Bosnia-Hercegovina by Van

Bosnia, it’s a country that seems to bring up similar images for a lot of people: war-torn, crumbling and besieged cities summarize most of it. We were even asked to be careful of any fighting. I had on the other hand read a lot of good about Bosnia. I knew I wanted to visit it for sure, the further away from our home a country is (geographically or culturally), the more interesting a place tends to be.

After our night near the border, we drove the short distance to the crossing in the morning. I’d heard crazy stories about long lines and intense scrutiny of documents like vehicle insurance (bring a green card!). The first turned out mostly true and we witnessed some crazy scenes of a car cutting in line and people getting into heated arguments, drawing the police out even. The latter was not so bad, the check-up was just like Slovenia or Croatia.

Interestingly right at the border already there was a horde of stray dogs alternating between running around and sleeping in the shade. Naturally Jolien got out of the car to try and feed them all some left-over bread. None were interested.

The step from Croatia to B quite noticeable, not like all previous border crossings. It feels much more Eastern, with mosques popping up often, no longer any of the usual shops, older and les maintained architecture, etc..
After we got set-up with groceries and a sim card (goodbye free EU roaming) in Bihac, we planned the next days a bit. 

We drove quite a bit to the Una waterfalls (on the Bosnian side) as we’d read they were a good substitute for the overpriced Plitvice NP. We met some more stray dogs on the way, drove along a long dusty track and paid only a couple euros to get in. I guess the falls are not as amazing, but just the area and the drive there were interesting enough. Much less populated, friendly people, and strangely most of the few other tourists seemed to be Arabian, with women in full face-covering gown. It was nice to not have that “money-grabbing” feeling you’d get in Croatia so often.

Driving back down the long dusty road, we’d already seen a place marked “camping” with a hand-painted sign. A big field had a burgundy-red van with warning stripes and orange lights, just like mine! Always a good sign to see someone driving a similar vehicle: they tend to be like-minded.

We were still on the fence about staying there, but when a friendly Bosnian man waved at us, pointing, signifying we should just pull over and stay at his camping, we couldn’t resist. He seemed so friendly and enthousiastic!

That night we got to meet Cefig (the owner) and everybody staying at his camping, while Cefig cooked us dinner and served beers. Jan and Lisa were a couple from Germany travelling in their converted van: they’d been at Cefig’s for 2 days already, “because it’s just so nice here”. 3 other boys from Berlin put up a tent next to us. And then there were 3 Czech guys in a blue SKoda that looked familiar… We’d seen them before at the airbase, they pulled up to ask us the way! They turned out to be on a crazy boys’ roadtrip to Guca Brass festival in Serbia and were also heading towards Sarajevo, like us.

We drove most of the next day to Jajce, stopping at Jezero lake first. After a strange escapade with a local guy that sort of latched onto us (friendly, but just a bit weird and you-never-know-what-this-is-about) we ran into our Czech friends Tomáš, Julius and Jan again. They knew about some good spot byt the river where we should barbecue after seeing the Jajce waterfall, fortress and old town.

Jajce was interesting: very raw and different from towns so far. Bullet holes from operation Vrbas in 1992 still riddled many buildings. Newer tourist cafes stood around the corner from crumbling houses. And of course, friendly stray dogs roamed the streets, this time all too happy to receive bits of sausage roll from Jolien!

That night was really fun. Jan and Lisa had shown up with their little red van again, so we all got together at a hidden little beach by the stream. Tom, Julius and Jan have such a great attitude for just having fun: they just pulled some wood from a construction site, and got grilling in the sand on some rocks. They just slept on a mat in the sand at the end of the night. And amazingly, after the amount of beers they had (many multiples of what we managed) they got up happy freshly-faced in the morning! 

We drove to Sarajevo and headed to the old Olympic Ski Jumps in the mountains above the city. Remnants of the 1984 Winter Olympics in Sarajevo, they would be destroyed by war only 8 years later. What stands now has become a weird toruist attraction. Not restored at all, but with a working rope lift, it seems to again attract mostly Arab tourists, who get ferried up in black burkas between the shot-up ruins.

After that, well, you might have seen it coming by the hints. We went to visit a local dog shelter, with plans to find a new friend to bring home. I’d found out about the Gladno-Polje shelter and they seemed like a genuine organisation we wanted to help out. So we played with the dogs for a few hours, trying to see which ones would be a match. Some where over excited and nearly unmanageable, some had experieces that made them unfit for adaoption, but a few stood out. As we knew we’d be heading home once we had the dog, we would try to visit some more places first before committing.

The Tunnel of Hope Museum, a historical place that served as the entry for a tunnel connnecting besieged Sarajevo with the outside was supposed to be the best place to learn about the Siege of the city, the longest in modern history. The museum was decent, but small and just when we thought it was unfortunate a lot was in Bosnian only, they showed us how to use one’s phone as an audio-guide. Worth the visit, it wasn’t too crowdy when we were there.

Old town Sarajevo was very cool. An awesome mix of East and West (similar to Kiev, but with more overt Muslim influences), we both agreed we wouldn’t mind coming back here for a city trip. It all felt very genuine, and very hip. Like the sort of place not touched by mass-tourism, where a lot is possible and things are still rough on the edges. I guess those assumptions I mentioned at the beginning have something to do with that…

That evening, we went to pick up our new dog. We were torn between a two-year old dog and this 4-month old puppy, but in the end picked the young one as she was more receptive and would probably be easier to train. She left her 2 sisters behind to spend the first night with us on a camping. She was originally called Flora, but over a few beers we picked “Lenka” as her new name.

The whole process was fairly straightforward: all dogs have passports and vaccinations, there isn’t even a mandatory fee to pay if you pick them up yourself (though we did make a sizeable donation once we got home), you just pay for a final vet check-up. All the dogs there seemed fairly happy, and there’s a volunteer with them every day. Though of course, they would rather see every dog go to a good home!

We took Lenka for a first walk on Trebevic mountain, in another ’84 relic; the bobsled and luge track. It turned out perfect for letting her walk with us: she couldn’t get out and just trundled alongside.

It turned out to be a bit much for her: at the end of the track she lay down under a tree, refused to move any more and fell asleep. Makes sense that little baby dogs are not as strong as Milo the dog. We alternated staying with her and going up to the Astronomic Observatory ruins overlooking the city, and then I walked back and got the van to pick up a tired puppy dog.

Driving back to Slovenia from Sarajevo, we came across a depot of abandoned trains, which we explored a bit. Lenka, still wary of last time wasn’t really coming along much, so it was a shorter visit.

I Especially liked the Olimpik Ekspress trains: even on the other side of the country you could still find remnants of those heydays back in 1984.

After that we mostly drove straight back, over the course of some 3 days. Our little puppy slept in between the two front seats and got fed treats the entire journey. She’a lready gotten 50% bigger and turned out to be a very calm dog that we haven’t regretted bringing back for one moment yet.

It’s nice to have such a souvenir from Bosnia, my favorite country from this trip. Even if there were no major sights, no Instagram hotspots and no touristic-must-see-top-10-lists, the people were friendly, the culture was interesting and you really get a feeling of being “far from home”.

You can see the last part of our route below, in yellow.

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