Impression – The Borders between the Balkan and Germany

Back home. Situation traveling on the way back from the Balkan to Germany. Crossing three borders – easy if you have the “right” papers and the “right” skin color.

Border Slovenia: a few 100 refugees, a LOT of cops, a LOT of press, and a LOT of volunteers. The volunteers (I saw cars with license plates from Bosnia, Croatia, Austria & England, FULL of blankets, food & drink, kid carriers and so on) were putting up tents.

I saw people with dreads and antifa-shirts working together with religious people. I saw people playing football with the refugees. A kid holding a huge yellow plastic ball.

Behind me in the bus sat a bosnian guy. When we were allowed to get out of the bus and wave our passports, he started talking to me in bosnian, with a sad face, looking to all the refugees that did not get through. When I told him I don’t speak bosnian, he simply looked at me and said “I’m a bosnian refugee”.

The border with Austria was empty. So were the border control stations on the german side. A few kilometer past the border btw.

And the crisis at the station in Munich? If there was any, it was caused by the 1.000s of visitors of the oktoberfest (in september, but anyway) in Lederhosen & dirndls…

But yah, glad I made it home…

(pics are here: https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10207514489405216&set=a.10207385245814207.1073741842.1378531435&type=3&theater )

Impression – 6 Borders down, 3 to go

Zagreb, Croatia: 6 borders down, 3 to go. But they will be the hardest. Back in the EU, but since the membership states now are about to reinforce those oso open borders again.

Weird btw, I have to get used again to street lights, separate-your-waste-bins, five-lane streets, and shops which sell like at a least 10 brands of everything.

Didn’t miss these things the last few weeks. I rather realize a. there’s something like a Milky Way, b. it actually has colors :), c. can’t recognize the star signs since there are too many frikkin extra stars.

And I’ll miss falling asleep with the sound of waterfalls or rivers nearby, or waking up by the call for morning prayers, or the sound of nightly wild life sneaking around my sleeping place. Or bumping into a lynx (!) And the coffee won’t be that good, and I won’t taste yet another variant of fried cheese.

But the things I’ll miss the most are the general gentleness, friendliness & hospitality of random people I have met. I left bosnia with a vitamin overdose of all the fruit I got on the way, from the figs & grapes from the guy who gave me a lift to Mostar, the prunes from the bus station chef in Foca, the apples everywhere but most specially from the family who gave me a ride in Una park, and all the self-baked bread & cake (and baklava, or some local variant of crunchy pancakes filled with apples honey, MJUM) people put on a plate, in a bag or simply into my hand. My pockets are filled with telephone numbers of people I met when they gave me a ride, on the streets, in the buses, or hiking, all inviting me to stay at their place the next time.

Again, the rougher the landscape, the nicer the people (and unfortunately, as I found out by hitchhiking from Sarajevo, or in Sanski Most, the softer the landscape, the harder and more egoistic the people….)

Blurp – Traveling – a short stop over in Bihac, Bosnia

Sitting on a terrace in Bihac, with a view on the turquoise, deep & utterly clear waters of the Una river. Sipping Bosnian coffee, and of course there’s a cat 🙂

People here are almost scarily friendly here, I can plugin my laptop, and well… I will prolly leave Bosnia with a fruit overdose.

The Bus to Sanski Most leaves at 15:15. The bus driver already packed my backpack with 3 weeks of dirty laundry inside, and since I couldn’t find a place to stay by the internet, he will arrange a room for me 🙂 Pity the bus will prolly arrive too late to hike to the waterfall in Sanski Most (2 hour hike, bus will be in the town at 17:30), and tomorrow it will rain… Plus, I need to be in Prijedor at the latest at 16:30 to catch the last, last, last possible train to Zagreb…

But I already had such a huge amount of beautiful nature here.

Impressions – Una National Park, Bosnia

Forget Plitivice. Here’s Una National Park. And hardly anyone around.

Utterly btw, I could do two waterfalls today, thx to almost EVERY car stopping when I was hiking & give me a lift. Really, it seems the rougher the landscape, the nicer the people 🙂 Including a guy bringing his really old, gold-toothed mum home, a young Saudi family, she was completely covered up, but started video-ing at the moment they stopped & asked me if I needed a lift (bye bye privacy 🙂 ), a little van with husband and wife who just came from fruit picking, so I now have ANOTHER kilo of apples to eat, the owner of a new campsite near this waterfall, a friend of the ranger (ok, he was friends of almost anyone we drove past..) and.. and.. and… I will leave this trip with a vitamine overdose.. I still haven’t finished the grapes and figs I got in Mostar.

Last big hike: Una Park in Bosnia, near the border with Croatia. On the croatian side, there’s Plitvice Lakes, lots of tourists. Here, hardly anyone…

Hiked towards Martin Brod, the southmost village in the park, and about 10 km walk in almost 40 degrees and no shadow. Again, proof, the rougher the landscape, the friendlier the people. Almost immediately got a ride from a man bringing his gold-toothed mom home, and a few km further, from a saudi family (and she making vids of me the whole time)…

Started walking around Martin Brod, a village just simply teeming with smaller and bigger waterfalls EVERYwhere. Got another ride back to where I slept in Kulen Vakuf. On both sides of the village there’s old Ottoman forts (like everywhere near the river) but it was just to frikkin hot to hike up that hill. So I decided to try for another waterfall.

Thx to another ride, of a local couple in a van full of freshly picked fruit (got another 2 kilos of apples), I made it to Ocasan, a village 20km north of Kulen Vakuf, with another Ottoman ruin, and the biggest waterfall nearby. The waterfall was supposed to be ca. 6km from Ocasan. There was supposed to be a hiking trail, but.. I didn’t SEE the trail, neither did I see any signs pointing out to it, so I kept following the maybe longer off-road along the river.

And though I was afraid I wouldn’t make it before dark, and certainly not back before dark, hiking along the river to Strbacki Buk waterfalls was frikkin 100% worth it. The Una River is blue blue blue blue. Locals kept telling me the waterfall was 3km away, and again 3km, and again. Luckily I got another ride from a local camping owner (who complained his camping site stayed so empty.)

Walk along the Una River. Listen to the sound coming from the hills on the other side of the river: that’s not a dog. When I came here, I saw my first glimpse of a wild lynx (omg, they are BIG cats). On the trail next to the river were signs, “watch it, bears crossing”. Guess no car could survive a collapse with a bear (pity I didn’t take pics of that sign). And I know there are wolves.. But maybe it is “just” a fox? Dunno what sounds they make. Later on, someone told me it was probably a deer in heat.

Hiking back from Strbacki Buk waterfalls (try to pronounce it… took me quite a few tries, prolly lost the skill by now), I got company from another doggie showing the way. And got another ride back all the way to the main road. To view the sun slowly setting over the old town in Ocasan.. and just on my way to Kulen Vakuf, I got another spontaneous ride (this time, I did not see a lynx, like yesterday). To arrive in Kulen Vakuf just to see the sun set over the fort (with the moon sickle above it) and the river..

At the guest house where I was the only guest, and the lady didn’t speak english (my bosnian is very slowly improving…) I told where I hiked today. The conclusion was I obviously was in need of a lot of calories :). And got crunchy pancake is filled with honey, nuts & apples and very yummy.

Impression – Pros and Cons of Hitchhiking (Reprise)

Had to get up early to start hitchhiking, since the people at the bus station in Sarajevo told me it would take me over 16 hours by bus to get to Bihac, which is like a 5 hour drive. They told me there was no direct connection between Sarajevo & Bihac, and only way to get there was to get another bus in Jajce, and I would have to leave Sarajevo at 7:30, and arrive at 22:00 in Bihac).

So I decided to take some local transport to just outside of Sarajevo & start hitchhiking. After all, I had such wonderful experiences in Montenegro and the east of Bosnia.

Well.. 3 rides later, of each 20km or less, and 3 guys trying to grab me or otherwise being sexist assholes, I arrived in Visoko. Where there are two roads leading out of the town going northwest, and all the time the locals telling me “wrong road” & I went to the other, where again I heard “wrong road”..

After one hour of walking back& forth, and meeting the local hippie (nice guy btw), who told me he never saw hitchhikers in this part of the country, I decided to give up after one more annoying guy bringing me to Kakanj and, while standing there near the (right) road, some idiot doing rounds in his car around me.

Ok, 100% idiots, plus another idiot checking on me all the time, there’s risks I take, and risks I don’t. Time to find the bus station. And guess. There ARE direct buses between Sarajevo and Bihac. And they only take 6 hours. So far for getting the right information from the people from the Sarajevo Bus Station… Ah well.. at least I will arrive in Bihac.

Though again the people from the bus station itself were utterly friendly, also in Kakanj, where I had to wait 5 hours, I magically attracted all the males thinking with their underbellies. Happy to get on the bus, where I met a NICE older musician speaking german, who lived in Travnik, and I had the usual experience of getting lots of local info, someone being proud of his town, and an invite, which I turned down, since I still wanted to make it to Bihac. Poor guy, because of the not so nice experiences I had that day, I almost didn’t trust him…. Oh, btw, pf course I drank a lot more bosnian coffee while waiting ;).

So, except for not seeing the waterfall near Sanski Most, everything will be alright :).

Impression – Sarajevo, back to base

Sarajevo. Again, that feeling I have “arrived” I dunno why this city does this with me. Actually thinking of canceling my plans for Bihac (no cheap hostels there either) and staying here with coffee & cats. Looking up from my favorite hostel towards Mount Trebevic, where I last year spend that magic day on the bob sleigh track.

Weirdly enough, the street dogs which were here in abundance have almost completely disappeared, and Sarajevo is a cat city again. Met a proud tomcat, who, as the guy working in the coffeeshop told me, was unfortunately badly kicked by some idiot, and now has a broken tail. And, though halfwild, used to be very trusty towards humans, now not anymore.

Four years ago, I met a black kitten at a cemetery near my favorite hostel. Last year, I arrived in Sarajevo, walked past the cemetery, made the calling sound I always use for cats, and he came running to me. Now again :). He’s half-wild and his fur is rough, but the sound I always make for cats made him look up, put his tail in the air, and immediately come to me :). And of course got some well-deserved attention. I was afraid, since I didn’t see him yesterday, he might be gone forever, though I saw a LOT of young black cats around the cemetery, so he left some offspring 🙂 .

My poor boots suffered and suffered, especially while hiking for 8 hours in the rain in Durmitor. But they got some (free!) love from a shoemaker in Sarajevo

In the evening I had to save a kitten from some nasty kid throwing stones at it. Good thing that the “teacher’s eye” works in any language…

Impression – The Pros and Cons of Hitchhiking

Arrived in Mostar safely and yes, got a good internet connection & a great (new!) hostel with a very friendly host and a gooooooooood shower.

Had one hell of an amazing time hiking in the mountains in Zabljak and Sutjetska. And today a crazy day of hitchhiking from Sutjetska to Mostar. Did I already mention my guardian angel? He must be banging his head against the walls again :).

At the busstation in Foca, again, that hospitality & friendliness. Though I speak like 3 words of bosnian, and most people don’t speak english or german, the busstation chef not only got me a relatively cheap ride to where I was supposed to stay, about 30km more south, but also threw about two kilos of fresh prunes in a bag of the huge carton box he had in his office to give to passengers (No pesticides he kept telling me 🙂 ). I will so have to get used to “normal” hospitality back home.

This time I was in Sutjetska on my own, and on my own two feet. Not with a jeep like last year. Though my goal was the mountain of Maglic, this was too much for one day on foot. One day, I WILL make Maglic..

The Czech people I met hiking with full backpacks up towards Maglic, and we chatted and chatted, so even though they were a lot slower because of their heavy backpacks, I stuck with them, and said goodbye when they were preparing to make camp. The officially restricted path into primeval forest Perucica with the remains of another partizan monument wasn’t actually guarded, so I sneaked in for a couple of 100 meters until it became too overgrown, and I didn’t want to damage anything there. Made it down just in time again, and back before nightfall to the place where I slept, thx to (again) some people who just stopped and offered me a ride.

Since I promised my host in Sutjetska to text her that I got safely back down from the mountains, but my phone died after being completely drowned by the hiking-in-the-rain in Durmitor, and no internet connection, I had to find some sort of human contact. So I hiked back in the pitch dark, over a scary, scary, wobbly bridge of which I knew from daylight, was full of holes in the wood, towards the main road. Here I found a restaurant where the cook not only spoke dutch, but turned out he used to live 3 streets away from where I lived in Rotterdam. And I got another variation of the fried cheese, or “kaassoufle” as the cook called it.

Went back through that same pitch dark to the guest house where I was staying, and spend the night looking at simply amazing stars. It being pitch-dark has the advantage of being able to see the milky way (I forgot it has actually a lot of different colors), and just too many stars to recognize the star signs. Even caught the last bits of what is actually a minor meteor storm…

Next day, I left Sutjetska. Took a quick peak at the partizan Monument in Tjentiste, since I was near anyway. Again, people from a little coffee shop down didn’t speak english or german, but too friendly, and guarded my backpack when I went up here in the burning sun.

Got a ride from a truck carrying fresh ALIVE baby fish in the back. Because of the blazing sun, we had to stop regularly to check if the fish were still alive (and boy, were they trying to jump out of those tanks!), and feed them oxygen from rusty gas tanks.. The truck driver didn’t speak english or german, but he was so happy every time I wowwed about the next view on the dried-out mountain highlands of Bosnia (those views… those VIEWS).

The truckdriver dropped me off at Gacko since he was traveling to the sea to deliver the young fish to be grown up. Got a very fast ride from Gacko to Nevisinje from 3 bosnian guys. None of them spoke english or german, so I had to improve my little bosnian fast.

Got a ride from a wonderful guy who not only gave me the ride, but insisted on buying me good bosnian coffee on the way, insisted on inviting me in his house for food and more coffee, and gave me two kilos of grapes and figs before he dropped me off close to the hostel in Mostar. And though we didn’t speak each others language (he had 3 words of english and german, I had, again, to pick up bosnian fast… hitchhiking is a frikkin good way to be forced to learn a new language quickly!), we got along really well, he had great music in his car too :). The hospitality here is making me feel reaaally guilty. (and no, not once I could sense some “hidden meaning” behind his friendliness)

Everywhere in Mostar you see posters with “Refugees are welcome”. Yep, even though Bosnia isn’t the richest country *cough*, they ARE welcome here. Just as the host of the hostel where I stayed said, yep, we know what it is to live in a country at war.

In Mostar, at the ruins near the bridge, someone called me “hippie girl” and invited me to smoke pot….. “Hippie girl”. HUMPF. I’m 48, all dressed in black, with worn down boots, smelly and sweaty.. and I’m a “hippie girl”?

A portuguese couple from the hostel offered me a ride from Mostar to Sarajevo. Original plan was to go to Kravice first, but since that was 3 hours back end 3 hours forth, we decided against it, and in favor of another tourist attraction, a 15th century monastery half in a cliff near Mostar. Well. tourist attraction indeed. But beautiful, yep.

Between Mostar and Sarajevo, every time you think: I’ve seen enough beautiful mountains, I’m immune to it by now, there’s another view to prove you wrong…

Sometimes during my trip even I myself thought, FUCK, I’m insane. Hitchhiking on my own through wild, empty mountains and hills in a country I don’t speak the language….

But I keep meeting the most wonderful people…

Impressions – Mrtvice Canyon – The “Canyon of Little Dead Things”

The good luck I’m having on this trip is getting close to truly absurd, or my guardian angel is getting way too good in his job (he’s pretty well-trained anyway). It’s too weird, I do stuff most people with common sense wouldn’t even start thinking about (going up slippery mountains just after a cloudburst, yes, alone, hiking (yes, alone) into a canyon the tourist office deemed too risky to not do in a group, hitchhiking after dark in a country where I don’t speak the language) and I experience the most wonderful stuff and meet the most awesome people…

Today I met a 60+ guy, the last guy still living in his village. I had to walk over his land to get to my goal of today. So, within 2 minutes, I sit in his orchard, with a cat on my lap, tasting his self-made raki, honey from the local bees, and a few fresh apples. Within no time, we exchange life stories, and I almost forget I wanted to hike. He walks me to the right path, and tells me he’ll make food for me when I come back. Since I still would need to hitchhike 35 kms back, I didn’t want to say yes. I start descending to Danillov Most, a medieval bridge. Not easy to find, you had to fight a few bushes 🙂 The road crossing the bridge didn’t lead anywhere, just to forest paths.

I have a most amazing hike in that hidden canyon… Mrtvice Canyon. Later some people told me it translates to “the canyon of little dead things”. Well…. it sure is alive: the climate in the canyon is steady all year around, warm and VERY wet. And no people, so nature can go wild. The trees grow beards, the moss can grow wildly, and create a true “Moss Cathedral”. To get there, you have to cross some private property, and the owner hung signs everywhere to point this out to the few people trying to reach the canyon. I didn’t meet him, and anyway, the wonderful elder guy who lived at the beginning of the canyon and invited me in his house had given me a “freepass” 🙂

I found the “Gate of Wishes”, a strange rock formation with a view on the unreal blue water of the river. This is where I met the only other hikers, who were followed by some local puppies :). And this is where I left a piece of my heart…. One of the most hidden treasures (& not easy to find!). The path I was taking was not risky at all, just, well… don’t stumble :). Made by the partisan army during WWII. Very grateful to them, since otherwise I couldn’t have hiked there. It’s not a canyon for rafting. Water, however, always finds a way. No matter how big the rocks are which are trying to block its flow. Sometimes, you only realize the size of a block of stone in the river in comparison with the trees around it.

Going out of the narrow part of the canyon, found a way down the forest to the old wooden bridge (with roman fundaments!), had to get up through more bushes again and another sorta-bridge made out of a few logs. Again, no roads lead from or to it, just forest paths.

It’s close to dark when I pass his house, but I just had to say goodbye to him. Within 1 minute however, I sit in his orchard, with a cat on my lap, a fresh huge cup of turkish coffee, that honey, great cheese of the local cows, and more apples. And the guy tells me he’s very sorry, but he doesn’t offer meat, since he’s a vegetarian, and all he needs he gets from his garden, or trades (he makes his own raki.. good stuff.. even in montenegro he sells it for 20 euros/liter).

Ok, how lucky can you get? In the middle of nowhere, I meet a vegetarian… a 60+, almost toothless raki-maker, who pretty soon after I trespassed discussed the situation of the refugees in europe with me… Oh, and he has a well-equipped guesthouse in the middle of nature. He doesn’t “run” it, since he asks no money for it, maybe a donation or what people are willing to pay. This guy, who grew up in the half-wilderness in a country like Montenegro, is a vegetarian, and lives the principles of the solidarity economy to the max..

Of course, it gets really dark, so he gets me in his 42-year old, Never would have found it if not local people stopped their car and gave me directions, Tito-car, drives me to the bigger road, and no, he will stay with me until I get a ride.. Which I in the end got from two Montenegrin police guys after their shift :). And I say goodbye to another friend I just made (though I guess from his side, and the amount of pats on the head (!) he gave me, I got adopted…)

And I already was so lucky today… After two busdrivers refused to take me with them to drop me in the small village on the road between Kolasin and Podgorica, I decided to hitchhike. After all, I got a spontaneous ride when I came back from the mountains in the dark yesterday. Got a ride pretty quickly from a guy who I made really happy because of me constantly omg-ing when we turned around the corner & the next beautiful mountain view. He dropped me off in the village, after asking in a local pub where it was best to drop me. Started walking (I had a vague internet description, and knew the path would be hard to find), a few cars drive by, stop, and ask me where I want to go. In between two old iron bridges, I walk past a woman waiting near a crossroad, turns out one of the drivers stopped there, and asked her to give me directions in english.. Never would have found it if not local people stopped their car and gave me directions.

And these are just a few examples… I keep meeting such absurd friendly people… it almost scares me 🙂

Impressions – The city through old eyes

Walking through the neighborhood with my 78-year old mum visiting me, I see someone I know standing in the door of one of the local squat pubs. So I go over, and while my mum admires the huge murals outside. I chat with this fellow-foodsaver. The pub is a distribution point for saved food, bread & cake have just arrived.

So I tell my mum to go inside and take some. She obviously feels a bit awkward, until one the people outside, an elder, broadshouldered batcaver all dressed in black and wearing a Crass shirt and a nice fluffy mohawk, steps into the doorway, and almost knightly and very insistingly invites her in. A bit shy, she has no choice but to step inside, still feeling very out of place and trying her best not too look at all the weird hairdo’s and tattoos. Then she discovers the cakes…. and yes, they’re fresh from the bakery, and yes, they are for free…. We didn’t stay for a drink, but my mum immediately popped into the small art gallery next door to have another look inside :).

Thing is, sometimes what surprises my visitors says more of how my original country has changed, than about the more positive aspects of this city.

My mum wondering how all these little craft and other shops survive and aren’t taken over by huge chains. Enjoys the cheap indian food, and swallows hard when her wine arrives, the glass is so big. Stopping at a supermarket open til midnight, and my mum exclaiming how cute, how cute, and I wonder why, it’s just a very normal supermarket, until she tells me, there’s only one girl behind the counter, this late at night, and nobody thinks it’s dangerous. I of course have to inform her about the not-so-nice backgrounds, no minimum wage means, yes, the food is cheap, but either the owners works at least 12 hours a day, or that the bread is so cheap because the person on the other side of the counter works 40 hours a week, and still is dependent on “social service money”.

But yah, I rather live in a poor city which smells bad, is dirty, and where the drunks hang outside, than to worry about walking the streets alone after dark, my mum actually asked me if it wasn’t too risky for a woman on her own.

Impression – Summer Time

Summer… which means either I have visitors or am visiting…

Though my eyes never are closed for what’s happening in this neighborhood, walking together with people who are not “settled” here, opens my eyes even more for those small things I perceive as quite normal.

  • Going home from a squatting pub in the early sunday morning daylight, and note from the corner of my eye random people sleeping on abandoned, graffitied, couches on the sidewalk.
  • During the foodsaving brunch, talk to one of the life-experienced people who really, really, really wants to help, but well, she’s slightly confused and already rubbed some people the wrong way. With a huge smile, she tells me her ex lives around here. Then looks away, tears filling her eyes.. she doesn’t miss the guy, but oh, how she misses the dogs… I hear one of the other foodsavers making a remark to his friend how so many people here can still laugh, still have a huge smile on their face, but if you hear their stories, you wonder how they can keep going.
  • Sitting in front of the giveaway shop, trying to have a meeting, get pissed at and become quite rude to some drunk guy who starts laughing weirdly in a foreign language whenever we want to discuss something more seriously. Luckily he buggers off after one of the other giveaway people tells him to get lost in his own language.
  • Waiting for one of my guests, and watch a naked guy making a bed by wrapping himself around a young tree growing out of the more than 1 meter tall weeds on a street corner.
  • Say hello to one of the local too-many-dogs ladies sipping her beer on the steps of a gentrified-away – former second hand children’s toys, now empty for over one year – store, and my guest shaking his head, wondering if I know all the freaks here. Deeply inhale the smell of rotten garbage at the end of my street.
  • Grab a drink in one the newer “steam punk” pubs my guest wanted to visit, and watch some local talent taking the open stage.
  • Relocate to an artist “public living room” for vegan cake & coffee at midnight and see an escaped ferret run across the street looking for food (and my guest running after it with his phone to make a pic).
  • Hear some really nice music from a balcony nearby, and can’t help but to get slightly pissed at that one annoying neighbor who called the cops on it.
  • Having a chat in the park with a girl in her early twenties, asking for a cigarette, who obviously takes more care of her dog than of herself, and, after refusing her offer of some stronger liquor, we exchange life stories.. . A few days later, I distribute saved food, I meet her again, & she shyly asks if she can give me a hug, tells me she quit drinking, and thanks me for our talk. Only when she walks away I make the connection…