t believe this was the same area that had been torn apart by war twenty years ago. It was beautiful, peaceful and wild looking.
If I had felt a little envious of the cars rolling past me the evening before, I felt very sad for them now. To be able to breath in the air and take in the views whilst gliding effortlessly along is a fantastic feeling.
I came to my first small Bosnian village at around ten but was disappointed to be told I couldn’t drink the water from the tap as it wasn’t potable. I had no money with which to use yet and so I cycled on in the hope that something would come up.
A little while later, I spotted a kind of informal bar by the side of the road, outside a house and so decided it was time to ask again. I had but a few mouthfuls of warm water left.
The man seemed only too eager to fill up my water, from the tap of course, but if it was good enough for him, then it was fine for me too. After this, his two sons, sat outside, insisted I come sit with them whereupon they offered me an ice cold beer. I didn’t need much persuasion as you can imagine and so said yes without hesitation.
They invited me to eat with them and so I found myself sat with at the table tucking into delicious bread, cucumber, tomatoes and as much meat as you could shake a stick at. I really liked this way of sharing what’s on the table and passing vegetables, bread and meats around. It's very communal.
After two hours or so I felt it was time to get back on the road and said goodbye to the lovely people whom had offered me so much hospitality in their home. Friendly is too weak a word I think.
After a short but punishing climb back out of the valley, I found my way all the way down the other side and in the small town of Dvar. There seemed to be quite a big difference in almost everything when compared to even Croatia. Looking around, Croatia seemed almost like any other Western European nation I had passed through. Prosperous, ordered, clean and almost rigid in the way people behave. In Bosnia however, I found the polar opposite; the streets and roads were cracked and poorly maintained, the only businesses that seemed to be open were the numerous bars along the streets. The cars were of a much older and the town just had a worn look about it.
I found a bank machine but was told my card was no good and so my thoughts now obviously turned to what I would be doing for food for the rest of the day. Luckily, I found a supermarket around the corner that accepted it and so got to work filling a basket with everything I needed as well as quite a few things I didn’t. The prices were so cheap here that I didn’t waste any time grabbing whatever that took my fancy.
Out of Dvar, I immediately found myself confronted with another huge climb out of the valley. The temperature was hovering above forty again and it felt like I was cycling in an oven, an oven where trucks thundered past every twenty seconds or so.
I turned left after twenty minutes at the first hairpin I came to. From what I could see on my map, the road followed the course of the river Una thus I decided this was probably the easiest way forward instead of carrying on over the mountains. At the entrance however lay two dogs but even they seemed uninterested in my presence, preferring instead to keep their back sides firmly under the shade of the trees. They looked comatose.
Cycle touring through Bosnia is a dream!
I could not have imagined what a great choice this route would be. Being largely devoid of traffic and running high above the gorge that held the river Una and along mostly flat terrain, It felt amazing to be back on a flat and forgiving road again. I was still quite high in the mountains though and so I was afforded amazing views whenever the foliage receded on my left.
After a hair razing descent to the bottom of the gorge, the road turned to gravel and I began cycling alongside the river stopping for a while to get some use out of my water filter. I tasted the water untreated and it felt refreshingly nice but I guess you can never be sure when humans and animals are around.
As I was nearing a small village that would mark the days end. I was ushered to a stop by a man in a jeep. When I did stop, I couldn’t quite fathom what the guy wanted me to do. He was pointing to his trailer and so I thought he wanted me to hitch a ride in the back. When I said this was unnecessary, I finally realized that, although he did indeed want to give me a life, he actually wanted me to hang onto the side and thus pull me along. I obliged and so found myself holding tightly onto the back of his trailer for the next 4km’s whilst trying to avoid getting tangled in the bushes on the side of the road. Not an easy thing to do when on a heavily laden bike.
When we arrived at our destination and I saw the campsite, I wasn’t very happy with it to say the least. It seemed it had been his plan all along but it was a beautiful settings next to the river.
I looked around the campsite and decided there and then that this was worth paying money for, particularly after the last couple of days cycling. The campsite overlooked the fast flowing Una river and the surrounding valley was lush. It was really the most picture perfect campsite I have ever seen with not a caravan in sight!
It was all very small, homely and peaceful and I got to work straight away putting up my tent and sorting out my thing. It wasn’t long before I was enjoying a beer with my food by the river. For five euros per night, this was the kind of place I was willing to pay for.
I walked into the village the next day and when I found the post office, I was told, with the help of a translator that I was too late and that the tourists had withdrawn all the money. He only had the equivalent of 1500 euros per day that he was able to give out. The lady said that maybe I should try the local shop and so I walked over and asked if it was possible to get some cash back if I bought some things. After a discussion with someone else, she said that 20 marks would be okay.
With this done, I walked back to the campsite and paid my bill but was told that I needed to pay 26 marks. I thought that it was no more than 16 with my coffee and beer and then realized that the cost was actually 5 euro's and not 5 marks! This equated to ten euro’s per night and so I just didn’t have enough money to pay. Maybe I thought, I would be stuck there until the next day when the post office opened again. I really didn’t feel like going back to the small shop to ask again as I got the feeling the last time that it wasn’t something they were keen to do in the first place.
Another guy whom worked there then offered to give me a lift to a gas station where he assured me that I would be able to withdraw some money inside if I went with him. This I did as I felt like I had no choice. He told me that the seatbelt wasn’t needed. When in Rome and all that I guess and so I left it off. He then drove at breakneck speed back to the village not even attempting to slow down for the corners. My heart was pounding all the way there and all this whilst he was stuffing his fat face with chocolate bar after chocolate bar. I don’t think I'll be doing that again any time soon, not in Bosnia anyway.
I again followed the river the following morning but the road was so undulating and often very steep that I was finding it incredibly difficult to make any progress. My body just felt lethargic and wasn’t responding as it normally did. I thought that I must be still tired from the pass at the border a few days previously. A couple of days rest also actually seems to hinder me as it usually takes me some time afterward to get back into the swing of things.
As I came to the junction where my smaller road intersected with the main highway, I took a left turn and headed north towards the town of Bihac and the border with Croatia. The scenery was still stunning as the national park area lay on my left all the way to Bihac.
I found myself a little later descending rapidly to the plains below but instead of being able to enjoy this part to the fullest, I got stuck behind a logging truck chugging its way downhill. I decided to position myself in the middle of the lane and wait for a long stretch of road to come into view thus enabling me to overtake it. It probably wasn’t a bright thing to do as the cars behind had the same idea and I ended up sandwiched between the truck and a car that had pulled out from behind me to overtake also. I survived though to tell the tale of course.
Heading back over into Croatia - just four countries left
By the middle of the day, I reached the border and was back in Croatia and I hadn’t even come close to becoming the victim of a land mine. I had heard so many stories but in the end, everything had turned out all right. What a beautiful country and friendly people though. Definitely a highlight of this trip so far.