The day began with a descent into the town of Vlasenica where we picked up some bread out of a bakery for breakfast. The road continued downhill for the rest of the morning after this. We were following a river from its spring in the mountains we came out of yesterday, down down out of the foothills where it got a wider and slower until we finally reached flat ground two hours later, the river by now slow and swollen, cutting through the land in huge meanders.
We followed the bank of the river for maybe thirty minutes, passing by small shacks, fisherman and numerous little wooden jetties. There were a lot of small tunnels that punctuated the road where rocky outcrops the river couldn’t erode remained.
We arrived at Zvonik, the last Bosnian town we would pass through before crossing into Serbia later on today. We got rid of the last of our Bosnian Marks on a refreshing ice coffee (it was hot, we hadn’t noticed on the descent what with the flowing river on one side and the cool rock face on the other).
Leaving Zvonik an hour later we crossed the bridge and found ourselves crossing into Serbia. Immediately we found that the road wasn’t in as good nick, there were less houses around and it had gotten hotter as we moved away from the banks of the river.
We rode along as it hotter and hotter. We hoped to stop at a market or somewhere to get lunch, but with no money and no exchange stands or ATMs in sight we had little reason to stop, so we just pushed on. After another two hours of this though, we decided to wait out the rest of afternoon in a small cafe attached to a tiny petrol station next to the road. We got going again at 5.
At 6 we pulled into the town of Lesnica where we came across an ATM and got out some local currency. Now we were on the lookout for somewhere to eat. I locked up the bikes while Fin went over to a young guy hanging out beside a promising establishment to see if we could get food there. From over by the bikes I heard the guy exclaim “you can speak English, its ok!” This was Mihail.
Mihail owned the place Finn had approached, and while his place didn’t do food, the butcher next door had a grill out the back where he would cook what he sold. Mihail recommended what looked like a burger with a bunch of herbs and spices and then took us next door to his bar where he bought us a beer and had a chat while we waited for the food to cook.
We ended up staying and talking with Mihail until it got dark, he was a really interesting guy with loads of stories and insights about growing up in Serbia and how it was today. We left, thanking him and promising we’d get in contact again before Christmas. Night had fallen since we had been taking and we rode out into the dark, lit by the street lights. The road, which before had been so devoid of development now had houses and farms lining it the whole way. We pulled off for a bit until we found a small copse of trees that we could haul our bikes between into a small clearing within where we slept, or at least tried to, through one of the warmest nights so far.
We had left Sarajevo yesterday, but only really made it about 10 minutes outside the city before it got dark. So today we set off for real and it started with…a climb!
Actually considering how mountainous the surrounding landscape was our road was surprisingly tame. There were numerous tunnels that cut through what would have otherwise been pretty steep climbs. After a bit of riding we enter the Republic of Srbska (which, I think it still part of Bosnia and Herzegovina) but there was a notable difference in the amount of Cyrillic on the signs.
We stopped for a bit at a petrol station to fill our canisters with petrol for the stove, since we couldn’t find any compatible gas canisters in Sarajevo. After this we took a wrong turn, but didn’t spend to long before the spidey sense kicked in and we back tacked onto the right route.
We rode along flat for a bit but then starred climbing again for about an hour. Once we came through the trees at the peak we saw more lovely flat ground stretched out ahead of us. It was now the heat of the day though, so we stopped for lunch and waited out the worst of it in a nearby town.
We got going again around 4 and rode out along the flat we had seen from the top of climb earlier for about 90 minutes. We then started a long descent through switchbacks as we came out of the mountains.
It was around stopping time as we were rolling down the hills, so before we finished descending we found an empty, unused field off the road where we stopped for the night.
There was a field beside us that was in use beside us, and a house near the end of its construction. The owner of this house came over to have a look at the strangers who had taken to occupying the land next to him. He was a friendly guy who’s name we later learned was Radovik. He talked to us, as best we could talk, for a couple of minutes and gave us the ok to camp there. He then went back to his house.
Very soon after his daughter, maybe five or six, came over to us with a a bag of coffee and a mug and gestured towards the house. So we had been invited up to Radoviks place for coffee, and did Radoviks place have a great view. It looked out over the valley which was lit up by the setting sun beautifully.
Radoviks wife served us some coffee and then Radovik broke out the Rakiije, a home brew wine made from plums. We hung out with them for some time, and before long some more guys had arrived – ostensibly to help Radovik with something in the house but we ended up talking to the two younger guys. They had better English than everyone else, it was nice to be able to converse.
As it got dark we said goodbye and went back to our tent where we cooked up some pasta dinner in petrol fuelled stoves and went to sleep.
So as I explained in the last post, we had settled down about 20km outside Sarajevo so that we could arrive early the next morning and get a full day looking about the city. We had chose a, what looked to be, abandoned lot to camp in. In the morning, shortly after we had gotten up some man arrived. A different man than our friend from last night. Our friend last night had made us feel very welcome in his lot. This guy, after some gesturing and some English sounding words had been spoken, seemed to think we were NOT welcome in the lot (despite the coffee we offered him!)
He had a younger guy with him too who seemed to be a bit friendlier to us. The older guy, we think (very hard to tell what was going on) tried to get a bit of money, “€10 parking”. We insisted that the owner had been by last night and allowed us to stay, so eventually we dropped it. We made to leave and they went over and started splitting logs. As we were heading out of the lot the younger dude started shouting after us for money, but the older man gave us a knowing smile and waved us out of the yard with his hatchet shouting “Go, go. good luck, good luck.”
So began our day into Sarajevo. Not long after we left, less than an hour, we were in the outskirts of the city. It was still early, and having been chased off the lot before we had eaten we were hungry. We stopped at store and got some breakfast.
We rode into Sarajevo without much of a plan in terms of where to stay, we couldn’t get any hosts in the city so we figured we’d find a hostel when we got there. We rode into the city and came to a stop at some arbitrary point, figuring we’d look for somewhere to stay from there. “Oh look” said Finn “that’s one of the hostels I was reading about yesterday across the street, we can just stay there”.
Sarajevo is a crazy city with a complicated past that I don’t entirely grasp so I won’t get into it, but it is an amazing place to visit. It nestled right in the mountains so they are almost always in view. Our hostel was situated in the old town, which is the Muslim area of the city with five Mosques within five minutes of each other. The old town also has the old bazaar and lots of other market places, but since the place is mostly populated by tourists these tend to all sell the same stuff.
Within walking distances from the old town though, are Christian churches, orthodox churches and a synagogue – the whole places is a total hodgepodge of different cultures and its a really interesting place to spend a few days.
When we finally left two days later it was late in the evening. We rode out of the hostel and up into the mountains around the city, then back down into a gorge not ten minutes later as it was getting dark. we camped out and got ready to really get cycling again properly the next day.
We woke up by the shore of the lake too young guy in a punto stopped in the road staring at us. He drove off after we waved hello to him.
We set off form the lake out along the plateau, it was, so far p, the most isolated place we had ridden through. Very few houses around, and the dark clouds blowing in over the mountains probably added to the feeling. After a while we saw someone sat down on the side of the road. It was a hitchhiker, a guy from the Czech Republic by the name of Felix, though how he had gotten all the way out here we didn’t know, no cars had passed us all morning.
Turned out he had gotten a lift out to the village on the other side of the lake and walked yesterday evening and this morning. After a short chat we left him to trying to grab a lift out here in the mountains. We felt bad for him, he’d probably be there a while.
Not long after our encounter with Felix we started to come down out of the mountains along a spectacular valley, all of which was a national park. Huge spires of stone stuck up on either side of the valley as we rode through it down into the town at the base where got lunch. As we had been descending a kid tried to race us on his bike, then a car passed us with one of the passengers waving frantically at us – it was Felix, he had gotten a lift after all!
The afternoon had us riding back uphill along a river for a while, which was not too tough, nice and gradual. It was long though, before we were back climbing into the mountains. This was the last ascent we would have to do before getting into Sarjevo tomorrow though, so we pushed on into the evening to get over the top.
At the peak there was a spring where we filled up our water bottles. Lots of other cars and trucks came by to fill up their water too. We got talking to one of these guys at the spring, a really friendly guy who worked out of Sarajevo by the name of Amir. He gave us a few tips for Sarajevo and then wrote his number down as he was leaving, saying to call him if we needed anything in the city!
We were only 25 km from the city now, but it was evening and we wanted to find somewhere nearby to camp so that we could roll in in the morning to get more time in the city. After looking for a spot to camp at for a while we finally found an abandoned lot next to the road where we could camp out of sight of the cars for the night.
We’d only been there maybe 15 minutes when some old Bosnian guy came over to us. After a lot of gesturing and indicating we managed to communicate what our deal was and he had let us know it was his land, but was happy with us sleeping there tonight. After standing around awkwardly for a bit he told us he’d be back at 7 the next day. He also offered to let us sleep in the building on the lot. We probably would have said sure if it was raining, but it’s been so hot at night we prefers to stay outside camping.
We started the day by riding out of the flat basin we’d camped in uphill to the border crossing into Bosnia and Herzegovina. This took most of the morning, we got up to the top of the ridge of hills where the border was a bit after 11.
The border was dead compared to the crossing into Croatia which had cars backed up on both sides. Here, only maybe three or four cars passed through the border while we were there.
On the other side we stopped for some food and revised where we would finish for the day. We found out that there was a big mountain lake a reasonable distance from where we were so we figured might as well head for it. We descended a short way down from the border and then arrived at the shore of another lake.
Following this lake around brought us to a ridge where the flat land around the lake rose up into hills. After climbing over the ridge we rolled down onto another open plain of almost perfectly flat land. Here we stopped for a little while at the town of Tomislavgrad to get out some local currency. We followed a road out of town along the flat. This we rode along for about 20km before starting to climb up into the mountains.
Lake Blidnje was situated up at 1100m so we had a bit of climbing to do to reach it. It was all very gradual though, so not too difficult, just get down to the granny gear and spin it out. The road was pretty good most of the time, but once we started to descended it went from sealed tarmac to loose gravel. It made the riding a bit more challenging, but it was a good sign for us, it meant we were getting out to a remote area.
Just before we arrived at the lake we passed a Shepard herding his flock up the road. He gave as a wave a and a toothless smile as we passed by and then down out to the lake, and what a sight! It wasn’t huge but it stretched out across a flat plateau that almost completely barren and two huge peaks rose up behind it.
There was a sandy shore not far from the road where we set up for the night. Across the road there was a stand of pine trees. We had a bit of time to kill as we had finished up a bit earlier than normal so we gathered some wood and lit out first campfire of the trip later that evening.