Tuesday, August 9, 2011
The Wild Wild East.
Every once in a while, adventure sets itself up on your doorstep. Lately in my life at least, it seems to be the car. In Dubrovnik, having a car is the best way to explore the surrounding area. If you were to imagine Croatia as the shape of an arm. An arm bent at a 110 degree angle. If you were to picture this arm, you could imagine Dubrovnik to be the pinky finger. Located way at the southern end it is at the end of the arm, which seems like a relatively unexciting place, aside from the fact that it puts it geographically out there, close to montenegro, bosnia and the serb republic of bosnia. Serb republic of Bosnia? Isn't that an oxymoron? Well I didn't know this, but just over the backside of the Dalmatian coastline lines the serbian part of Bosnia, a portion that unless you have been through the muslim part, doesn't seem all that unusual, until you realize you can't read the cyrillic road signs.
Which brings me to our adventure. Jon's friend Coop has arrived into town. After being the leader of a busabout tour group last year that had one of the guests get seriously injured he had left Croatia last summer and hadn't returned since the accident. Thankfully one year later, the woman who fell, Coop, and the people who helped with the rescue all had a reunion dinner in celebration of her full recovery. Afterwards Coop was definitely up for some adventure and we managed to rent a car.
With the coastline as our oyster, we decided to leave it behind and head for the bosnian foothills in search of spit roasted lamb. What we would find was a whole new adventure altogether. Initially our goal was to head to Trebinje, a small city located about thirty minutes from the Croatian border. But as we drove into town, we realized that we couldn't read the roadsigns which were all written in cyrillic. As we drove through Trebinje, we had to ask for directions a few times and then still managed to get lost on the highway out of town. The restaurants everyone has recommended were nowhere to be see so following our nose for the scent of adventure, we drove on. Past Mosko and then on through to Bilecko Lake. As we realized we were severely lost, we decided to continue on to the next town. Having seen the lake and realizing the day was only about to get hotter, consoled ourself to a swim after lunch, but also the fact that we would need to acquire Coop a set of cheap bosnian swim trunks along the way. Then we entered "Bilecka".
To call Bilecka "a hole" would be offensive to a hole. Ok I lie. But Bilecka did feel like it was the movie set for "Borat". As we rolled through town, we got nothing but strange looks from the locals as they must have been thinking "Man, these guys are LOST!". Ironically despite all the cyrillic signage, Jon managed to spot a men and womens clothing shop. We pulld over and checked it out. After a few minutes of browsing and the guided attention of a very helpful shop keeper, we persuaded Coop to buy a pair of black, white and pink swimming shorts. Three sizes too big, ugly as sin and only 5 Konvertible Marks (KM's).
After the fantastic swim trunks transaction, Jon mentioned to the shop keeper we were in need of food. A very confusing five minutes, three phone calls and a conversation lost in translation, a car pulls up out front of the shop and the guy inside says" get in, I'll take you to a restaurant!". Jon was brave enough to jump in while we followed in the rental car. To our jaded north american/european perspectives we were surprised how accommodating the restaurant owner was! He had literally driven out to get us and led us to his restaurant called "Stari Dom" where we managed to have a fantastic meal in typical balkan style... a large plate of meat and potatoes!
Stuffed to the brim and ready for a swim, we jumped back in the car and headed back towards the lake. On the way we got distracted by an abandoned bosnian airfield and a devastated museum for an old necropolis. The necropolis building had been the victim of a large shell that pierced the room... leaving the inside completely burned out. Very spooky especially when you account for all the random villagers wandering about and the musty smell of goat feces from local livestock. At one point this museum must have been a fantastic and beautiful place with an amazing view of the lake. Now all that was left was a burned out concrete shell.
After the necropolis we once again got distracted by a random road that led up a hillside and took us to an ancient abandoned fort. The history, ownership and status of the fort was a mystery to us. All we knew was that in Bosnia, you make your own rules as you go. So we decided to explore the ruin which made for a fantastic photo shoot.
Anyways after a long day of driving, exploring and eating delicious grilled meat, we wandered back into Trebinje for a quick $1.40 ice cream sundae, then drove the incredibly long dark road back to Dubrovnik. Without an electrical light in sight, the winding rocky roads of Bosnia are not for the faint of heart. Driving the high beams on is the only way to really see anything further than 100 meters. We hit up the Crotian border guards in Gorni Brgat and then we were back on croatian soil. Thankfully there were only a few cars but it seems lately the Crocops are out to search every single car entering the country... so lineups can be upwards of 3 hours. Thankfully for us, it was seamless and we were back in our own beds 30 minutes later!
All in all, I have a new appreciation for Bosnia. I am keen to show Miles some of the culture and food in the upcoming weeks and hope that he will join it just as much as I have.