Pedaling from the Black Forest to the Yellow Sea
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Category — Bosnia-Herzegovina

Day 82 (Turkey): Koluk - Kahta

today’s distance: 108km
total distance: 5401km
riding time: 6h

Souli must have been up way before I was - but my body needed the rest and so I let it take whatever it needed. After a good 9 hours of sleep I got up at 7 am and we did breakfast - fried potatoes, homemade cheese and bread and as always olives and tomatoes. When I took off, lots of kids gathered around us and waved me off. The road continued up the valley and then very steeply dropped off into a little plain, sourrounded by high mountains.

At the turnoff to Adiyaman I briefly stopped at a gas station and the warden made clear: “I know where you spent last night.” News travel fast around here it seems. I looked at him kind of puzzled. He said that I had stayed at Koluk and pointed at his chin, indicating that I stayed with someone with a beard. I laughed and couldn’t believe that five villages later, this was still something that people told each other.

The ride towards Adiyaman was … hilly. A short uphill was followed by a long downhill which I found thrilling only to see the road climbing steeply on the other side of the river. Ufff …. and that was the story for the next 3 hours.

The surroundings were amazing and I was enjoying the very small number of cars that passed me on the backroad I had taken. It was great. It was also hot though and I went through a lot of water in a short period of time. When I finally reached the pass I could see the Ataturk Lake (man-made) in the distance, far below me (and barely visible in this picture).

This long downhill was interrupted by a number of climbs that were quite challenging, but I eventually got to Adiyaman. On the way down I could feel wave after wave of heat coming at me. I dropped a lot of altitude and it was getting seriously hot now.

Once out of Adiyaman (after a longer break to wait out a bit of the heat during which I talked to Rob from www.14degrees.org over instant messenger; it was his birthday a few days before - if you have some time, head over to his extremely interesting blog as he is skating across China at the moment), the terrain became undulating and when I was finally in Kahta, I was done for the day. The city is dusty and not interesting, but I really needed to just lie down and not do anything for a while. This I did and soon enough I was good again.

June 15, 2008   No Comments

Day 25 (Bosnia-Herzegovina/Croatia): Neum - somewhere behind Cilipi

today’s distance: 86km
total distance: 2301km
riding time: 6h

This is what I was going to write: See yesterday’s entry.

Then the day changed in more ways than one. Wind and rain - not quite as bad when I woke up and so I set out with a determined look on my face thinking that this will be doable. Left Neum in good spirits and then the pummeling that I got yesterday started all over again. For the first km things were alright - crossed into Croatia again and something clearly hit the fan. And I mean big time. Wind coming from all front angles, rain beating down hard. Crossed the border, the power of the small man in that a border guard waved me over beaten as I must have looked and just before I pulled out teh passport as he had told me to do waved me over to his colleagues. Not a good start into the day peoplewise. The rest is quickly told. More of the same. I became stoic and just took the beating as it happened. When it got too much I took cover and then started anew. Eventually I passed Dubrovnik without seeing much of it. Didn’t feel like stopping and so wanted to move on to Cavtat. Passed the now closed and bombed out hotel where I stayed as an 8-year old kiddo and just before pulling up the hill to get to Cavtat I met Marko. Another Marko. It had stopped raining now - I was happier again. He asked what I was doing in this weather on a bike. Where I had biked from. Turns out he used to work in Germany and now is back in Croatia. Worked in Heidenheim and told me all about it. Then he invited me for tea into his place which was a few km further on. Figured what the hey and went along. Great family, three kids - one daugher speaks good German from watching cartoons on German channels that I had never heard of. Sunshine by now. Then Marko said, we will find a place for you. We went all over, turned up empty. Fully booked, not wanting someone for one night or completely out of price range. Mostly a good combination of 2 and 3. Marko was distraught … said that the whole area had become insane and that all you can afford these days was a birdcage. Went back and had wonderful homemade salami and meats, pickled peppers and other good stuff. More phone calls and more running around … still nothing. I opted to bike a few more and am happily writing this in a dry tent in a not-yet-dry meadow a few klicks behind Cilipi. This means that the idea of visiting Dubrovnik had to be discarded. Pictures on the web abound though.

Marko made all the difference in the world. Thanks a million. It’s people like him that make the trip what it is.

April 18, 2008   No Comments

Day 24 (Bosnia-Herzegovina/ Croatia/ Bosnia-Herzegovina): Mostar - Neum

today’s distance: 83km
total distance: 2215km
riding time: 5h

LEFT MOSTAR STOP DID NOT MAKE IT TO DUBROVNIK STOP STRONG GUSTS AND RAIN PREVENTED MADE RIDING UNSAFE STOP PULLED OUT IN NEUM STOP AWFUL DAY FOR RIDING STOP

April 17, 2008   No Comments

Day 23 (Bosnia-Herzegovina): rest day in Mostar

today’s distance: 0km
total distance: 2134km
riding time: 0h

You wake up in the city of Mostar … to a rooster doing its thing. That would be fine, but the rooester didn’t sound like what you imagine a rooster to be (and of course it woke me up way too early). The image in my mind wasn’t one of a proud and strong rooster, but of a scrawny and weak one. And it kept going at it for a long time, so there was some endurance at least.

What a day … it is hard to put it into words and I’m sure I won’t do justice to it. I pretty much roamed about where my feet would drag me. The city is an interesting conglomeration of buildings and has been torn apart by the civil war. No lecture intended, but here is the gist: after defeating the Serb forces together, the Croats and the Bosniaks (Muslims) fought each other in the city they had been living in peacefully for hundreds of years. The frontline went right through the city and there are still a large number of visible scars remaining after more than 12 years.

It is just hard to fathom what happened and while I have been involved with the issue for quite some time, it was still a different issue to stand in a city that had been almost entirely demolished at one point.

 

I eventually made my way past an open air market and a number of mosques, squares to a museum depicting what Mostar had been like during the years prior to the war.

 

The movie was extremely powerful and moving. It frames the history of the city around the old brige, which had been a symbol for the city for centuries. Kids had been diving from the bridge into the cold water for centuries and all of this went on even during the war. The bridge was destroyed during the war through grenade fire from the surrounding hills. What struck me was the fact that this was actually banned on film in such a clear fashion. Several accounts surfaced, one being that it was pure chance (hard to believe given that the war went on for years), another that he was informed of the attempt to shoot the bridge for good, the third that he paid money for it (hard to believe also, but in the realm of the possible). Eventually the bridge was rebuilt with again the divers playing a major role in the celebrations.

I went to the bridge to meet up with Milos, a couchsurfing host who had offered a bit too late to host me (my mistake for getting in touch with him so late) and when he texted me that he would be late a bit, I started talking to the jumpers and divers who were wooing people to pay them to jump off the bridge. It was an intersting conversation complete with a short tour of the inside of the old bridge (Milos figured that he had been living here for most of his life (except for the time of war) and still hadn’t been led down there. Dzenan, one of the divers told me about the dangers of jumping, of the oldest person who has jumped off (about 65 years), only to spend a couple of days in the hospital. And about the competition that takes place on the last Sunday in July, attracting participants from all over former Yugoslavia and even beyond. Out of tradition, the jumpers even carried on this tradition during the war he said and it was clear that he felt proud to be a member of a small group of people (roughly 10 people) that jump from the bridge consistently.

Coffee with Milos was great. We talked over coffee about this and that, idenity in tihs somewhat strange political entity and how it feels for him as an ethnic Serb to be living in this city. The good thing is that it doesn’t seem to matter much any longer. Sure, there are signs of anymosity around (and actually quite visible I thought - such as the “my cross on the hill is bigger than all of your mosques combined” which to me looked placed just right to annoy people who happen not to be Christians; there may well be another explanation though).

It was a great pleasure to talk with Milos - thanks for taking the time on a busy day and I hope that all goes well with your job plans.

Milos suggested that I walk to the Partisans’ Monument while in Mostar. This I did. It is an eerie place with at least one shady person (not the guy in the picture), but well worth visiting. It is Communist architecture galore. To me it felt like a gigantomanic nondescript piece of architecture, an amalgamam of shapes that didn’t really seem to have anything in common. A strange, but somehow fascinating place. Maybe that’s what it was designed to be.

On the way back to the city, I encountered these guys playing their daily round of boccia. They seemed to have tons of fun.

And of course this would not be complete without a picture of the bridge in all its glory.

April 16, 2008   No Comments

Day 22 (Croatia/Bosnia-Herzegovina): olive grove near Gradac - Mostar

today’s distance: 111km
total distance: 2134km
riding time: 7h

What a long day … it was a good start I thought until I realized that the grumbling in the distance was not from any trucks but that there was a thunderstorm rolling in. Just managed to break the tent down and head out before things came down. On the road for about 15 minutes, the road became moist and while the t-storm was only behind me at one point, it all of a sudden seemed all around me. I was heading into some dramatic scenery. The mountains were becoming higher, the grades steeper. The added effect of the weather played a part as well for sure. Soon enough I was in the middle of hard rain, having to make a considerable detour because of some road closure. 25km worth of a detour. What was supposed to be a 12km ride ended up being a bit longer with a lot more ridges to climb over. I stopped a couple of times to find some cover. The second time was close to someone’s house. The guy wouldn’t even say hello, just ignored me. Can’t say that I was particularly unfriendly or anything … even my attempt at getting some water from him failed. He clearly understood me, but just turned around. A bit frustrating. Once the rain tapered off a bit I went on to Netkovic, the border town on the Croatian side.

Road conditions were … not so good. The road was not designed to handle heavy traffic and certainly not the amount it had to handle. Starting out fine, the uphill was partially devoid of any solid surface only to become worse before it joined the main road again.

I have to get this off my chest - Croatian driving is quite possibly the most insane driving I have seen yet. Cars go at breakneck speed around corners, keep no distance whatsoever … the image that I have is that of a person on a cell phone or talking to the person next to him/her (or both), smoking a cigarette and doing a range of other things … while driving. There is also a specific order in which these things are done:

1. Talk to the person next to you or on the phone.
2. Pull out of your lane to overtake the already speeding car in front of you. Without checking at all whether there is anyone coming at you.
3. Keep doing what you were doing, smoke, talk, speak on the phone, grab a magazine, etc.
4a. If you’re seeing a car, hit the accelarator harder and pray that you will make it.
4b. If you see a biker, don’t do anything, trust he will realize that in case of a crash, he will loose and don’t mind him. 
5. If someone lets you know that you’re off your rocker, yell at him, threaten him with the family.

Truck drivers are an entirely different matter - keep on doing 1-3 and don’t worry about 4-5. You are invincible. Or maybe not.

Passing the unremarkable border with now lower windows, having to duck to see the chest of a big border guard, the driving on the other side eased right away. More distance, less speed and more regard for human beings in general seemed to be the order of the road. And just to prove the point, those cars and trucks passing more closely mostly had Croatian license plates (the underlying assumption is of course that a Croatian license plate represents a Croatian driver as well, a contestable assumption for sure and I’m also aware of the ethnic issues prevailing in this part of the world, see this picture for example).

I tried putting the distance to Mostar behind me. On the way I had seen a number of shelled houses as well as pockmarked hosues. Definitely a former war area. And if anything, Mostar goes to show this. Bombed out houses line the streets. The center is rebuilt, but very close to the tourist places, things aren’t so pretty. It will take time - the bridge that everyone gawks at was a quick project, though by no means the only way to cross the river.

Found a place after all couchsurfing options failed. The owner is a former soldier and has issues walking because he was shot in the leg by a sniper. He also has strong sentiments about politics … interesting to say the least. I will stay for one day of rest and then move on to Dubrovnik.

April 15, 2008   3 Comments