Saturday 18th July
Useful miles: 60
Totally pointless miles: 15
Today we would be hopping over the border to Bosnia and Herzegovina – how exciting!
We descended from our campsite along a terrible dirt track. The tyres were bouncing around but valiantly survived.
After a bit of a wait in a queue we showed our passports to the Croatian officials, before scooting on a few metres and showing them to the Bosnian officials. We declared that we had nothing to declare, and over the border we went.
One of the first things we saw was this mosque by the hillside – the first of quite a few that we cycled past today. Until speaking to the German couple yesterday we hadn’t known that Bosnia is a Muslim country.
Within 10 miles we had reached the small town of Bihac, where I withdrew some marks from an ATM and went shopping for food. The supermarket was quite similar to a Croatian supermarket (same chain) but definitely felt poorer.
We had lunch on a bench in the town centre. It looked clean and nice, but while we were eating we were approached by four people begging for money. One old woman, one man and two young children all passed us by on separate occasions.
There were also two dogs hanging around that didn’t appear to belong to anybody. We really began to see that Bosnia is a lot poorer than its neighbour, Croatia.
We joined a road that was following the river Una downstream, and clocked up some miles along this beautiful downhill route. For the first couple of hours we were slightly away from the river, just having tantalising glimpses of blue through the trees while admiring the surrounding mountains and rockfaces.
It was a hot afternoon at around 39 degrees, and even though we were cycling mostly downhill we had litres and litres of water, plus several stops to buy cold drinks (which were super cheap: about 30p each!). Luckily, there were quite a few public water fountains, including this one, which doubled up as a memorial:
‘Good thing we’re not wild camping,’ I said.
We had a choice of two campsites, and decided to push on to the furthest one in order to make the next day a bit easier. At about 4.30 we reached the campsite. Long story short, it didn’t exist. Maybe once it did, but now it definitely didn’t. We investigated a motel, but this was full. We investigated another motel, but this was closed and surrounded by a building site. I suggested finding a spot by the Una, but Eric wasn’t too keen – he wanted a shower, and I could sympathise with this feeling. We came to the unappealing conclusion that we would have to cycle the 7.5 miles back to the other campsite.
Going back the way you came is just so wrong.
About 30 minutes later we reached the other campsite. As we wheeled to a halt on the driveway we saw a lop-sided, home-made looking fence made from cement blocks and yellow wire blocking the car park entrance. Not a good sign.
I investigated further and found that the campsite building was closed, and had been left derelict for some time. However, behind the building I could see a couple of tents and some people…
I gestured for Eric to come through, and together we explored what appeared to be an old, abandoned campground. It turned out that we had stumbled upon the place where the locals go.
There were lots of people in swimwear lying on towels, or swimming around in the Una. I felt pleased to have found this spot, while Eric was less keen, but soon I had persuaded him to take a swim with me. We changed into our swimwear, and instead of a shower had a cool swim in the crystal-clear river. It was super nice.
We had dinner, and I washed up (with the help of the Una, though I rinsed with our own supply of fresh water, unsure as to just how hygienic this river water was). The main challenge with wild camping is having enough water, so camping up by a river is the perfect solution.
Most people had gone home by this point, but there were a few guys left who had tents and were lugging out the crates of beer – they clearly were planning to spend the night too. So we discreetly made our way to the other corner of the field in order to leave them to it.
We had found Bosnian people very friendly all day – we had a lot of thumbs up out of car windows, waves and smiles… but here by the river people had kept a respectful but slightly uncomfortable distance. They said hello when we said hello, but we both had the feeling that this was “a local place for local people”. Eric said that one or two people stared too much for his liking. I could tell that his Yorkshireman senses were tingling because he let me finish the last helping of dinner – always a sign that something isn’t right. He is now snoring beside me in the tent, however, so I believe that we’re safe from rogue Bosnians for the night.
Sunday 19th July
After being lulled to sleep by the melodic sounds of drunken singing, I had a very vivid dream that they crossed the field to our tent and started stamping about. It was so realistic that if they hadn’t set up a disco tent next to ours I would have wondered if it had really happened. I woke in the dark to hear something big-ish rustling around our tent, which was slightly disturbing, but I did what people in horror films never seem to do, which is think ‘Oh well, if it’s dangerous I’m sure I’ll know about it soon enough’ before rolling over and falling back asleep again. In the morning we speculated that it was probably a stray dog.
We woke at 6 in a very dewy field with huge spiders everywhere. Across the field we could see that a couple of the Bosnian baritones were already up, wandering around, scratching their bellies. Time to go. We were on the road by 7.20, enjoying the coolness of the morning and the beautiful hazy sunlight.
Due to the complete lack of campsites yesterday route master Eric suggested that we continue to follow the river Una today, which would take us back into Croatia. The route would be flatter, shorter, and would lead us to a clump of six campsites on the map: one of them would surely exist! We had been hoping to spend a few more days in Bosnia, but I concurred that this plan was better.
In Novi Grad, a teeny little Bosnian town bordering Croatia, I spent all the Bosnian marks I could in the local supermarket, buying all of our food for the day, plus new toothbrushes, shower gel, sponges and sun cream. Then we headed for the border, which was a bridge across the Una.
Here we saw an interesting contrast between Bosnia and Croatia.
On the Bosnian side, six or seven policemen lounged about in chairs outside of a small building, chatting. They hailed for us to stop. One of them took our passports into the little building – probably to photocopy them, but we couldn’t see what he was doing.
‘German? English?’ asked one of them.
‘English,’ I said.
‘Where’s your helmet?’ said another one to Eric.
‘I keep it there,’ said Eric, gesturing to the panniers, where his helmet was clipped.
‘Why don’t you wear a helmet?’ asked the policeman.
‘I wear it sometimes, just not all the time,’ said Eric.
‘In this country you need to wear a helmet,’ said the policeman (the country that we would be leaving in 10 metres).
I passed Eric his helmet. He put it on. A few seconds later a local guy cycled past with a baseball cap on. He waved at the police. They waved back.
‘What’s your destination?’ another one asked.
‘Zagreb,’ Eric said.
‘Where have you come from?’ he said.
‘Croatia, Jezera Plitvicka,’ I said.
‘We cycled from England,’ said Eric.
The policeman gave Eric a look saying “You think you’re cool, do you?” ‘How did you cross la merge?’ he said.
‘Where’s la merge?’ I said, and then I realised: ‘Oh, the sea! We took a boat.’
“Point proved” his expression said. “Guess you didn’t cycle all the way here after all.”
So that was the Bosnian border patrol.
We cycled across the bridge and stopped at the Croatian border. There was one man in a booth. He greeted us, asked to see our passports, looked at them and returned them to us. We said thanks and left.
Bosnia was interesting and beautiful, but it was a bit of a relief to be back in Croatia.
Or so we thought, reader… or so we thought…
The north of Croatia is a very different place to the south. It was a good thing that we went to the Bosnian supermarket in the morning, because we wouldn’t pass another one all day. There was a lot of pretty countryside interspersed with tiny little villages, which were basically a few houses lining the side of the road. Within these villages about half of the houses would be derelict.
Readers of a sensitive disposition may want to skip the next section.
I was swigging from one of our 1.5 litre bottles when I noticed there was something white floating around in there. I had a look and saw that it appeared to have a lot of legs and to be wriggling. Oh God. It was some kind of water-dwelling larvae. It looked like a cross between a centipede and a wood louse.
This was the water we had gotten from the public water tap in Bosnia. We had already drunk about a litre from this bottle… so, what was done was done. If anything, at least this thing was alive in there, which was a sign that the water was clean (hopefully!). Nevertheless, I couldn’t summon the desire to drink any more from this bottle. Eric iron-stomach kept taking swigs while keeping a close eye on Shrimpy’s location (we called him Shrimpy). Shrimpy was good and stayed at the bottom of the bottle.
‘We can’t just tip Shrimpy onto the floor, he’ll die,’ I said, inserting more dead pig’s flesh into my sandwhich. After some debate I took Shrimpy down to the river Una and released him. He was jettisoned quite near to some fish, so possibly was tipped to his watery doom; but the point is that Shrimpy was given a fighting chance. Bon courage Shrimpy.
Eric conducted a further inspection of our water bottles and found a Shrimpy 2 in his, which didn’t share in his brother’s good fortune as he was tipped unceremoniously onto the floor. My bottle was given the all clear, let’s hope this was because there was never a Shrimpy in there… the alternative is rather disturbing.
At around 1.30 we finally found a place selling cold drinks, and had 3 glasses of lemonade each. By 2 in the afternoon we worked out that we had each drunk 4 litres.
This area was full of very pretty traditional wooden houses.
It wasn’t there.
Stopping to check the map.
We arrived and saw an abandoned looking park. There was no campsite.
Four miles later the same thing happened with the third campsite on the map. We began to think that we would be wild camping again, and filled up our water bottles with a handy hosepipe somebody had left lying around. We were not too enthralled with the idea of no shower after cycling all day.
Then – hallelujah – we cycled past a guesthouse.
Once again, a bit of extra splashing of the cash lifted us from the bleak reality which we found ourselves in. It’s a very pretty house, with chickens, chicks, rabbits, and a dog and cat. This evening I have had two cold showers, Eric has had four. The heat is pretty insatiable – now that we’ve stopped I can’t believe that we cycled all day in it.
Our room came with a complimentary creepy doll.
We slept like two very tired logs on our real bed, and woke at 7 feeling very refreshed. I was quite curious as to what we would be served for breakfast – and here it is, a very protein rich meal of ham, cheese and eggs with salad and bread. A good set up for the day.
After chatting with the other guests we set off by 8.45. Unknown to us at the time, we then passed through a famous area of Croatia, where a third of the Croatian population of storks come to nest. I took some pretty terrible photos of these enormous beautiful birds nesting (in my defence it’s hard on a moving bike. If I had suggested stopping Eric would have been very grumpy about it.)
By mid-morning we had returned to civilisation (shops which were open, cars, people walking around) and spent the rest of the day cycling through not particularly interesting countryside and towns.
The only other event of note was when we stopped to chat with this chap and his pal. What a nifty machine! (It has solar panels on the top.)
Francois and his friend (who shook our hands and declared ‘Hello, I am French’) were taking part in the Sun Challenge, twenty-something people all over the globe were cycling a vast sum of miles on their partially solar-powered bikes. Francois let me have a sit in his reclining seat, it was super comfortable.
We arrived at our campsite and were a little dismayed to see narrow little plots with no bushes for privacy, and nothing to provide a spot of shade from the glare of the blistering sun. The nice thing was that we were on a plot next to 6 students from Cardiff who were about to start a 7 week cycle tour. We spent some time discussing routes through Croatia with them, feeling like very wise, grizzled old cycle tourists (it’s been 4 months, we’re pretty grizzled).
So that was our very brief trip to Bosnia… it was successful in the sense that we probably didn’t ingest any larvae.