Bosnia and Herzegovina (2014-04-10–2014-05-05)

I’ve spent three months in Montenegro before my departure to Bosnia and Herzegovina. For sure, those days didn’t go without leaving a trace. Now I feel that the thoughts from that time have deeply influenced my world view, and they’ll chase me for long time.

Right now I don’t have proper words to explain what happened. So I’m simply going to break linear narrative and tell something about the tour in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

I left some stuff in Budva, not only winter clothes, but mandolin and tripod as well. As long as I carried those things I felt obliged to use them. Felt attachment to them. But attachment doesn’t lead to happiness. The mandolin and tripod have been left in Montenegro. Maybe some day I’d ask to send them back. Or maybe the opposite, I’d part with something else.

I didn’t notice any significant decrease of the bicycle weight. It doesn’t matter how long you get used to the weight of a loaded bicycle, it’d always remain heavy, you just become cycling faster.

The entry stamp to Montenegro allows 30 days of stay, but I stayed for more that three months. Mentally I was ready for any things on the border, including a chance that I’d spend my days behind the bars. Fortunately, crossing by bicycle has some positive side. Usually border guards are very glad to meet bicycle traveler and don’t check the documents carefully. The border guard put the exit stamp next to the entry stamp without looking on it.

I knew there are many landmines in Bosnia and Herzegovina left since the war. I worried that every time I’d have to ask locals a permission to put my tent up somewhere on their site. I’m not completely asocial, but if I do camping, I prefer to be alone.

Indeed, from time to time my eye could catch some things touched by the war: here is a road sign with holes left by bullets, along that forest are signs warning about landmines, and there is a bombed house. Thankfully, those are the fragments of the ended war. They sell combat gear as souvenirs on the market in Mostar.

I didn’t have big problems to find places for sleeping. Usually I chose lawns where sheep used to graze, or some places with enough amount of trash (if people walk there and throw out trash, then probably it’s a safe place).

Though, once I entered a small wood looking for a place for sleeping. After wandering there for five minutes, I went out from another side of the wood and had discovered landmine warning sign. There was another small wood in a few kilometers away surrounded by houses. It was the first time ever when I asked a permission for camping. Nobody was against. And I chatted with two locals till the rain turned into downpour.

At that time I had been riding for three or four days in the nonstopping rains. So I had a brilliant plan: to stay covered by tent at least for a day. But in the morning I was woken up by one of the locals, he told me that police wants to talk with me. Policemen themselves didn’t go into the wood, as it was wet and dirty there. They had written down my passport details and asked to register myself at their station after leaving the place. They were nice and offered me tea and cookies at the station, but due to this accident I had to ride in the rain for two days more.

The first place where I spent my days under a roof was Mostar. Amazingly beautiful city which I liked most in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

My host Adnan was very very hospitable. Though, everyone who hosted me in BiH was incredibly hospitable.

In the evenings we visited the same bar. One time we stood around a table and a dude approached towards us. He visits that place regularly to drink a few shots of rakia for free, as everyone there knows him. He started telling me something in Serbian, bug guys told him I don’t understand and asked to say in English. He took thought for two or three minutes trying to recall at least something in English, and, finally, he had shouted: “Fuck you!”

Adnan didn’t want to let me go to Sarajevo as it was snowing there. Nevertheless, I’d left him after a few days, and, indeed, I had to cycle in the snow for a while.

Dado hosted me in Sarajevo. He was preparing for a bicycle trip from Serbia to Uzbekistan and he had to go to Vienna to get an Uzbek visa there. I also tried to manage visa issues and get a Schengen or, at least, Bulgarian visa. Usually I went out early morning and randomly wandered from one embassy to another. There were no visitors at the embassies. It seems, not much job had left for the embassies since the citizens of BiH don’t need a Schengen visa for touristic purposes. Most of the times I didn’t even crossed doorsteps of the embassies. Talking with embassy workers behind fences I was explained over and over again that I can get the visa only in Russia. Or I can get it in BiH if I’m deadly sick.

Many lovely mountains after Sarajevo. But no sunny days, rains didn’t stop.

Approaching Bihać I turned to Štrbački buk waterfall. I broke a tyre on a mountain trail with sharp stones, shortly after that downpour started. That was the first time when I really wanted to stay in some hotel. I was ready to give any amount of money, I just wanted to dry up. At the same time I didn’t really count on this option, so I bought some food for the dinner.

When I passed a small town Orašac in ten kilometers from the waterfall, a man on a bicycle had come alongside and started asking something about my bicycle. Suddenly, he’d run into me and I’d fallen down. Some stuff from the handlebar bag had fallen down on the road as well. I asked the guy about some place for camping nearby, but he invited me into his house instead.

Sadik, that was the name of that man, immediately filled glasses with rakia and we started talking.

Actually, rakia takes very special place on the Balkans. Whoever hosts you, almost every time you’d be offered to drink some rakia, and certainly it’d be domestic one. If a person doesn’t produce rakia by himself, then it means he has an uncle/cousin/someone else who does. Nobody buys it in shops.

At that time I’d learnt a bit of Serbian, so I was able to talk with Sadik somehow. Probably, someone would say that Bosnian and Serbian languages are different languages, and someone would say the language is called Serbo-Croatian, someone else would add someting else. But, really, there is only one language (whatever you call it) and a few dialects with minor differences.

For example, threatening phrases on cigarette packs foreboding smokers death are made in three languages in BiH: Bosnian, Croatian and Serbian. The same phrase repeats word by word three times, just the third time it’s written in Cyrillic alphabet, not in Latin.

Nevertheless, some people care about that. BiH consists of Republika Srpska and Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Guide-boards are made both in Cyrillic and Latin. But in the Federation I saw boards where Cyrillic part was painted over, and in the Republika—the same, but this time someone paints over Latin part. Or, for example, in the Republika you can watch graffitis “пиши ћирилицом” (“write in Cyrillic”) painted in old Cyrillic font.

Upon the whole, I watched no clashes between Bosniaks, Serbs and Croats. Sadik, Bosnian Muslim, over and over again repeated the story of our meeting and asked me again: “Тако ли jе било?” (“Was it like this, wasn’t it?”) Then a couple of young guys visited him. He explained that they are children of his neighbor who lives on the other side of the mountain, on the border with Croatia. And they fought against each other during the war. But now the are friends.

I have to admit that more I read and got information at first hand about the war in Bih, less I could see any sense in that. I don’t think it’s a feature of that particular war. Any war doesn’t have much sense.

One more interesting story I got from Adnan. I don’t know whether it’s a real story or just a legend, but it allows to understand current opinion of BiH citizens on those events. One day people in Mostar decided that they want to install some statue in the city. But they didn’t know which person is good for the statue: you’d choose one and treat that person like a hero, but some people would say that person is not a hero at all, but enemy. So, instead of making arguments, they’d installed a statue of Bruce Lee.

But let’s come back to Sadik. On the next day he drove me to Bihać where I’d bought some tyre for the near future.

The next stop was in Bosanska Krupa, where Mirald hosted me. Finally I’d washed and dried up the clothes.
Mirald invited me to stay for one more night to celebrate International Workers’ Day with his family. Apparently this day means something really important for Bosnians as they spitted a whole sheep on a roaster.

After Bosanska Krupa nobody hosted me anymore in BiH, and I just went towards Serbian border.

Zaječar–Bečići (2013-12-24–2013-12-31)

Viktor’s father, Slobodan, is a good musician. He played guitar and we sang traditional Russian songs and romances. I didn’t know some of them (Slobodan turned out to be a big lover of Russian culture and started learning Russian language in the university), so he joked: “Oh, you are Russian, you have to know this song!”

We went to the Viktor’s farm in the afternoon. Immediately I realised that I love that place. I could see that everything is built with love, and Viktor has a good sense of style. From technical point of view everything was done very well as well: solar panels, own source of water, big shed for tractor and fully equipped workshop.

The fog has disappeared for a while, we sat outside watching mountains and fruit fields, catching outgoing sunrays. It was hard to leave after the hospitality I’d got from Viktor and Slobodan.

The next three days I went quite fast by mountain roads. There were small problems with places for camping. Usually I found places near abandoned houses.

On the fourth day I became more and more tired and couldn’t keep the pace.

The difference between Serbia and Montenegro showed slowly. More villages, more drivers who honk. Dangerous dark tunnels. Usually there are a few grave crosses in front of them. Tunnels of any length in Serbia were always lighted.

Probably due to tiredness I started thinking that my rear wheel becomes deflated. My paranoia forced me to take the tyre off and check the inner tube. Everything was fine, but I managed to break the valve. I took a spare inner tube and spoiled everything again: tire lever had scratched the inner tube, so I had to put a patch on the absolutely new inner tube. It’s hard to take trouble with the bicycle when it’s cold. Anyway, at least the paranoia didn’t chase me anymore.

Finally, the road went downhill. It’s a very strange feeling: just one hour ago you rode on snowy roads, and now you are below and you put off more and more layers of unneeded clothes.

The way to Podgorica, the capital of Montenegro, went through the amazing canyon of the Morača river. Podgorica itself was uninteresting at all. There I turned to a shortcut initially, but I had no more power to go uphill again, so I went back.

It wasn’t the only time during that day, when I went back. I stopped at a junction. It said that the main road goes left through a tunnel, and another road went steeply uphill. For sure I’d decided to go to the tunnel. Unfortunately, cyclists and pedestrians are now allowed to go through the Sozina tunnel. Its length is more than 4 km, so a cyclist may be poisoned by carbon monoxide, even though the tunnel is ventilated. I waited about ten minutes with a hope that some truck will pick me up, and then I went back.

In the morning of December 31 I still had to pedal. After six kilometers by the lacet the altitude had changed from 50 m to 750 m. Luckily, that was the last ascent. And then meeting with Boris, Irina and Davor, warm shower, the last day of the year, a ride to Kotor by car, New Year’s Eve, and so on.

Bucharest–Zaječar (2013-12-20–2013-12-23)

Bucharest prepared for the New Year celebration. Christmas trees on the streets, kiosks selling mulled wine. Dressed up Gypsies (one of them certainly wears a costume of a bear) walked in the commuter town and played music (or just produced some noise to get attention).

So I started thinking of a place for the New Year celebration. Boris (I knew him well due to Moscow CouchSurfing community) wrote me he is going to Montenegro on New Year’s holidays. We agreed to meet each other there.

I had ten days to cycle about one thousand kilometers in hilly and mountain areas.

Still, everything was covered by dense fog. Sometimes I could see some movement on the fields. Those were small oil derricks.

During the nights thick layer of hoar-frost covered the tent. Grass, branches, wires, everything around was covered by 5-10 cm layer of hoar-frost. During the days it started melting. Due to this process wires burst, and roadsides looked like if it snowed earlier.

There are many secondary roads in Romania and most of them have good quality. Only once I got a really bad road, and I turned to a highway. A sunset blazed on the horizon, and a few stars already blinked over my head. Infinite fields stretched along the road and there was nothing that could change their infinity.

But a small pothole had led me out of trance. I hadn’t noticed the pothole and had fallen down with awkward grace.

That was the shortest light day in the year, probably the most important festival for touring cyclists. So I’d eaten jam and brownies given to me by Roxana.

I wasn’t sure that the chosen border crossing actually works. There was contradictory information on the internet. Luckily, it did, and I crossed the Danube river on the Iron Gates II dam, leaving Romania and getting into Serbia. Unfortunately, the fog was still too thick, so I didn’t see any amazing views.

Actually, it’s quite funny to ride in such fog. You don’t know how much you’ve ridded, whether you are going uphill or downhill. You just move somewhere.

Serbian roads are worse than Romanian, but good enough. Almost no traffic.

Viktor met me in Zaječar. We went to a pub with his friends. Tiredness, warmth, beer and nice atmosphere made the deal: I was close to get a sleep in the pub. Fortunately, the pub located just in a few meters from the Viktor’s house.

Focșani–Bucharest (2013-12-13–2013-12-19)

Just a couple of days ago Alina didn’t know about my existence. And now we can watch winter Romanian traditions together in a big hall, walk in the city, spend time in a cafe, tell each other different stories, laugh. Just because we live on the same planet. Where everyone is a friend to everyone.

Does it sound pathetic? Yes!
And I’m glad I have a reason for this pathos.

There is only one road from Focșani to Bucharest. A car stream presses me to roadside, from time to time I run over flattened dog corpses. There are many stray dogs in Romania. Dead stray dogs as well.

Only one forest park on the way. Two cars are parked in depth, people’ve come to have a rest. So I do. I’m putting my tent up somewhere nearby.

The gas is over. Dry branches are around me, I’m starting a bonfire. The jacket is full of smoke smell, but I’m still watching the flame. It’s time to sleep.

A circular road goes around Bucharest. There is only one lane in each direction, so traffic jams stretch for kilometers. With some self-satisfaction feeling I’m passing a string of cars.

Andrei is waiting for me. He and Roxana are an amazing couple. I very like their DIY-approach. They bake own bread, Andrei sewed winter cycling gloves on those days, and so on.

My jeans haven’t dried up after washing, so I have a freaky outfit: thermo-pants and shorts over them. The center of Bucharest is quite beautiful, a mix of architectural styles, here and there you can see remains of constructivism. The whole city is covered by gray shroud of fog. Sometimes colourful gypsy skirts are cutting it through.

Andrei and Roxana have brought me to a climbing wall. It’s my first experience. Perhaps, the strongest impression is when you are on the top, and you need to release your hands and simply trust in your partner. At this point of narration I should probably write how cool is to live in a world, which is full of trust. And full of pathos, haha.

Lost in Cambodian jungle

This trip has happened in the winter 2012-2013. I published photos from this trip, but without the history behind them. Can’t promise that dialogues are exact.

B.: Let’s go to Cambodia on Tết (Vietnamese New Year)!
Y.: OK! But what are we going to do there? We have only a week of day-offs.
B.: We can ride motorbikes somewhere. But not visiting Angkor Wat and other touristic places.
Y.: Cool. Find a hard route then.

B.: Well, I’ve found some “Death Road”.

A flight from Hanoi to Saigon, a night in a stuffy hotel, and in the morning I, Bachan and Duong are taking a bus to Phnom Penh.

B.: Hmm, I’m not sure about those scooters.
Y.: Yes, they look unreliable. Let’s rent those enduros. It looks like somebody takes care of them. Nevertheless, we are going to cross “Death Road”!

I’m trying to pull clutch smoothly on Honda CRF 250. Bachan, at the same time, is trying to climb onto his huge Suzuki Djebel. A Cambodian shorty is clibming onto the motorbike and keeping its balance, stretching his toes. That’s how you have to do it!

Y. (still agonizing over clutch on a next crossroad): Oh, s-s-shit, seems it was a bad idea.

Endless red-yellow dusty roads of Cambodia. We’ve got used to motorbikes. Feel confident.

Y.: Bachan, Duong, something is smoking on your bike!
B., D.: Where?!
Y.: Over there, under plastic stuff.

The bags have pushed plastic to the muffler, plastic became melting, now there is a big hole in the bag. Duong is throwing out a burnt jersey from the bag.

A walk in jungle with elephants.

Y.: Are you shooting?
B. (with GoPro on the head): Yes, I am.
Y.: Have you shot that moment, when I overtook you yesterday on the highway?
B.: Yes, I did, I did. It’s the fifth time you are asking.

We are coming to the most difficult part of the route. There is a trail through a burnt forest, it’s full of sand (20-30-40 cm). From time to time we fall down from the motorcycles if we reduce speed. We are watching a jammed car on the way. The driver and his mate can’t do anything with it the last two days.

Getting darker. This hell has to end soon. Bachan and Duong are going ahead of me. My motorcycle is becoming broken. Mobile phone can’t find the network. I’m waiting. They are coming back. The motorcycle still isn’t starting.

B.: Mmm, so what shall we do? Maybe a rope?
Y.: Good idea. But we have no rope.
D.: It’s dark already.

Sleeping in the forest. Terribly want to drink. After two hours someone is passing by. He’s giving us water.
In the next two hours another guy is passing by. We’re explaining our problem. He’s promising to come back with a rope. He makes a bonfire, then he leaves. We are lying on the road, anyway almost no one drives here.

Terribly want to drink.

The morning.

B.: Oh, look, he’s coming back!

The guy has brought us a rope.

But there is one more surprise: a problem with the gear train on Bachan’s motorbike. We can’t go faster than 10 km/h.

We’ve reached a river. There is a small shop on the bank, where we can buy drinks. We can’t get enough. The seller is putting more and more bottles and cans into the ice, but we are drinking more and more.

We are rolling the motorbikes on a raft. One clumsy motion and Bachan’s motorbike is rolling from a narrow board to the river. Luckily, it isn’t deep there.

A truck driver is agreeing to drive us and motorbikes to the nearest big city. Tens of hands are helping to lift the motorbikes on the top, the truck is full of wheat sacks.

They fix Bachan’s motorcycle quite fast. But mine is a problem. They don’t have proper spare parts.

Local guides take us to show around.

I’m getting back the bike. I can start it, but mechanic gives no guarantee it’ll keep working. After 80 km the bike is moveless again.

We are coming to Phnom Penh by a minivan. Our bikes are fastened to the rear door.
Not the best mood.

Bachan is placing a chair on the street, right in front of the guesthouse, and drinking beer in silence. Tomorrow we are flying back to Hanoi.