The heat was like a solid wall and we were forcing our way through it. The motorbike dial read the outside temperature at 43 degrees but the going was tougher because I was wearing my thick leather motorbiking gear… and the engine heat seeped into every fiber of me. This was not easy. It was now 4pm- nearly 2 hours since we started out from Split, the little town in the heartland of Croatia. We were riding into the “Wild East” as the other European counterparts refer Bosnia Herzegovina. The polite ones raised their eyebrows; the outspoken ones narrated stories of corrupt officials, gun wielding folks and the ‘crazy land’: in fact, few if any commended our intentions to ride into Bosnia Herzegovina.
We were curious and somehow intrigued about Bosnia Herzegovina- the country with a troubled past and seemingly challenging present. And from Croatia, it was right across the border… should we not experience it ourselves? But of course.
Thus on this extremely hot afternoon, Anu and me took to the winding roads of the Croatian countryside. Last night we had stayed with Jana and Ante- our hosts at the city of Split, Croatia. They had a daughter, two dogs and a large home on a hillslope. Ante worked night shifts and therefore we caught him in a relaxed mood this morning. We spoke about life in Croatia, the economy, the harvest and the future of the world… while Jana busied herself in practical, everyday affairs- dusting, cleaning and making sure that everything was in order. It made me realise once again, how very similar we all were irrespective of our cultures or region- this could well be the morning situation in any country home at any part of the world. The dining table was set under the vines- around us the grapes hung a bountiful harvest of black and green grapes. A few meters away the ground was littered with peaches and plums from their trees… our breakfast consisted of garden fresh fruits with coffee and local breads. It was modest, pleasant and was shared by the pets as well as little birds that fluttered fearlessly around us.
Jana and Ante were warm people. We had reached last night after riding from Plitvice- and we were greeted with a warm shower, friendly welcome and a ready bed. We got along well right since the first moment: Jana and Ante shared their kitchen, their home as well as their advice freely. In my rear mirror I caught their diminishing silhouettes waving us goodbye- and for a while we meandered around the town of Split despite the afternoon sun. We passed the usual sights- palaces, bazaars, ancient statues and European tourists- sun worshippers who thronged the beautiful city for its beaches, blue sea and delicious cuisine.
We waded through yet another throng of people, crossed the little alleys and finally headed out of the city. Somehow more and more we found ourselves seeking solitude, away from the hustle-bustle of cities. We would rather miss a monument than elbow our way through a crowd- and on this long trip, as our days merged into months, we found ourselves becoming more picky about the experiences we choose. So too with our choice of roads- and on this day we picked up tiny country lanes, unpaved roads and little alleys within small villages. Yes the going is slow and often it takes us longer to travel- but I believe this is real grass-root travel: something that gives you a grainy picture of the country, life in hinterlands and the people.
We travelled along the Adriatic coast from Split until Omis and then we took the route 70 and zig zagged through the steep curves of Mount Mosor. When we reached Sestanovac, we headed down to finally join the coastal road again at Ceravici. We rode till Podgora and thereafter headed for the border crossing to Bosnia Herzegovina towards Gorica.
This is a ride that is truly spectacular. Often we would climb up a hill or navigate through a green forest road and see stretched before us, the horizon- where the aqua blue of the sea competed with the light blue sky. The mountains and the rocks often peeped out from the thick green surroundings and these rocks were bleached white by the sun.
At lunch, we had typical Croatian veal and salads at a village restaurant: friendly, clean and delicious. Croatia is not only beautiful, it is also abundant in its greens. Almost throughout the day we rode through thick forests and vegetation- and these forests had their own abundance of bugs, insects and butterflies- often they embellished our riding gear and helmets. “Your jacket is like a cemetery of insects” Anu commented- as I picked out yet another dead wasp that had embedded itself onto my jacket.
By the time we reached the border however, we were really exhausted. The scenery had been breath-taking but we were riding at 43 degrees- add to that the heat from the engine and my leather riding gear. As we entered the check post, we breathed a small prayer- we had heard a lot of strange stories…let it be smooth for us we whispered.
It was more than that. We made our first friend- the passport control officer at the checkpost. Goran Komlenovic (https://www.instagram.com/zigoslav/?hl=en) not only welcomed us, he stepped out, clicked pictures, exchanged Instagram ids and within a few minutes he shared pics of us riding out of the border as he clicked from his cell phone. I confess- I have never met another officer more friendly- and impressive. It was not just Goran alone- at the border post restaurant, everyone had a smile, a greeting and were kind and welcoming! We rode out of the border control- eagerly looking forward to experience this country and make more friends here… as the roads led us deeper into this new land.
Kravice waterfalls- we had heard about this remote wonderland from a few wayfarers. After the long hard and hot ride, we needed some relief- and we gingerly made our way past unpaved roads and dirt tracks until we reached this secret paradise. We must have been quite a sight- two brown folks trudging in motoring gear into a basin where only local Bosnians ever visited… and we were the object of much curiosity and speculation right since the first moment. But we were oblivious to it all: because we thirsted for the inviting cascades and the blue-green pools. We hastily donned our swimwear and jumped in. The ice cold water stung our scalding skin like a thousand needles- but I forced myself to relax, to float in the pool. Bit by bit, I came back to myself… it was miraculous. And then the tall cascades further beat down upon us- a welcome massage draining away the aches and the tiredness from our bodies. Thirty minutes later we emerged out of the healing waters: we were reborn. All the stress and tiredness had vanished- I felt it from the core of my being and my head felt this light after a long, long time indeed. From the radiant grin on Anu’s face, I knew she too felt the same.
Our destination for the night was Trebinja, a small town on the shores of the Bileca lake. We stopped at a village café for dinner- and there again, we encountered the Serbian spirit. The restaurant was small, we were perhaps the first Indians ever to set foot in that remote village- and it was amazing how welcome we felt. There were about 15 or so people huddled around their dinner tables- and every one of them greeted us, shook hands, asked about our journey. We were invited to join various tables, and very soon offers ranging from free food to free stay and free tobacco / marijuana followed. Along all our journey, never had we felt so much at home than in this “Wild East” land of Bosnia. It was nearly midnight when we finally arrived at Trebinja and though the road passed through deep forests, mountains and occasional broken patches, we arrived home in better shape than ever before.
The rest of our brief stay in Bosnia did nothing to dispel our impression: Bosnia Herzegovina is a country rough from the outside but mellow at its core. Yes it has its hard edges- and yet that’s what makes it special.