We are adventuring south, and battling the backroads of the Balkans, where bumps are plentiful and wifi is almost nonexistant. Have we been having fun, without any doubt. Am I a happy man to be able to share some time with my wife, Colleen…..indeed Iam. I would prefer to have my entire family along, and maybe the good company of say Darren to round out the conversations and help fill the car properly. But, such is not the case this time around.
Where have we been you ask, well, ae traveled the coast of Croatia south as far as Split. From there we turned inland so that we could take in Krka’s Natkonal Park. We then headed still further south, all by the smallest most obscure backroads of the type that you would cycle on. These are time consuming roads to drive, average daily is maybe 40km per hour. We entered into Montenegro so we could aim our ashphalt missle at Mostar and take in the famous bridge. What you say, a famous bridge. Why yes, built in 1475 for Suliman the Magnificent. From there we headed east to Blagaj, where we took in a Dervish House which is a Muslim Holy Prayer house. The dervish house sits right beside a 1000 foot rock cliff, actually built partially into the limestone rock face. At the base there is a gaping black hole, maybe 50 feet diameter out from which spills the coldest, clearest water that you can imagine. Millions of gallons a day spue forth, to turn further east, and join yet another river.
From Mostar we head up, which is officially a direction over in this region and it is used very frequently. I mentioned that Croatia should be marketing ROCKS, and I think that Herzghovina spent alot of money before the war investing in the CROATIAN ROCK market, they have alot. Our road took us up, very long grades where you wind your way around for mile upon mile of sparcely vegetated terrain and there are limestone rocks out the “wazoo”. For those who hail from the east coast or “fouren”shores, a wazoo is a tiny orifice that god gave cowboys but nobody else…..so, if ya dont wear a hat, dont even botber lookin to see if you have one. The side of the mountain range that faces the adriatic coast is dryer than a pop-corn fart. Very little but sparce grass and short brush grow here. Once you pass over the crest or divide, then you hit a rainfall rich piece of country where trees (that they log) are abundant. Along with better grass and more livestock.
Within only a short distance you pass out of Herzeghovina and back into Bosnia, which wraps around the latter as if hugging it. As does Croatia to the greater Bosnia. Croatia wraps almost 3/4 the way around Bosnia. So, after the war, these are just the hugginest countries you have ever seen. And after another short drive and some very steep grades full of switchbacks, we find ourselves entering Montenegro. Montenegro is for sure on my bucket list to see again, and a little more in depth. It is stunningly beautiful, rich in remote natural landscapes. I have told both my kids to throw out the old worn out honeymoon favorites like Hawaii or Carlin Nevada. Instead be bold, and take in Croatia and Montenegro. We really wanted to get into Albania this trip as I have been told several times it is very beautiful. Sadly, they turned us back at the border. They told us our rental car is to ugly to steal,……aparantly car theft is the number one GDP product. Following that are prostitution and drugs, they do make some honey, olives and push-brooms.
Montenegro, we drove plenty. All on the most obscure back roads we could find. WOW, WOW, WOW, we done the Komarnice canyon as well as the Tara river gorge, and the National Park. This is a phenominal piece of Gods awesome hand at work. This is not the result of some accidental collision of gas balls 400 years ago. Pretty sure the Angels were standing akimbo, sort of half teasing God (you know how youngsters can be), asking him if he has ever made a gorge or a mountain, while another asked about making blue water rather than muddy brown water. Finally God grew tired of the Angels good natured ribbing and stuck his hand into the creation quagmire, that mirey primordial ooze, stirred it violently lifting his hand out forming both peaks and valleys, blew his soft breath over it bringing forth clear cold blue water, winked once at the nearest angel standing in disbelief as they watched trees and grass carpet his creation. It has remained that way up until the time of man’s enlightenment and Charles Darwin…….and so shall it remain till the end. Darwin is but a blip on Gods radar screen, an anomoly of no significance over the long haul. If by chance you are a hiker, mountain biker, kayaker or just plain fresh air breathing nature lover, the Montenegro would be your spot.
Over the mountain ridges we roll, where rocky gorges line our path, the stirrings and ruminations of an approaching fall have begun to make themselves visible. With golds and crimsons, along with purples and the rust brown ferns adding color to the seasons palette. Rocky white cliffs once besieged by the verdant green of summer grass and leaves, not are mantled in those colors that bedeck all falls in alpine regions of the world. Summer meadows stand golden with the last of the grass waving at the passing season, leaves of festive coloration now blow and gather in collective wreaths at tree lines and ditches. The men with scythes have been busy from valley fold on up to very near the mountains peak, as loose hay is staked high and plentiful in the tradtional beehive forms. Sheep dot the golden landscape, thier white wool Is thickening for yet another winter which will follow on the heels of a beautiful autumn. The quaintest little red roofed houses, repleat with tiny chicken coops and sheep folds, barns that lay under the house which house the cows and pigs, lay anchored to the rocky soil by faith and hardwork knowing they will see another winters gale pass, and another season of promising blossoms……just as has happened in this rugged country for several hundred years.
As we top a ridge, trees are thick and plentiful, the mountain sides so steep that each man brings along a small piece of flat ground just to relax and stand on. So steep are the sides that as you pass thru this country it seems even the trees lean back away from the edge as if they too sense the steepness of the grade that they find anchorage on. Mom and I are blazing along at nearly 20km an hour. Hey look at that……..7 guys sit under trees………….and 4 yoked pair of oxen stand idly by, while everyone takes a break. This is one of my bucket list items, to see men work oxen and do the heavy work that they had been known for. We stop and visit, take a few pictures and have simple conversation for awhile. Then work has to get started once again……so, we ask if we can join them and watch. To thier great amazement and considerable laughter, they agree and away we go some half mile deep into the bush (growing up in Canada it was always called the “bush”, and never forest, that was a term used by city kids) the slopes are steep, the ground is festooned with moss covered limestone rocks, ferns grow in tiny private forests where ever sunshine pentrates the tree canopy and warms the ground. Men talk and bellow to thier horned charges. Chain links clink out that logging song melody to the swing and sway of the heavy yoke bar that captures each steers neck. A small hand whip is whirled around the animals heads to encourage, to show direction changes and otherwise annoy flys. The talk seems loud, as steers must be inherently hard of hearing, except for the black Angus I think. Have you ever noticed how they always show up first to the supper table!. A heavy hammer adorns each yoke, and with it the handler then drives a pinch link into the bottom or first hooked log. The handler can sidepass his steers, he can back them, not real great on the piaffes but basically put his steers anywhere he wants so that all logs can be hooked up. Each pair of “OXEN” are capable of pulling 3 or 4, full length hardwood logs at one time. The forest floor looks like nobody had even been there after they are done, no tire tracks, no ruts, it was really pretty amazing too watch. We are blessed everyday in so many ways, and for me this little piece of time travel was indeed special. We hope your day was the same or better. Good night and may God Bless.