The Dalmatian coast is often referred to as the “romance coast”. Due in part to the quiet tranquil waters of the Adriatic, an equal measure of modest sincere surroundings, nothing pretentious or gawdy arrainged here to overwhelm the senses. Just the pure majesty of His heavenly handi-work, fringed by a crystalline blue sea. That is the Dalmation coast.
Dalmatae: a tribe or people group associated with sheep raising culture, the origins for the final name given this eastern coast of the Adriatic Sea. Once a much larger body of land than what it comprises today, reaching further south than present day Albania, and on important region to Roman history. Milini, a tiny village located in todays southern end of Croatia, the birthplace of Constantin, the man credited with bringing Christianity to Rome and for Canonnizing the Holy Scriptures. Gently rolling and thouroughly rock strewn hills are carpeted in schlerophylis shrubs and plants. Few trees exceed 20 feet in hieght, and most are closer to 10 feet. It seems that every plant is designed to rent the flesh of passersby, by the thorny maw that festoons each limb. One brief walk into untamed while wearing cycle shorts will quickly hail a retreat…….only to get back to the roadside and then notice the “warning minefield” sign just 50 yards yonder.
Attributting to the color and clarity of the eastern shores of the Adriatic are reasons several fold. For one, these shores lie very much protected from the ravenous actions of its Atlantic ocean mother-in-law. The softened and mellowed mediterranean climes produce less storm action than in other areas around the globe. The Adriatic’s far lying geographical position within the Mediteranean, ensures that it has a lower salt content, this fact combined with huge inflows of fresh water that have been percolated and purified thru limestone on its journey towards its final destination ensures its chrystaline clarity and rich blue coloration. Like no body of water I have ever witnessed before.
The predominance of Croation soil is poor and mostly untillable, by some accounts as much as 70 percent falls into this catagory. What can be grown on this poorest of land seems to be olives and certain wine grape varietals. Though not in huge numbers, these crops are seen with regularity to be sure. Where rock strewn ground gives way to areable land, then all form of row crop and fruit tree are seen. The hardscrabble land, clotted with limestone rock, which forces grasses to grow in clumps as and where it can find room to take root. The grass is rich, and produces richer flavor yet in the dairy product produced from its yield. One such product known world wide and much sought after, is “Pag Cheese or Paski Sir locally”, considered by many to be the supreme sheeps milk cheese in the world. Thats alot of territory to take in with one block of cheese……further proof that somhewhere along the line Croates are somehow related to Texans. Another of infamy would be “Prsut or sun cured hams and backstraps”, this rich flavor-filled regional delicacy is a part of every celebration in Croatia. Traditionally made in the fall of the year when dry cool coastal temperatures allow slow curing which draws out the flavors and richness.
Currently, I sit in Zadar. A city located north within the Ilurian region of Croatia. Life within Zadar can be traced back to the stone ages by way of tools, bones, fossils remains, and some recently found concho die plates made from old washers. Gosh, and we thought we invented that stuff. Very few spurs worn here in Croatia thru days of old when horses in war ruled……no model T car axles to make spurs out’a. So, they rode into battle bare heeled, natural. The adriatic, the romance coast. Of that we shall soon findout, as my darling bride arrives tomorrow to join me for 8 days of travel and liesure, not even a fleeting thought about my trusty bike as I have found it safe harbor for it’s moorings while we take in Croatia, Montenegro, Albania and portions of Bosnia. So now you know why the wide smile, the light heartedness, the almost giddy demenour that have overtaken my rain soaked soul, the women I love and married thirty some years ago will join me on the Romance Coast.
PS- a little heads up for those traveling abroad in Europe and close proximities. On most occasions when I need a room I simply search out a motel/hotel. In Belgrade I mentioned I found a cheap but very nice apartment right in the heart of old town and was really impressed with it. So, while in Zadar, I tried my luck again, and have to say, that for less than half the price you get a very nice homey feeling and equipped apartment. The apartment that I am in now as I sit and write this taradiddle, lays but 100 meters from the Zadar harbor foot bridge, the red tiled rooves of medievil buildings and Cathedral domes decorate the view of the sky from out my living room window. Hard to beat at $41.00 per night. So, keep that inmind should you ever be traveling over this way in the future. Good night and God Bless.
Many people had told Pine and myself, that Bosnia of all places, was a land of diverse natural beauty. While it is a very challenging ride for me with many stiff climbs, a traveler is rewarded with seemingly endless beauty at every bend in the road. From high mountain peaks enveloped in cloud and fog, steep valleys, tree lined slopes, terraced orchards, swift running rivers and streams and exposed rock on the mountain sides for added interest. Bosnia, you are indeed a natural beauty.
Some of the most amazing and scenic panoramas begin as you drop off the steep mountain slopes, switchback after switchback, a constant downward decent into the long narrow valley that bosoms the city of Jajce ( pronounced ;yayyeetsee ). The city, once a fortified city, and now a Unesco site. Jajce, sits at the rocky confluence of two major rivers. They meet at the foot of a ragged and time torn limestone mountain spire. The Pliva river runs thru limestone country, so it brings with it that gorgeous clear aquamarine blue color. The Pliva, meets and folds quite unwillingly into the Grannice river, which is the faster and murkier river, together they swirl and eddie under the rock face of the mountain spire to become one fast moving waterway coursing towards the ocean much further south. Confidently perched at cliffs edge, high above the torrid waters that swirl at its feet, sits the huge rock walled edifice that was first Jajce. Started by the Romans in approximately 1275, it has been in usurpers hands as often or more than it has been within Bosnian hands. The modern day city of Jajce, lay spread like a floral apron around the steep hillsides and rocky outcroppings that makeup this scenic region. Houses cling too stone hillsides like barnacles to a boat. Streets meander like worm trails up the mountainsides at pitches that would make most of us tremble. Locals pass over these roads on scooters, bikes, horse and wagon, not to mention roto-tillers. Passing each other on single lane roads with but inches to spare and hundreds of feet to fall, all with a smile and a non-chalant wave.
Leaving Jajce, by way of a tiny backroad with good surface, we make our way towards Sipovo. We are traversing the valley floor and following the Pliva River, so the ride is a perfect basket, bottle of wine and your favorite sweetie with you type ride. The road seldom climbs, it undulates as if alive under your bike tires. Twists and turns that keep you awake are punctuated with brilliant blue water splashing over a rock strewn waterfall. The next bend in the river reveals a vibrant green hillside being reflected in a tranquil blue surface, no rush, no harried pace here for the moment. Justrelaxandtakein the beautythat only a “CREATOR” could have imagined as a place for us to enjoy and see his.great works firsthand. Wild flowers enjoy thier day in the sun, along side thier more pampered urbane brothers. Whitish limestone spires and crags festoon the steep mountain sides, when the sun shines, adding a dazzle of light to the uppermost peaks. This is the Pliva expierience, and worth any bucket list inclusion.
Tiny back roads escort me both up and away from the tranquil and serene ride I have had for last day or so. Its time to cross the Cerenmica mountain range, so strap your climbing shoes on, cast off all extra wieght unrequired (like sin, we dont need to bring anything extra on an already difficult passage). We settle into a rocking swaying type motion, each leg, each muscle in its turn adding power to the stroke and transmitted thru that tiny metallic chain…..and up up we go. No dizzying hieghts, not leg breaking pitches. Just steady climbing, breathing measured as if by metronome……….these are the disciplined and autonomous responces of a well trained athl………what the heck, where did he come from!!!! Huge, whitish, fur covered….and more teeth than six citizens from Arkansas…….the road is looping back to my left, the cars are few, the dog likes human flesh……Hannibal Lecter without a collar. My feet are both atop my cross bar, Iam squirting water from my water bottle at him (secretly wishing it was gas and I had a match…..I will pray about those thoughts later, right now I am looking for a match). I barely have enough speed to stay upright and moving forward……its uphill. Feet are down and grab another few strokes as he rounds my bike to the other side. Dang he is big…….oh crap ( confession, I actually said worse), here comes his compatriate. The second dog, much older, but no wiser. Fortunatley for me, was to deaf and crippled to place much effort in his territorial defense……he laid down on the road and barked. It strikes me that the younger far more aggressive dog took notice realizing that I was niether tasty nor a mortal enemy and his own effort may well have been a little over the top……..decided to stop the chase and just bark and growl at me. Which is fine as I was busy praying…… first Mike……with just a few curse words slipping out incase they may be the only words he understood. Just around the next bend, which now places me directly above those dogs……I started throwing rocks down at them……lol, na, just kidding. What I found was thier summer job, about 6 sheep and 2 simmental looking milk cows.
The Cerenmica’s, once topped, wander and meander for quite a few miles. Up here, bare rock escarpments give little ground to plants desiring to grow. Its a hard fought battle for what ground will sustain life is decidely occupied by tree or scrub brush, what grass does grow is in hummock form, and tall as if struggling to find room to do so. This peaceful meander comes to an abrubt end, as you near tbewesgern edge of therange, and here God has decided tojust throw you off theedge in near roller coaster fashion, pell mell we go with shirt tails flapping in the breeze as wecorkscrew our waydown into a surprise. Somewhat of a geographical annomoly in this Bosnia that I have come to know……..a huge valley vista waits me at the bottom. This is a valley of some actual size, very Montanaish in scope and perspective. Mostly farming, but in a very small scale fashion. No big tractors,nor combines rolling. Rather for the most part it is very small hands on, labour intensive farming. But its good to see non-the-less that Bosnia has valleys of this size and type. Sheep dot the lanscape, like puffy clouds that fell from a sky scene at a highschool play. Cattle, mostly a crossbreed milking variety, while not as abundant they are scattered across the rolling valley floor.
A military base sits right in the center of the valley floor, right along side thestraitestflattest widest piece of paved road I have seen in Bosnia to date……looks alot like a runway to me folks…….just sayin is all. I pass fenced in dense stands of thick pine trees, cement poles, razor wire……these as are unruly trees I can tell. There are about 3 of theses huge fenced tree compounds, stillnot sure of thier purpose. Downthevalley I go, nice and flat, bike is wbizzing along and its late afternoon, about time I buy some grub for the evening. A con ersation enzues as I exit the little grocer, just a curious passerby asking or gesturing questions mydirection. I tell him my direction, show him my paper map……..he smiles and makes the sign of a bomb going off. Whiskeytangofoxtrot I thought. Down the road I go, and stop in the next small village to talk to some folks digging the potatoes that will sustain them thru the co ing winter. In not so many words, these folks, 3 of them. Tell me much thesame thing…….be ware of bombs. On we go, its getting late afternoon already. Rode the next 10miles looking strait up……I ain’t the village idiot……I know which direction bombs come from. We are climbing, a little stiffer climb this time around, and as these Bosinian mountain roads are inclined to do, we are meanandering all over and still climbing……..dang mother nature calls and as only God can do it…..all Igotta do is take a leak. TMI here- there I stand with my water spigot out and staring strait ahead………and it dawns on me all at once…….I am staring right at a red sign tnat says DANGER MINE FIELD and a skull and cross bones acompanies the warning. Duh,now I get it!
What I find myself in the middle of, is the largest active field left in Bosnia. Not the only one, as I will find out as well. Roughly 40 miles long and 20 miles wide. It takes up quite a swath of ground, which is now rendered useless for anything. And, that is also why I have been seeing so many abandoned houses and farmesteads. It all makes sense now why the folks in the last few villages were concerned for me…….they were worried that I would dig up thier potatoes early by stepping on a mine. The meandering mountaintop road finally draws to its conclusion, we put closed behind us the largest mine field, we begin our descent in earnest. Its late enough to be well into dusk, I am dogged it has been a long day. Spotting a tiny side road the meanders off behind a hand stacked rock wall, I take refuge in amongst some struggling fruit trees to settle in for the night. I cook with one tent flap open as the rain arrived almost the same time that I did.
What happens over the next 3 days convincesmethere isa hell, and if we are pahing attention, we get to catch glimpses of it here on earth as a warning. This is nought for the faint of heart or weak kneed. So, if you fall into one of those 6 cattlegories then you should head for the kitchen and make quiche or something. Just warning you, have tissue at hand if you stay with me on this…….I went thru plenty of it.
I awoke to brilliant light piercing my tent, the sound of birds thrilled to have clear skies thru which to fly, the noise of sheep eating, a dog walking thru tall grass, and a shepard lighting a cigarette. This was one of the brightest sunny mornings I had seen in quite sometime. Ate my breakfast, packed my camp and was early to the blacktop. Sunshine, its makes somany things look so very different from cloud covered skies. What a treat to see the vibrant colors, unmasked, unchecked. Stopped in Livno, just todouble checkNd buy. Few supplies I was very low on. Doulble checked on borders, and where to cross. All good. Arrive zt base of the Graninca climb about 11am. Long, steady, switchback infested climb of about 7 miles at posted 8 percent. When you top the climb you pass thru Bosnian customes…..he passes me thru after looking at my passport. We wind around for. Few miles then plunge off the Croatian side for almost 10 miles at 9 percent. What a glorious ride down, cant quite see the Adriatic from here. The Croatian fellow checks my passport, tnen says no…..you cannot cross here……this is for Bosnian and or Croates only. YOU HAD BETTER BE JOKING. No, no joke. You must go back up you cannot stay here. I am ticked…..I would have fought the ear biting boxer I was so mad. Back up I go, thinking the worst possible things a grown man can think. This side is a longbrute of a climb on a loaded tourer. I was dangerously low on water…..like about 4 sips was it. As I pass the Bosnian border shack, he simply smiles and waves……..oh, dont you know how many ways I wanted to torture his cat……..as I rode by smiling……..thanking Jesus for a civil tongue and humility at this moment. Down we go, 56.7 miles per hour……I totally thru caution to the wind.
Somewhere along in here, I am stopped trying to figure out how to take a picture of myself planking on a tank……when a truck with Mason driving, pulls over. Observant you are thinking, that I spotted that tattoo of the eye inside a triangle/pyramid on his left shoulder…….but not the case. I. knew by instinct and training that he was a Mason, because the back of his truck was full of bricks. He offered to take the pictures for me. Then a conversation began about my direction of travel, very dangerous, and he made that internationally recognized sign language symbol for BOMB. You know, make the noise, throw both hands high over your head…..that symbol. Yes,another mine field lay in my path. He was so concerened for me that he called his daughter of about 15, so she could explain to me what lay ahead. Small new gravel road, do not step off the road it is not safe. Maybe 15 miles and you will be thru the mine field. By the ten mile mark, I was done and camped in a tiny hay field that had been freshly raked. Slept like a baby.
Got up the next day to verydense fog, unbelievable. I stuck my left hand out and it was immediatly gone…..I feared forever. I sat and thought awhile about what I should do next. Throwing caution, and my right hand to the winds of chance, I sent the right in search of the left. For but a moment I thought I may have acted a little to quickly. Finally they met up, you should have seen that left hand. Talk about happy to be found, he couldn’t stop wringing the right out of pure gratitude. From that point on, we done everything in teams and pairs. Both hands, both arms, then both legs etc…..the last outwas my butt, he usually works alone. Down the road we go, fog lifts slowly like a bad act in Vegas, taking to long to let us see whzt is taking place. Mountain tops poke thier heads out thru cloud and fog for but brief moments. Trees whiz past, actually I whiz past trees, and they attempt to show thier true colors. POOF, like thatand I am flat.the sidewall ripped right out on my beautiful Schwalbe rear tire. Bad news gets real bad, the mistakes of confidence can be fatal. There was nomorespare hanging on my back rack, gone home with Pine. My spare tub, went the same place. Foolish as it sounds, I made those choices myself.
Two options lay infront of me. I could head back to Livno and look for tire and tube. Having already been thru the place I didn’t like that too much. Or, I could start walking and hitch a ride to the next town Grihovo some 15 miles ahead. Started walking, pushing the bike, big rolling country not too bad really. No one would stop. Made it to Grihovo and asked around about a back tire and tube, even offered twice to buy a well used one…..no go. Had a coffee, asked who was headed to Strmice…….no one. Would anyone like to hire out and drive me to the top……no one. Ta heck with it, I will just start walking, and its up,up, up we go. Its marked at 9 percent, and rolls on for about 11 miles to the crest. It was indeed a majestic piece of mountain range with an awesome view, but my knees and hips wefe on fire……..still no one offered a ride, not one. The rain began just after the crest and stayed with me till well after bedtime. Its almost 12 miles down off the Adriatic side, and steeper than the initial side. Hsnds were more tired than the legs, from squeezing the brakes on the way down. Crossed the CroatianBorder, rain dripping off every place on my body. Begzn mywalk down into the valley below. Carried on, walking alo gside a clear blue stream…..and boy howdy did I stink. So, I stripped off right there and bailed into that stream. Colder than blazes, buck naked with nobody around to witness it. I didnt want a bath as bad as I wanted to be picked up for indescent exposure……and a free ride to Knin. It was not to be, God was at work on me. We walked about 10miles and had to call it quits. Too pooped, too wet, too frustrated…..and not yet thankful enough…..I realize now.
Bad meal of what little I had…..after all, I was easily going to be in Croatia by now, at least in my mind. Got a pot of river watdr boiled for tea, made some coucous with lemon and raisins and called it quits for tne day. Up early the next day, packed in more heavy pouring rain. Everything I own is totally soaked now and we only have 10-12 miles toget to Knin Croatia. Walked every step of it, no one would stop no matter what I did. Stopped infront of a local vulcanizer, he sent his son downthe street for a new tire and tube for me. I, in the meantime went nextdoor in a cafe and exchanged what money I had from Bosnia, then came back out to find he had both tire and tube………and the price matched exactley that which I had just exchanged. He literraly handed me the tire and tube, loaded his son and a freind in an old car, after locking all his doors…..he turns to me and says “the rest is yours, fix it yourself”. And so I did. While sitting there wondering what it was that I should learn from all this…….for me, I realize its humility. I could probably use that lesson doubled. Knin, we had spit roasted pig, and a motel room where we began drying things out again. It has raied hard most of the time I have been here.
I was warned, my cycling friend from Belgrade warned me, that crossing Bosnia by “velocipede” is not for the faint of heart. And from what I witnessed all day today and most of yesterday, he is certainly correct in his assesment. “Oh, brutal Bosnia, lay thy hills flat and valleys wide for but a weaker soul may pass you by!”, from a poem by Sadar Vericioni. And the way my hips and knees feel, I am all in on the laying low the hills.
In most parts of the world, mountains seem to have a direction or rythm that makes geological sense. This feels like God accidentally dropped a handful of those “proverbial mountain seeds”. The mountain ranges here, run in every direction you can imagine. No matter which way you head there is a climb facing you, heck, I think even the water runs uphill!! Funny , as I sit here in my tent, in what feels like the middle of “NOWHERE”, I can here the call to prayer at a Mosque somewhere not far away, the loudspeaker sounds as if its right beside me. Bosnia it divided up into many regions, non of which make any sense to me, but they divide Muslim and Orthodox Christian as well as Bosnian Serbs, Bosnian Croates and I guess plain old vanilla wrapper Bosnians. So go figger cause I sure can’t.
Bosnia, as a piece of country goes, lands in what I would call the rugged column. Much more so than Mongolia which I would place in the vast column but not rugged. Something that I am becoming aware of when riding these back roads is that there is most often nothing to be bought in the whole place. So, I now carry not only water but also a full days food……dang it, now my bike is heavier again. I am currently SW of Tuzla on small roads, rode for 3 hours up hill the whole time and felt like I was back in Rauraului all over. The whole country has been having flooding and mudslides, of which I have seen and felt much of it. The back roads are severely washed out, rutted, and many places there huge sections of road missing……oh, and did I forget to mention bridges are gone as well. They sure are.
Oh brutal Bosnia, lets pray you are not my undoing. JW, IS OFFICIALLY SICK AND TIRED OF THE DANGED RAIN. Folks, it has rained hard everynight since I left Belgrade, and I am sick of it. If I wanted to grow gills and moss on my person then become a coffee snob…….I would have moved to Seattle. Sometime during the day, I have to pull things out of the panniers, hang gear along a fence and dry it. If I don’t, we will have to deal with smells and mold again. Generally, I just pick some random spot along the side of the road which has a fence or guardrail that I can borrow as a makeshift clothesline. Hang my gear and sit back letting Mr.Sunshine does his part. On this day I strung my gear out on a bridge railing, and right beside the road was a small store. It took about 3 minutes for a crowd to gather. Anthony, sort of the most curious and spokesman for the growing crowd, suggested he buy me a beer. Of course I declined the beer and took a juice instead, which the gathered men thought was quite funny. Questions were asked, and as best I could I answered. It wasn’t until the teenagers began to show up, that the event got lively. Most of the kids in school take iether English or German as a second language. They were able to ask and then interpret the reply back to the men who were sitting having a beer or six. I finally dug my tablet out to help explain what it is that I do for work. It has been so long, heck, even I found it interesting to see what I do. It was a great hour respite, drying gear. But it was also the 3rd rain stop of the day. Twice I holed up to avoid a deluge of rain that managed to cross paths with my own chosen route.
I have learned a new trick with my cell phone, showed to me by my Serbian cycling friend, Nenad. And it involves taking panorama images on the cell phone. Now that i know how to do it, youguys will most likely get sick of pan shots as a result. So, I will post a few, then we will see how they display on computers and the blog and pass judgement after that to see if we should post more or not. But, if thats to work then I will need enough of you to give feedback to make it worthwhile so that decisions can be made.
omg, its 7.30pm and I am stark raving mad and lonesome and even bored. Its pouring rain so I cant even sit outside and swat bugs. If I work on the tablet getting pictures edited to size etc, it eats the battery very quickly. I most often leave photo work to those times that I have a hotel. I no longer have my solar panel unit and it wouldn’t do much good here with so little sunshine anyways. Today, I pulled into 3 little roadside cafes in order to use WIFI, I keep getting the notice that due to poor signal I should try again. Yet when i search for the Cafe’s router it shows usually 4-5 arcs/bars of signal strength……QUESTION FOR SOME TECH-TYPE, is this because of a setting issue on my Samsung Galaxy 2 , 10.2 size tablet, or is there another way around the constant WIFI issues I am having. Second question, and it also feminds me to openly apologise to the WORDPRESS folks. I had been blaming them for some photo issues I am having, but, I have come to find out it is a tablet issue. Somehow internally, the tablet strips the usual photo-orientation information away when you try to send or share an image…….hence, everything gets displayed as horizontal….no matter what. To my young friend Steven Butler……yes you Steven, these questions are for a guy like you if you can help. Send a note to firstname.lastname@example.org……it would be appreciated much.
Pretty sure this is day 12 of rain, it is pouring rain right now and I am camped in a cemetary tonight………I hate chosing campsites late and without my glasses on. Dang near fell in an open hole, ya think God is trying to tell me something? Even though I got a good start this am, I did not burn up the back roads. Too many climbs, the ol knees, hips ade really sore tonight. But I was also taken aback by how sore the leg muscles were, I had no horsepower today, I felt like a pooped scooter all day. Apart from the road being a little tricky with the silt and mud that have washed across it, I pulled over to attempt uploading to the blog as well as found shelter from 4 very heavy downpours…….all great, but got nailed by the fifth. To say we are good and wet is an understatement. As I lay here in my drenched tent, rain got me during setup before I got the fly thrown over, I am all tucked in and have already eaten poorly yet again. Got a seriuos rash going on under my chin and just above my belly button…….I think its from the edges of my life jacket, but I will keep an eye on it.
Good night and may God bless you all, as he has myself. Thanyou to Ted and Tracy, withojt you this would never have happened. Thanks Mom, for doing all that you do, Thanks big Rob, for having me reading thru James……now, what comes next. Pastor Mike, thanks for having the Saints praying for me continually. Thanks Auntie Fawn and Pete, I know your palms are worn thin worrying and praying. And to the many of you who follow along silently, we are thankful to have you along for the journey……..and lastly, I want to thank the Coalinga Curling Club for thier support……sorry I mixsed that labor day weekend outdoor Bonspiel.
At this moment, I am basking in sunshine. I have very smelly clothes hanging on a close by fence to air out. Heck, I even took a full on 1.5 litre shower this day to celebrate. My tent is dry, my bag of sleep is getting close to dry, my bike reads 87 degrees at 5.25pm. My camp, is high on a ridge over Palanka, Serbia. My son convinced me to take in Belgrade while I was here, since JW was going to skip it. I told him it was nothing but bullet holes and landmines in an area of constant historical conflict. And his reply, was, thats exactly why you need to take it in Dad. So by tomorrow evening I should be in Belgrade for supper, I’am praying about entering big cities without Pine.
The last blog page had us further south in Sajecar, and I left there on a very tiny back road in pouring rain. The road was a very difficult one for me as the surface was full of cracks and gaps, so that forward speed was very slow. I have no idea how difficult it would have been for a regular mortal, scares me to think. Old roads get very steep grades and this one had plenty of 15 plus grades on it. Big, rolling hill country with narrow verdant valleys snaking thier way between hills and ridges. The villages were few and far between. Not one village had sort of product for sale, so no supplies gathered on this first leg. Supper that night was spartan and simple. 1 cup of very sweet tea, and several cookies along with a handfull of raisins. Please be sure to download this days recipe at the end of the post.
It’s about 2pm, and I am climbing het another hillon my way, I feel like I am threading a needle so too speak as I make my way one tiny backroad after another. There is a bar slash cafe type store and out front it has a cooler full of ice teas. Being that the bike is reading about 90, I think a tea would be pretty good right now…….HELLO…….and I turn to see a fellow all clad in pure racing attire for a cyclist. Hello, I said back and the conversation thus began. He, being Nenad, a Serbian businessman who speaks very good english. We visit for half an hour and I begin to excuse myself so I can get into Belgrade before dark. Well, that will not take long if you allow me to lead you he suggests. And so the journey begins, he on his sub 12 pound total carbon fiber racing frame. And I, on what he affectionaly called a tractor, even suggested I paint it green and put a John Deere label on the head tube. There are a lot of hills and grades on the way and he would have to wait at the top of almost all of them for me, but wait he did. Right into the city we went, me following him, as he scurried between cars and rode out into intersections at red lights…… things I would never do, but I had to keep up. By 4pm, I was in front of the huge apartment that I had rented rather than get a hotel room which was more than double the price. $34.00 us dollars a night, it was great and very clean right on the primary oldtown street. Can’t get better than that.
Go, have a shower because you need one, said my guide. How about 8pm, I will come back and pick you up for supper, he asks. Fine with me, but only if you PAY…….oops, sorry, only if you allow me to buy. Sorry he says, but in Serbia, when you are a guest, we treat you to the very best of everything and thats the only way it can be. So, I asked him if he preffered to dine alone or with company……..too which he emphatically stated be would prefer to dine with company. Good I said, that is my preferance as well. So, if you want to dine with me……I BUY……. and you get to pick the restaurant. Which will it be, with me, or by yourself? Okay, fine, we will do it as you wish. But tomorrow you have too allow me to give you a cycling tour of Belgrade.
We dined at a very small Serbian restaurant, known for its excellent Serbian pasta dishes. We had a huge salad, fresh made bread cooked in a stone oven on ashes……wow, I am bread lover and this was good. The main course was lamb and proscuitto baked with home made pasta bows and a heavy mushroom sauce, then topped with something called kymika (think a sharpish cheese ). I love Serbia, great people,beautiful scenery, interesting city and culture……but what I love the most……these folks are carvivores. By golly, when they serve you meat, they serve you meat, no messing around. Didn’t have to hunt around for the meat in this great meal. The next day, we took off on the bikes and began a 30 mile trip seeing the sights of Belgrade. Yes, to answer that lingering question that maybe all of us from the west have……there are still bullet holes, and torn apart buildings from both rocket and mortar fire. For the most part, these fragments of war evidence have been left as a reminder to all, that this is not what they want to return too. I found the city, Belgrade to be vibrant and intersting, even more so than Bucharest for instance. Would I come back to Belgrade and greater Serbia, in a heartbeat and bring my sweetie with me without any worry or concern. And not to beat the drum too loud, but the country of Serbia has a very interesting and enticing business inducements in place that should make any Corporation give them a seriuos second look. That afternoon was spent dining on the best lamb I have ever had, and yes, even you Pine would have enjoyed this lamb. Its cooked whole on a spit, slow cooked and basted for 8 hours. At this restaurant you buy it by half kilo per person or more……none of this 6oz servings of red meat crap. Here if you can’t eat 1/2 kilo, then go put your man pants on and come back. We had a full kilo order and non left over. All good things do come to an end, and my host had to leave. We said our goodbyes and went our own ways. But, I know we will talk and see each other again somewhere, sometime.
Up the next morning and headed out of Belgrade. Not one problem getting out with the gps folks. I took the smallest back roads that I could find. Put in an admirable day for an old fart. About 115 miles at 85 degrees, pretty nice riding weather. Mostly flat or gentle rolling coutryside. I was wanting to gain some distance and time, because everyone warns me that I will be punished when I get to Bosnia. Bosnia is surely living up to that expectation in spades.
Crossed the border into Bosnia, and interestingly, you cant get gps service here if you are from USA. So, I spent about 3 hours hunting for a road map,,,,,hard to do if you dont speak the language. Back a few months, we met a great couple from Amsterdam ( we met in Bayan Olgii at the Blue Wolf yurts, and you guys drove the white Land Rover ) who really swore by “open street maps”, they felt it was the best thing going. I on the other hand have a tough time with it…….so my Amsterdam friends if you read this……… contact me by email email@example.com and maybe you can aid me in better understanding and using the program. Now I am navigating thru Bosnia by paper map and cyrillic……pray for me as I will be lucky to make it out the other side. I am cycling thru, over and around all that God created during that amazing first week of life on this earth. And in case you are wondering, NO, he didn’t put an outpost on Mars just incase this one didn’t work out, contrary to what the whiz kids on Discovery channel have come up with as an excuse for life here. As gorgeous as the mountains, roads, lakes, rivers and streams have been, they pale in comparison to that which was made good in God’s eyes on the 6th day of creation, thanks big Rob for making me aware of that very important fact. I may have been a “pantheist” forever had you not pointed that out. Its up to you to reread the creation story if you want to know what he made the 6th day. Hey, uncle Bill, start with looking in the first book, Genesis.
The funk, it happens, and when it does you just need to ride thru it. I got it bad about 5 days after leaving Montana, Bulgaria. I was so lonesome for someone to talk to, too complain to, that I dang near hugged and Athiest. Pretty sure it was a result of the terrible weather. This is evening of day six of rain. And I am not talking about a nice little fairy tale type spinkle. This is heavy fat black cloud and thunder rolling around all day, dense fog at times. This is pound the ground hard for hours then let off to just a steady back washing rain. So, for almost a godly week, I have been in a deep blue funk. But I got Jesus in my heart and a smile on my face today. JW has been able to ride around God’s creation, seeing some of the prettiest country that God has made.
Got out of Montana without any problems or hitches, my nav skills using ups are improving immensely. Not that you would,nt be welcome back Pine should you decide to rejoin the journey. I am having a little trouble with the typing and tablet as I sit here in my tent this evening. My fingers are so cold the tablet is not responding for one thing. The other is, that I have wet clothes hanging across my tent, like theres is room for that or heat enuff. Butt hey they are hanging and dripping and I am stuffed into a corner to avoid even more water. Everything I own is soaked thru, or will be there tomorrow. Lets get back to leaving Montana by tiny backroads. This type of road avoids traffic, but you give up road surface and you get old road construction which means some nasty teenage numbered ascents. Matter of fact, on this route you get plenty.
Within this are of Bulgaria, cant speak for the rest, many little villages have nothing at all in them in the way of fuel or food type stuff. So in someways, it is more remote than say Mongolia where every yurt had items for sale. I noticed this within the first 2 or 3 villages, so when I seen what we call a “magazin” or store of sorts. I bought what I thought was needed for that day and next morning. Water was plentiful as it was running out from every seam on my riding gear, running thru my bag of sleep, and running across the road in waves. So if extra water was needed, I would pick it up near the end of the day. No real sense carrying that extra wieght up any more 15% grades than is needed. This is our 6th wet camp night, although tonite I changed my tactics since God brought an abandoned building my way for tonights camp. So, I am under what remains of the roof on this building. A slight reprieve.
My route took me north basically parrallel to the Serbian border. Which is also a range of mountains. Not sure what happened, or what circumstances changed thru this “Poina Mares” region of Bulgaria, but there are a bunch of abandoned homes, and derelect buildings thru this region. Plenty of huge buildings and the proverbial Soviet smokestacks in place as an edifice to that era of Bulgarian history. These bigger buildings looked as though they may once have been a part of a collective farm operation, but nobody around to tell me so I just assume. I did see one sign read “Leper Colony”. But I knew that was bogus, cause all the Lepers are in central and southern Afrika. Gosh, all you gott,a do is read the web sometime to get caught up on that sort of stuff. Rode thru whole villages that were all but abandoned. Always one or two hardy souls that just hang in there so that it can never be called a ghost town by rights.
No bathing this week, to tired, too wet already and the water was too darned cold to pour it over my head. The old tent is a ripe smellin motor scooter right now. As they say, its at a place only a man can take it, and its at a place that it could use a womens touch. Pretty much the whole west side of Bulgaria, is huge rolling ridges with plenty of trees, but also alot of small subsistance farmers out there as well. Didnt really see much in the way of livestock, except for sheep and goats, and those comprised very small herds. Without any doubt, this is an impoverished region in Bulgaria. As I was riding thru a village, it was pouring hard so spotting a place to have coffee I stopped and had a double. It was just 9am, and about 8 locals were hanging out already. Because of the rain I assume. While I had coffee, they were all onto the beer and Raki already. It was uphill, downhill, across a creek and repeat…..Pines favorite sort of ride. Every once in awhile the road would give way to its graveled ancestry, just to make that 4 switchbach hill that much more fun.
Morning 4 I think it was, the fog was so thick I simply rode by feel. Not sure what the villages or countryside looked like…….couldn,t see it. Finally hit that intersection that I had been lookin for, as I knew then we would be within a few miles of Serbia. Turned west, rode up the gentle tree lined slope to the border crossing. The Bulgarian guard was real chatty, telling me that Mexico, US, Canada all the same…..one big country thats why we are all so rich. You,d be happy with me sweat-hart…….for once JW didn,t argue. Now the Serbian guard was a different story. He was a little ticked when I handed him my Pass-Port and he said something to me in an unfriendly tone. I shrugged and said ENGLISH? He actually called a guy over to translate. his complaint was, that I had allowed my passport to get to wet. It was like a dishrag. I assured him that it was humidity not rain, and I had’nt licked it for over an hour. I carry the passport in small case with other needed things, like credit card, monkey chow, extra eyes for Mr.Potatoe Head etc.. Anyways, we roll out with about 15km to go to Sujecar, Serbia.
Pulled in about 5pm. By chance I stopped at restaurant Meda…….just riding by and figured i could warm up, dry out and eat all at one place. Without any doubt, the best meal I have had since we left our fine friends in China. Spent too long I know, still had to find some place to camp in the dark. We done alright using a small road that pulled off into a farm field just west of town. Good night all, and may God bless you richly as he has myself and my family.
At this moment, Iam probably the most dejected and forlorn fellow in all Bucharest. It was so long Pine on Friday morning 6am, he flew out for USA via Warsaw,Chicago and Los Angeles. Pine, was my best friend,my best advisor, my business sounding board, my executive director, my language app, my IT go to guy, and my son, all wrapped into one fuzz topped 6 foot 1 package. Pine, I cant say it loud enough, thankyou so much for riding with me, you made the miserable sections fun, and the fun sections evenmore so -THANKS SO MUCH!. More than that I got to see Pine the man come out, as a father we always see our sons as kids still. But a trip like this allows all aspects of a persons character to be revealed, your a great kid and I love you for all you provided on this journey. We knew this day was coming, and I dont think it caught anyone off guard and yet it wasnt a welcomed day iether. With Pine on the plane I set off to run some errands before I said adios Bucharest. All by myself, headed south by south west…….at least I think thats the direction I want to go……darn this phone, maybe I didn’t shake it enough. I should tell you that we enjoyed the city, went down to the Old Quarters and really enjoyed the narrow cobbled streets. Had one of the best dinners we have had so far at a Romanian Restaurant we found…….right next to Gelato shop…….ain’t that just convienient.
My Pastor and friend, Mike, will be dissappointed in me as I was not able to make my Christian Outreach episode come to life while in Bucharest. Since I felt that Christ had spared my life just a week or so ago, I felt this was a sign of what Christ was wanting me to do since that is what I had been Praying about. But, my other Pastor friend whom we met out in front of Voronets, had been sent an email telling him we were on the nunt for an Christian outreach ministtry…..but he was kayaking in Sweden so no answer there. And we have a lady friend in Bucharest who runs an NGO Christian Ministry and both of her numbers resulted in no answers. So, I take away this, that God did not want me in Bucharest he wants me someplace else. Maybe thats over in Serbia, Croatia or Bosnia as they come next. I am willing to accept names and contacts in these countries if anyone knows people involved in this sort of Christian mission field.
I did not roll away from the hotel Ibis till noon. Not because I got up so late. Rather it was my waiting on a no show UPS package (NO Christmas cookies for my UPS man Tim back in USA, since these UPS guys are Ll union and attached at the hip I think the pain should be spread universally. When one falls short they all should feel the pain) i was waiting on a new unit from Goal Zero. A nomad 50 battery pack and the larger panels so that I could have tablet power. Now we have to stop at bars and plug in foran hour or more thru the day to power back up. I have measured carefully and it takes 17.75 bottles of beer to pass one Romanian Hour. I think there are far fewer bottles of beer per hour in USA because you have to get up to pee six times in an hour. Put in 85kilometers today and are out in Alexadria region of southern Romania. Gently rolling farm ground. Nothing special but nothing terrible iether. Just watch the traffic and pedal. For supper tonight I had sausages and a new concoction……hot mustard and blue berry jam. Strait out of Cow Camp Cooking, page 98. It follows right on behind the recipe for rubbing par boiled potatoes on a salt lick to add that OutBackesque flavor. That page is one of my familys favorites.
What tomorrow brings I do not know. But after it happens I will surely tell you if it was any fun at all. Tomorrow has arrived and I am sitting in a pine forest in Bulgaria about 39 miles over the river from Romania. I crossed the mighty Danube river on a ferry, along with 2 other cyclists. Thay are both Doctors of Enderology (thing bung holes and such ). Nice folks doing 2 weeks along the Danube. As I sit here typing and swatting mozzies, its 8.30pm, and 9 huge Klass combines just rolled past in a convoy, surprised to see that sort of equipment here. Had a great supper, finally got the nerve to fry a pork chop, turned out just fine, followed by a cup of Earl Grey and we are done.
I have managed to stay on roads mar,ed in white, which are little wee rascals. This is wo derful for traffic concerns, but leaves much to be desired when it comes to dogs, got chased 3 times by dogs that meant business. No bites, just frayed nerves. The country here is big rolling ridges, reminds me of parts of Moldova in some ways, except these climbs are just longer with a few more curves to make it all more interesting. The villages that one passes thru are not as well off income wise as most of Romania, its pretty evident looking at houses and vehichles. One odd thing I noticed, in Romania I hardly recall seeing a Russian make vehichle such as Kamaz or Lada. But here in Bulgaria, oh my, but they come out of the wood work from cars to tractors, everything.
So far, I have been up a little earlier than when P&I were together, so my pedaling day has about 1 more hour in it. With that extra time, I have covered a few more miles and taken a few more photos. I try to stop every 2 hours, get off and walk around…..good advice from my buddy Vladimir. At noon, I try to sit and eat at some local joint and have a conversation if at all possible. Last night, sometimearound midnight, a clap of thunder and a bolt of lightning woke me strait up in my bag of sleep. Within about 15 minutes therain was pelting the tent like it wanted to shred the outer layer on me. I had it all staked out at the corners, and guy ropes in place……so, nothing to do but lay down and go back to sleep. Got up about 6.45 and the rain was falling steady and hard. Everything was in pretty good shape really, it all got alot wetter as I tore camp down. Went as fast as I could,but just not fast enough. Skipped breakfast and hit the road. About 9am I passed thru a village and spotted a place to have coffee. Sat down to drink my coffee, 6 other folks all ready sitting around outside on bottle boxes etc…..so I just joined them. Great big fella sitting across from me says “WHERE”, so I take it he is asking where am I from…..I proceed to tell him America. He opens his arms like giving a hug………and says “I LOFF OBAMA”. Well crap, my day was done. I got up, shook the political dust off my sa dals and moved on right then…….leftmy coffee sitting. had my rain suit on,and was as wet inside as outside,and finally the chill of riding down a big hill, and then pedaling up and getting hot all over again got to me. About 200 yards off tomy right at the top of thenexthill, was anaba doned Soviet type farm building. It was in bad shape,with trees and shrubs growing on the roof. I rode around to the backside to see if I could find a dry spot and fire up my stove to make my own darned coffee. Sure enough, there were just a few feet of floor space that was dry,enough for me……and not enough for O’Blamer.
Spent maybe an hour getting a couple cups of tea down, and got warmed up. The rain never let up,must kept pounding the ground. 14 hours of it, and at one point my bike showed 48 degrees. Cold enough, I could not get my phone to respond to my touch…….same thing happens to my wife once in a while? Backto the phone,o ce I got myhands dry and warm everything phone wise worked just great. I made it to MONTANA, Bulgaria byabout 3.45pm so decided I would get a room and dry things out as well as charge things back up. My new Canon SX50 camera uses the battery alot quicker than my old camera and it needs a wall outlet to power it. My tablet was also dead from writing and reading at night. Pine, I repacked my bike and like it much better. Front panniers have all clothing and electronics in them. Back panniers now have tools, tent and bag of sleep in them. Which leaves me with the rackbag justfor the stove and all food. I went out on a limb, bought 4 jars (plastic jars) of peanut butter when I found it. I emptied 3 out, washed them good, and replaced contents with jam, coffee etc…….threw way everything glass…….not sure why it took so long to figger that out, and the rack bag is much lighter. Still miss you though,andhope Inever get over it. SO THAT YOU THE READER ANDFOLLLWER OF THIS BLOG UNDERSTAND, I have cussed the WordPress app to no end, becauze it is buggy inzide of a mobile Android platform……enuff to cause severe alchoholism…..promise ya! Today, we will beginmaking changes. My son Pine, has voluntered to take over posting the blogs from home on his laptop. I will send him the text and images via Evernote, and he will postit as he gets the time. The postings could be sporatic and out of sequence…….as I think there may be a women involved…….just sayin.