Wednesday, August 08, 2007

˝Jebeš zemlju koja Bosanca nema˝

Riding up to 1900 meters.

I`ll translate that soon... But now I`ll pick up where I left off with the last post, which was Zabljak. We left on a rainy morning a few days ago knowing we were probably riding into a damp, cold day. After all, we had to climb to 1900 meters before riding through a 10km stretch of ˝high country˝ in Durmitor National Park before really beginning to descend. So we went for it, and it was beautiful. The clouds stayed just above the road as asphalt turned to gravel and bare rock. The valley to our south was full of dried lakes and sheep herders moving their flocks up or down valley. The weather was cool and misty, but not bad for riding. That soon changed.

The road ahead was long, wet and cold.

Beginning our descent, we found the rain. It was windy and wet, and we decided after lunch to take the more-travelled of our two road options, which led down to a river, and hopefully warmer, drier riding. What we found was nothing short of the best road any of us had ever experienced. I´d guess we passed through more than 30 tunnels on our descent toward Bosnia. The road was steep and perched high above a cobalt-blue reservoir hundreds of feet below. The tunnels were rough, many of them not illuminated except by the occasional holes in the roof. About half of the tunnels had turns inside, which made riding them an exercise in faith because the light from our headlamps seemed to be swallowed up by the darkness of the tunnels.

Canyon from the dam along the sweet road.

After being told to get off the 220 meter high dam, we continued out of Montenegro and into Bosnia to a town called Foča, about 25km from the border. We were a bit unsure about what to expect being Americans in this town. It`s in the Serbian Republic section of Bosnia and Herzegovina, and we`d heard differing opinions about people`s reactions to Americans based on our role in the mid-1990s war. What we found was a confirmation of the phrase, ˝Jebeš zemlju koja Bosanca nema,˝ which directly translated means, ˝Fuck the country that doesn`t have Bosnia in it.˝ It`s a reference to the days of Yugoslavia when the people were so proud of being associated with Bosnia because the people are so kind. We stopped at a bar in Foča to ask directions to a hotel, and although the kids spoke no English, they understood we needed somewhere to sleep. After recognizing the futility of verbally communicating directions, one kid motioned for us to wait while he got his car, escorting us all the way to the hotel. The attendants at the gas station talked with us for 10 minutes about our trip, and the woman at the hotel was exceptionally kind to us. A man burning tires in a junk yard yelled hello as we rode by, and half of the people driving on the roads shout some kind of encouraging remark as they pass us. And because of this overwhelming hospitality, we`ve decided to stay in Bosnia a bit longer than planned, taking a few more days to ride north to Banja Luka, the capital of the Serbian Republic.

The straw that broke the camel`s back; the spot from where heir to the throne Franz Ferdinand was assassinated, starting World War I.

Contrasts like this are everywhere. This is on the highway into town.

But that`s the future, and right now we`re in Sarajevo, home of the 1984 Winter Olympics and a devastating war - one who`s effects will linger forever. We left Foča on another cold, wet morning, and began climbing through the mountains that hosted the aforementioned Olympics. It was going to be an 80 km day, half of which was up hill (that was the nice part - it was dry).

The Holiday Inn, home to journalists and diplomats during the war.

The downhill was wet and cold, and arriving in Sarajevo, we barley noticed as we rode through Sniper Alley and past the Holiday Inn, the only hotel to remain open for the duration of the Siege of Sarajevo, which lasted nearly 1400 days. We quickly found some great private accommodation and warmed up before heading into town for some traditional Bosnian dinner, which we followed with a couple 1-liter steins of beer at the Sarajevo Brewery.

First night in Sarajevo.

The past few days have been a mix of museums, restaurants, and time spent wandering around a city with an undeniable appreciation of life. The two dominant people groups here are the Muslims and Catholics, both of whom were the targets of the Serbian aggression (the Serbians are by and large of the Orthodox faith). In this cultural crossroads, mosques dot the skyline amid cathedrals, and people of both faiths daily interact as they eat, drink, work and travel together. This all happens below war-scarred buildings and above shell-pocked streets, sandwiched in between new cemeteries full of those killed during the conflict. As in Mostar, many buildings remain damaged but lived-in, a daily reminder for all who pass that hate is real, but hope is strong. In the streets the sounds of construction are constant. New buildings grower taller by the day, and many of the damaged ones are slowly repaired as holes are filled and walls rebuilt. This city is beautiful in as many was as I can define that word, and I will never forget my time here.

Pigeon Square, the typical shot from Sarajevo.

Our first day in town was laid-back as we recovered from a bit of beer the night before. I walked up to the Olympic stadium and took a few pictures, but basically just wandered around town. We ended the day watching the sun set as we ate dinner on a fortress wall above the city. It was nice to be dry and off the bikes.

Sun set the first night.

Over the last few days we`ve visited a museum with a war exhibit, as well as the tunnel museum, which is all about the 800m long tunnel below the airport runway that served as an escape from the city while it was surrounded during the siege.

Joel walking through the only remaining part of the tunnel at the tunnel museum.

Memorialized shell explosion. These are all over the city.

For our last night, we bought tickets to a UEFA Champions League qualification match (soccer) between Sarajevo and a team from Belgium. Although Sarajevo lost 1-0, they still gained entrance to the next round based on points (this is why I don`t like soccer), so the city went crazy. The match was exciting because of the energy and chanting, and someone even lit the flag of the other team on fire just behind us in the stands. The fire department arrived, but not after allowing the flag to be totally consumed did they stamp out the remaining ashes.

Our first European soccer match.

Building near the former Olympic village.

also check joels and gregs blogs, linked at the right side of the page.
route update

1 comment:

Mara said...

Hi guys!!! Fitzy, I really like your blog. Sorry, I haven't read yours Greg and Joel. Andy told me to go to Fitzy's first, so you can put the blame squarely on his shoulders. Um, I don't even know where to begin...I'm proud of you guys for turning this dream into a reality. It took a lot of determination, and I am happy that you guys are there, and maybe a little jealous, just a little. I miss you guys. You all look slightly different, in a good way. You look more grown up. Crazy! I just wanted to say hi, and let you all know that I am thinking about you. Life in Oregon is good. I've been working a lot at this day spa. I like it, it's a renovated house. If you are bored you can check out pics at thepearldayspa. com or something like that. I don't know google it. :) I like being a massage therapist a lot. It's good work, and I feel like I help people, which is really all I ever want to do. Dylan and I are doing really well. I think we are going to get married in the next year or 2, which I'm excited about. Nothing is official. yet. I'll let you all know. HAVE FUN GUYS!!!!!! I love you all! ~Mara :)