It wasn’t with too much difficulty that I left Split, on the coast of Croatia. As objectively beautiful as it may be, it doesn’t really have anything that interests me a lot. English can be seen and heard everywhere, which makes these coastal regions of Croatia quite different from inland. It’s expensive too, and at the end of the day, it’s just an over-hyped port full of tourists. I was only there because that’s where the boat landed. And I was eager to leave.
Luckily I could forgo the poly bags. I was stuck for three days though, whilst I waited for the horrid skies and storms to clear so I could make a break for Bosnia and Herzegovina. I made the most of it by getting a bit drunk and joining in the endless supply of outdoor party in the rain.
Finally, on Monday, I could leave in the evening after the storm had passed and I began cycling over the huge mountains that separate the clear coastal waters of the Adriatic and inland Croatia. Through a gap in the mountains I went, with relative ease up the hill as cycling over the Alps still remained fresh in my memory. A light flurry of rain kept me cool on the way over and a quick dip into a passing supermarket (a Lidl of all places) meant I could stock up on a bit of food for tomorrow and spend my last remaining Kuna.
I haven’t found a descent map of the region yet, so I was relying on a downloaded Google Map (see: 12 free ways of navigation). It soon became apparent Google Maps really wasn’t fit for the job as it doesn’t distinguish between normal roads and motorways, which I’m obviously not allowed to cycle on. So I was detouring all over the place.
At the top of the hills I also realised the weather forecast was a bit iffy. Clear skies? I don’t think so.
So I decided to make camp while I could, behind a little chapel on the hill. And I was feeling a little lazy anyway.
Wild camping here comes with a little added danger: you could blow your legs off standing on a landmine. So it’s a good idea to switch to land which is in use, just to be safe. Farms, orchards, cut-grass fields, and I guess land around churches and graveyards and the like should all be fine. Long grass, shrubbery and forests are out. I knew from a bit of research that in this area less landmines were laid during the war, so I felt at least a little reassured. I stood around waiting for it to get just dark enough that the few passing cars couldn’t see me, and so that I had just enough light to pitch my tent. I was treated to the reddest sky I’ve seen in a while.
It was a cold night, the coldest in a while, and I wore my jumper in my flimsy sleeping bag—a hint at the colder weather likely to come as I head east across Turkey. I woke up pretty early, around 6.30.
People could clearly see me as they drove by, but it didn’t really matter now, and there was little they could actually do. The traffic was light, but many cars were cutting a bit close—the usual suspects…BMW drivers and lorries. After a while I was reminded of the insane beauty of Croatia that I so fondly remember from the last time I cycled through these lands.
And I discovered that football rivalry stretches far and wide from where I first set off on this trip…
To cross the border I first had to roll into a wide valley and climb up the steep hill at the other side. I decided to eat my bread and a tin of beans, which sadly due to the lack of stove gas available, was eaten cold. Alas, the seat of taste lies not in the tongue but in the mind. And it meant I didn’t have to carry all those beans over the hill.
The border crossing was highly uneventful considering it’s technically an EU border. Two guards sat in tiny booths at each side. The Croatians barely glanced at my passport, and the Bosnians scanned it on their computer, asked me where I was going and waved me through. No stamp. I wish it was this easy for everybody to cross borders. And I ventured off into the unknown.
I stopped at the first town, Posušje, which clearly had zero tourism. I liked that. I think everybody should visit at least one non-touristic town when visiting a new country, to see culture without the tinted shade of the travel industry.
I cycled around a bit to find a cash machine. I forgot to check the exchange rate, but I happened to glance through a window and caught the price of bananas, a comodity which doens’t really change price in Europe. I hazarded a guess that one Euro is about two Bosnian Marks, and it later proved to be about right. It’s much easier to work out the price of things here (1:2) compared to Croatia, where it seems to have managed to get the exchange rate as perfectly confusing as possible to make it near impossible to do the math in your head.
In Bosnia it looks like they pay a lot of respect to a wizard with an epic moustache and a child politician.
After a quick coffee (25 Euro cents) I headed off to Mostar. I definitely underestimated the distance and I was cycling pretty solidly for the rest of the day. On the way I caught a little glimpse of the famed Balkan alcoholic drink, Rakija, brewing on a window. The sunlight helps release the flavour of the fermenting berries to give it it’s taste.
And then there were trees, lots of them.
On the surface at least, my first impressions of Bosnia were not much different from that of Croatia. The roads still quiet, the drivers still a bit crazy, and the countryside still beautiful. The population is a bit more sparse though, and the metal barriers at the side of the road are a bit rustier. I cycled down the huge hills surrounding Mostar just before dark and into this strange world, where Muslims, Orthodox Christians and Catholics all converge on what I would later learn is one of the most beautiful and yet troubled historic towns in the region…