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Published: June 11th 2013
Most means bridge over here. For me they were the hosts with the most(s) cheesy as that may sound. Five stars.
I think, when I posted last time, I had made some mention that I had made plans to meet someone at Medugorje at midday the following day? If not it was only not to alarm anyone who may start to worry and fret on knowing that I had made said arrangements with a random stranger met on the side of the road.
Well, after having been given a wonderful, coffee fuelled send off by the good people at Pansion Most it was off to Medugorje. I bit of a late start to tell the truth and I was even more anxious when the owner said that it was not far, only 25km, but that I would have to push my bike for 5km because the road was too steep. Great, just what I need first thing in the morning! But actually, I surprised myself by not having to push. Yes it was steep but it was manageable and a pretty amazing view from the top. The mountains all around looked a little washed out, maybe because it was warm already and the haziness that comes along with that. Anyway, not great for photos but if you were there...
I don't really like getting my photo taken. Can you tell?
the climbing didn't really stop. Yes there was a plateau, and sure there were lovely downhills but you know, it's the climbs I really remember because they go for waaaaaaaay longer. Downhills are over and done with v v quickly and then it's back to the 5.6km/h. Yes I know. That is a comfortable walk. I never said I was fast.
But, I managed to make it to the church by midday, practically on the dot. I couldn't believe it either. I had just sat down to chow down on my hard earned 'kroasan' (chocolate filled), no doubt with crumbs and chocolate all over me, when Zoran approached. Zoran suggested we go together in his car to visit Kravice waterfalls. Now, this was his suggestion a couple of days earlier when I had told him my planned itinerary. He said that I really ought to go and see them as they are beautiful. When I was adamant that I would not change my proposed route he came up with 'the plan' (ie leave bike in Medugorje and we drive together to Kravice). It sounded reasonable.
Well it was reasonable. In fact it was better than that. It was
Vineyards and mountains. Great combination.
really a spectacular sight that I would have missed had it not been for this man taking it unto himself to ensure that this tourist sees the very best his country has to offer. And gets a taste for BiH driving too! Really, this was probably an experience I could have done without. To know what it is like to be moving (at speed!) in a BiH vehicle, a passenger in the front seat, was quite something. In between telling me to lift my sunnies to look at my eyes (looking at me all the while to see if I did!) and rummaging through the glovebox to show me random things like passports and work-related stuff I think I had my eyes on the road more than him, and concentrating for the both of us, which really is not much use. He also offered to teach me to drive. Can you imagine what skills I would come back with? But having said all of that, he really was a wonderful guide and gentleman. I had a refreshing cold drink waiting for me when I got in the car (I really needed that), coffee bought at the waterfalls (I needed that
too), more softdrink (probably didn't need that) and accommodation arranged at a Pansion of a friend's back in Medugorje. Really, it was a wonderful afternoon and a wonderful experience - all without him speaking a word of English and me with my silly smatterings of whatever language they like to call what they speak. Thank you Zoran for your hospitality!
Now, let me tell you about why I came to Medugorje. I do love spiritual places and for those that may not know Medugorje is the place where six teenagers reported seeing an apparition of the Virgin Mary back in 1981. And since then miracles occur regularly. I don't need a miracle and well, I got none of that and no sense of the spiritual although I've since been told that if I'd walked up to Apparition Hill it is a different feeling. The only feeling I had was one of commercial overdrive - shops flogging every-gaudy-anything and everything. Virgin Mary kneeling cushions anyone? Even at the church of St James, the main church, I was astounded by the volume of people waiting to confess. Oh to be a fly on the wall. And you could even confess in
Old Turkish town with an artist colony too.
a number of languages, there was a priest to accommodate and do whatever they do when you confess, the language displayed clearly on the outside of the booths (which looked like toilet cubicles - is it a sin to say that?). Still, when I got back to my Pansion it was lovely to sit on my balcony and watch the people working away in the vineyards and the fields. The evening was balmy and it was wonderfully relaxing. Ah, life is beautiful. A beer would have been nice.
Have I mentioned yet how bad my map is? I really have no clear indication of how many km's from one place to the next, even though it's written on the map but it is rarely that distance. And, it has places on roads where these places aren't. Like Medugorje. The map makes it look like it's on the main road out of Mostar which is actually another reason I had wanted to go there because really my main aim was to see Pocitelj, a UNESCO World heritage site and host to the longest operating art colony in south eastern Europe (and featured on the cover of my guidebook!). But no.
The following morning I had to backtrack to Citluk which is vineyard town and you know vines grow in the hills. It was 8.30 in the morning and 28C already. I was wet from the sweat after the first climb. But it wasn't bad really, the gradient was manageable at least and then, a sign 8% downhill. And wow what a vista. Back down towards my beloved Neretva River with mountains all around. The view a just reward for hard work I think. And not that many vehicles, in fact only several passed me. Hmmmm, maybe there is something to be said about going off the main roads.
And a lovely, steady ride. No up, no down and the occasional cool and refreshing tunnel to get through. Yes, I know. That day I really liked the tunnels! I was hot. And it was so lovely to get to Pocitelj. What a gorgeous place. I can see why artists from around the world have come here to paint. The place is exquisitely picturesque (and the cafe there did a mean cevap!). Maybe peeps from home might want to check this out?
But I couldn't stay there forever. Time to
This is dangerous
A stark reminder that all is not safe
get moving, try and work off that lunch (plus sweet!). I wanted to get to Stolac and to Radmilja in particular the latter being the site of medieval tombstones with carvings made some 700 years earlier by Slavic members of the Bosnian Church. Again, they are just there. On the side of the road. And again. No one. Just me. I don't feel like a tourist if there is no one around. That's a good thing I think. I found them so wonderfully interesting. In a way, they kind of reminded me of the houses I built a few years ago, just on a larger scale (was I maybe a Slavic member of the Bosnian Church in my previous life??)
When I got to Stolac I have to admit I was a bit tired already. All that up and down all day and the sun (I know I know it's winter and cold and wet in Melbourne but it is tiring cycling in warm weather). Time to ask accommodation questions at the café where I stopped to have a tea. No there is no hotel in Stolac, you have to go back to Caplina (no way I'm not going
back and by the way the petrol station just before Radmilja has rooms upstairs but I'm still not going back). What about roadside restaurants - are there any. Yes. (Ok I thought, maybe I could stay at one of them). Then the clincher, but you know, the road is very very, (he then moved his forearm from horizontal to a 45 degree angle) steep. Hmmmmm. OK, maybe you should fill up the water bottles then. And with that, I was out of Stolac.
Are you for real? Oh my goodness. I didn't know whether it was because it was nearing the end of the day or whether I had sunstroke or whether I was just plain unfit but this climb was R-I-D-I-C-U-L-O-U-S. And, added to that, it was one of these climbs that you couldn't see really but boy could you feel it. By not seeing I mean it wasn't a switch back. It was just a long, ridiculous climb and, for me, an unreasonable gradient. And this is another thing that I've discovered here. The don't really bother with informing you of what gradient anything is when you're travelling on a secondary road (as I was). And
don't bother with information on distance either. Both seem to be irrelevant. I had to push. The last time I felt this defeated was when I was trying to cycle in Bulgaria near Goce Delchev. That almost killed me. This was doing the same to me. And, added to that, this road was desolate. There was nothing around. Just birds (they seemed to be happy) and the occasional passing car. I knew then that I would not even make the pass mentioned on my map at this rate because I still had to get to a place called Ljubinje! Time to start looking for somewhere to camp for the night. But where??? When you're going up a hill (which seemed like Everest to me) there is nowhere flat. And to top it off I saw the first sign that there are still active mines! Great. So even when a place did look like a semi possibility I may end up the worse for wear because of it.
But up ahead, in the distance, I could see some houses. Maybe I could go there and ask? Then again, here in BiH, houses in the distance do not mean that they
Between Ljubinje and Ravno
And not much else. Just a clutch of houses here and there. What strong people these must be.
are necessarily occupied or in a fit state to be. But it didn't come to that. I saw a cemetery first (yes, I was contemplating it - nothing was out of the question) but then noticed on my side a gravel road. Well, it had to lead somewhere. There were actually two roads - the gravel and the dirt road. I followed the dirt road about 100m and thought actually, this is not bad. Whatever mines there were surely would have been cleared for the men who had to work on the powerlines above. Plus there were signs (but not too many!) that people had been here - a wrapper here and there not a dumping ground thankfully. And so there I stayed put feeling totally safe with a remarkable view of the mountains. I did have to spend some time clearing the stones in an effort to make the space a little more comfortable (and in the end building a mini cairn of sorts) but other than that I couldn't have asked for a better site. Just me and the birds at times. Especially at twilight. Even the cars stopped travelling. It was so quiet and peaceful. Only two
The view from the restaurant. And can you see that tiny road on the right hand side. That's my road.
cars passed on that gravel road - one going in and one going out. And, the following morning they did the opposite.
All good things must come to an end. The following morning the torturous climb continued. If I needed a sign that stopping when I did was the best decision ever it was that climb. It went on for at least another 5km, passing the village of Zegulja where I had thought I could possibly stop for the night. That village looked deserted. I would have been a mess I know. There would have been tears. Then, like an oasis in the desert, Restoran Zijezda! Oh man, 9am is not too early to sit down to chips and cevap. I've never ordered a large portion before but that is what I got. I was surprised (ever so slightly) at my appetite. Not one morsel was left on the plate, nor one slice of bread in the basket. I was one satisfied customer. And the coffee was fabulous. (Actually, you're guaranteed good coffee here in the Balkans - I've not had a bad one yet. Unlike our coffee capital where it can be a bit hit and miss.)
Vetrinica Caves, Zavala
Nikola, one of the knowledgeable and patient guides
On and on and on. Ugh. It was hot. I was very sweaty but not too perturbed. Breakfast really had given me strength enough to manage the climbs without having to push. And there would be a downhill, of that I was sure. You won't believe me when I say that the pass was a mere 585m. I can't believe it myself. To me I felt I had climbed at least 1,000m. (But people from these parts empathise with me when I tell them the direction I've come from. They know
how hard it must be because their cars suffer for it). Anyway I did it.
And this is where the accidental tourist guide, Zoran, came into the picture again and changed my 'plan'. He had told me he knew the restaurant owner in Ravno and that there were some caves near Ravno too. Now Ravno was a little detour off the main route number 6. Taking this detour meant taking a different way to Dubrovnik (instead of trying to bus it from Trebinje to Dubrovnik) along a minor road. I stopped at the restaurant and asked the man if he knew Zoran. No. OK. Doesn't matter, I've detoured
this far I may as well keep going the extra 6km and see the caves.
I got to the village of Zavala and there was another restaurant I had to stop. You'll see from the photo why I had to stop. The view was wonderful and it had a Sunday afternoon party atmosphere. People come here from Dubrovnik as it's only 50km away and feels like another world. The restaurant is in the building in what was once the old railway station from the Austro-Hungarian times. It's been fantastically restored since being destroyed in the last war. I asked the waiter, Boẑo, if he could tell me how many kilometres to Dubrovnik from there and if he knew of any places to stay along the road. It was around 50km to Dubrovnik (a no can do for me even though it was only 3 o'clock) and no places to sleep. Maybe at Ivanica but that was still 40km away. Hmmmm. Not good. And then he asked me if I had a sleeping bag. Yes. I have a whole lot more than that too! He then suggested it might be ok for me to sleep there as they had apartments
upstairs but they were not yet finished. He checked and it was OK. Brilliant. Off to the caves! And there I met the enthusiastic team of Ana and Nishko, guides to the Vetrenica caves extraordinaire. The caves are extensive and are known, at this stage, to be at least 7km in length. My tour however stopped at 600m. But that was OK. I was satisfied with what I saw and learned. They are beautiful and the little white albino salamander that is endemic to this cave is a cute little creature in a strange, ugly way. No eyes (or maybe it has but not as we know eyes) and a translucent white. It truly is amazing what makes up this world and the fragile ecosystem that they are reliant on.
After that, a most delicious dinner at the restaurant waited on by the most entertaining yet professional waiters, Boẑo and Mario. Very funny men and ever so kind. And then sleep in my makeshift room. What a day! I felt like I did and lived it all.
Now I promise this won't go on for much longer... but the following day after a morning coffee and chat about
The old railway station - Zavala
Now restaurant with Mario in the doorway. And I think that window was my room above?
life with Mario I briefly visited the Zavalo monastery. The monastery dates back to the 15th Century and has frescoes that I believe rival those I've seen in Romania and Bulgaria. And that smell of frankincense. Sends chills up my spine. The young priest explained (or so I think) that this monastery is dedicated to Saint Vassilios and that his body is now buried at Ostrog monastery in Monte Negro (guess where I'll be going). Anyway, I bought an icon (you know I love them) and a cross for my bike as well as some soap made there at the monastery. All natural and organic. Can't wait to use it.
And then it was off to ride this road to Dubrovnik. Thank you to Zavala and the people Ana, Nishko, Mario and in particular Boẑo. A most memorable time was had. You made it happen. And also to the nameless man who really wanted to buy me a drink the night before (I settled for tea). All very very kind. I am blessed. And ofcourse to Zoran, because if it had not been for him I would never have ventured down this road.
And what a road. As
Nishko said, it was perfectly straight. No up, no down, just skirting the hillside as the train would have done when this road was still a train line. And only four cars passed me in forty kilometres. As for the villages. I saw no one. And one village in particular, Hum, actually brought me to tears. Leading up to the village great swathes of land had been cordoned off. Mines. And the village was almost an empty shell. In large red letters the letters OK had been spray painted on the front of the houses - I'm assuming that they had been de-mined and were deemed 'safe' to enter. From what I could see there was only one family there who thought it OK. What a way to live. These people will tell you about resilience I'm sure.
And after several more kilometres of desolation and rocks it was hitting the main road from Trebinje to Dubrovnik. That little city, Dubrovnik, really is gorgeous. And boy do I have an uphill coming back into BiH!
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