It rained heavily all night. The forecast had predicted that it would stop raining sometime in the morning so we waited, but at 11am it was still pouring. We spent our last Bosnian money on burek for breakfast and crossed the river Sava, which forms the border with Croatia here, to the village of Gunja.
The Sava, by the way, flows into the Danube in Belgrade. Two years ago I was standing above the confluence of both rivers, at Kalemegdan (Belgrade Fortress) with friends who I’m going to visit in a few days, at the end of this trip.
Back to Gunja. We checked bus and train schedules but there was nothing that would save us from the weather. So we cycled on.
A few kilometers later, in Drenovci, we split up. András is heading northish, directly to Hungary. I’m going northeastish today, and to Belgrade (southeastish) eventually. It was 2pm by now.
The rain stopped soon. I cycled along the Croatian/Serbian border, on dirt and gravel roads, through a massive and swampy forest at first, and through farmland later. Everything was muddy, and we, my bike as well as myself, received our fair shares of dirt, too. I like. :)
Occasionally the areas left and right of the road were marked with warning signs. There are still landmines there.
The villages had beautiful churches (and houses). There are no mosques here. Closer to Ilok the condition of the churches became worse. They are (most likely) not in use anymore.
I reached Ilok, the easternmost town of Croatia, at the Danube. I’m the only guest in Hostel Cinema, located in a grand, old(-looking) house. Probably downtown. I’m not really sure about Ilok’s geography.
Officially the hostel will reopen for the ‘season’ next week. Though the guy who runs the place said that there is never really much going on in Ilok.
In the morning we were visited by an old guy in rubber boots. He was very friendly and bubbled away in Bosnian/Serbian/whatever. Unfortunately, we didn’t understand a single word. He stayed with us until we left, sometimes watching our every move, sometimes not caring at all.
We continued to cycle along the Drina, on mostly flat roads, through village after village (often a village would begin just a few meters after the previous one ended). We had a bit of a head wind, though, which became worse when we followed the river to the west.
The weather was nice and around noon we stopped to unpack, dry, and clean all our stuff in the sun.
About an hour or two from Brčko, when we were already fighting the head wind, the sky darkened. We found a hotel in town just in time before the thunderstorm hit.
The saddest, of course, is the 1995 massacre in which more than 8000 Bosniak boys and men were killed methodically within just a few days by members of the Republika Srpska’s army in an attempt of ethnic cleansing of the area. We visited the Srebrenica-Potoćari memorial and burial site upon leaving the town. The long list of names of all those killed is carved in stone there. Not all the graves are filled. The process of finding mass graves and identifying the remains is still ongoing. Very few of the persons responsible have been brought to court.
Before leaving the town we had quite a long and interesting chat with … hm, I’ll just call him ‘a random guy’. He didn’t say it explicitely, but from a few comments of his it seems clear that he and his family are Bosniaks (that is, Bosnian muslims) originating from Srebrenica. He told us about the de-mining process (it is a slow and dangerous task, carried out by Bosnians, by the way), about corruption and the billion dollars that were sunk in Srebrenicas rebuilding, and about the region’s touristic potential. Lots of interesting projects, by the way. Let me know if you’re interested in an unpaid summer job. :)
He also told us of the Guber, a stream that is very rich in different minerals and which has its sources (up to 40) in the mountains a few hundred meters above the town. Each of the sources contains different amounts of several minerals, and according to local knowledge can be used to heal or help with certain diseases. We immediately decided to pay a visit to those sources.
He went on to tell us about a project by some foreign rich dude. That guy wanted to build a spa in which the Guber’s waters would be used to treat people suffering from e.g. multiple sclerosis. He went through all kinds of hoops to obtain all the necessary bureaucratic permits and started building. Half-way through the permits were revoked, probably to extort some more money. A nice example of a corrupt government.
So we cycled up into the mountains to have a look at the Guber and another sad story unfolded in front of our eyes.
We found the less than semi-finished spa high up in the hills, fenced off, built across the Guber which now flows in concrete tunnels underneath the compound. Two unkindly placed plastic pipes spat water from two of the Guber’s sources. We climbed around the fences to have a closer look inside. The uglyness of the whole thing was hard to believe. The formerly beautiful valley had been extended to make room for three large buildings and a pyramid-shaped fourth one in the center. Age-old staircases to one of the springs had just been cut off and the paths were ‘dangling’ with no way to reach the spring anymore.
There were signs everywhere that made it clear that construction had been stopped from official side and any work was forbidden.
What an unbelievably horrible example of capitalism and greed, and above all, totally gone wrong. A lovely place that was free for everyone to enjoy and use has been destroyed and was going to be turned into an exclusive spa for a few with money. The corruption within the Republika Srpska’s government then made it unusable for everyone.
We left in a sad, angry and disappointed mood.
The remaining cycling for the day went by quickly. We followed the Drina river to the north on the Bosnian side of the river, leaving the mountains behind. The countryside is getting flatter.
We expected rain for the night. We found a sandy, mosquito-infested, somewhat ugly place directly at the river for the night, had a quick bath and a quick dinner, and disappeared inside our tents just as the thunderstorm started.
When I paid our landlady this morning I felt a bit cheated. Apparently she had quoted the night’s fee for one person yesterday. The cheap room became somewhat pricier…
The morning weather looked fine, but when we left Mokra Gora it was drizzeling.
Our plan was to reach Srebrenica today. For that we had 3 major climbs to manage. We started with the first one right outside Mokra Gora, then descended a little to Kremna, climbed again to almost 1000m altitude, and descended to Bajina Bašta at around 300m in the Drina valley. We crossed the Drina and entered Bosnia and Herzegovina again. From there the last climb was back up to 900m, which took us 2 hours. The weather had improved again but at the top it was chilly, around 13°C.
The descend to Srebrenica, especially the last kilometers, was fascinatingly beautiful. The road goes along a mountain ridge with steep green slopes on either side. Despite the difficult conditions, people cultivate parts of the slopes and have built houses next to the road.
We had climbed more than 1600m in total today and were quite tired, so we checked into the first pension we came across after our arrival in Srebrenica
There was more rain last night but the morning promised a sunny day.
We continued on the road to Bosnia and Herzegovina, mostly down-hill. At some random junction we stopped to check the GPS and were quite surprised to see that we were already in Bosnia and Herzegovina! No border signs, no check-points, no nothing. We were in a village and I asked an older guy what this was, Bosnia, or Serbia, or what??
He said ‘Bosnia’. ‘Until the bridge down there, then there is Serbia again.’ We were completely confused. It turned out Goran, that was his name, had worked in Austria for 37 years and speaks German (with quite a bit of an Austrian accent that was hard to understand sometimes), voastehst mi? We asked if we could refill our water bottles and were invited to sit there with him and his son. We then were ‘forced’ to: 3 glasses of rakija (a strong home-made spirit, I gave up after 2 glasses), a beer, a couple of boiled eggs. We received one litre of rakija, a bar of chocolate, and a couple more boiled eggs for the road. In between his nephew came over (with more eggs) for a rakija, we asked all kinds of questions about the war and the borders, and he told us things about his time in Austria.
So we were in Bosnia, but a Serbian enclave was just down the road that is not on any of our maps. His son was a Serbian border guard and he received his pension in Serbian Dinars. Total verrückt, voastehst mi? His son (and also his nephew) had fought in the war for 3 years.
Eventually we said Good Bye and cycled on – slightly tipsy – but soon had to stop at a Serbian border check-point. Ah, we were entering the enclave! Nope, we were leaving it, we learned. A few kilometers further – a Bosnian check-point. Now we were in Bosnia proper, finally. Oh, and the Serbian flag was hanging from quite a few flag poles in Bosnia. Total verrückt do, voastehst mi?
Another climb, another down-hill section, another grand canyon. The Balkans are really, really beautiful…
We left Bosnia and Herzegovina in the late afternoon for Serbia – again. This time it was expected, though. We are in Mokra Gora, a couple of kilometers from the border.