Crossing the mountains which separate Croatia and Bosnia had been a slog and it was late as I crossed the border. Entering the broad plain I'm not sure what I was expecting; but the pretty fields, well built houses, light hum of activity, roads filled with Mercedes and Croatian flags everywhere and wasn't it.
A last look back at the western range.
During my brief cycle with the Italians they had mentioned Kreviche Falls and after finding a throw away one liner about it in a guide book I decided it was as good a place as any to head for en route to Mostar. Its location however appeared to be something of a state secret with many divergent accounts. All agreed that it lied somewhere near Ljubuski but where from there was a subject of debate, conjecture and general vagueness.
I was surprised to find no signs for the waterfall but after some direction charades I soon found myself on a road not marked on my map turning onto an even smaller track as dusk drew. I was beginning to look for roadside camp spots when I turned a corner and was suddenly looking down into a canyon.
Yes, that will do nicely.
Anywhere else in Europe and I'm convinced this would be an unmissable attraction but hidden away in B&H the Niagara falls of the continent seems to have gone unremarked.
Or Perhaps its just that the Slavs would rather keep this gems under-wraps? Certainly its no secret here and as I swung down the steep road towards the falls locals were walking up with towels and I began to make out a couple of small wooden bars and a little campsite. Things were getting better and better.
I pushed the bike across a narrow wooden bridge towards a small shack and asked to camp. The friendly guy, Jacob, who spoke excellent English informed me it was five euro and asked "are here for the festival?
We walked together into a lovely campsite with views off the falls. It would have been delightful if it weren't for the intimidating groups of skin headed Bosnian youths sat around staring at me and my bike as incessant house music blared out.
This didn't smell right and so, after a minute or two standing around trying to decide if I was being paranoid, I decided to leave. After inquiring if there was somewhere quieter Jacob said I could try up a steep winding track. I found a field atop the falls with privacy and reduced decibel level before I returned to the plunge pool and joining Jacob and the festival security for an evening drinking beers and talking about football and religion. As I fell asleep to the sound of water cascading, crickets chirping and bass lines thumping in the distance I decided I was going to like Bosnia just fine.
The next morning I went for a swim in the waterfall, cool water lapping, dragonflies zooming and butterflies fluttering. It felt like I had fallen into a Disney movie.
Soon after my morning dip the crowds began to arrive. All part of what Jacob had explained to me was Medugorje, a youth religious festival celebrating an apparition of the Virgin Mary before a group of six young Bosnian Croats who had gone of into the hills near the town of Medugorje in the early 80's.
It all sounded like a magic mushroom trip that had been taken way too seriously to me but apparently 35,000 Bosnian-Croat kids would be making a pilgrimage of sorts over the next few days and a good proportion liked to tie a trip to the waterfall into their itinerary.
Intrigued I decided to head to Mostar via Medugorje to check it out. But first I had to extricate myself: Having crossed the river last night and then climbed halfway up that canyonside I decided to continue up and then loop around over a bridge a little way south.
Google maps may have been a little optimistic about that Bridge.
Make that very optimistic
Make that very optimistic
The whole day was filled with similar navigational challenges. Despite going through Medugorje I managed to miss the apparition sight and instead just got to sample the increased traffic before coming to yet another canyon forcing me to retrace my steps taking me back almost to where I had set off from.
Even my usually reliable follow the river plan had been foiled.
But the scenery was magnificent and there were plenty of spots to get out of the heat and take stock of my navigational failings in much welcomed shade.
Ahhh the humble bench, oh how I love thee.
There was also no shortage of intriguing castles and ruins which due to my circuitous route I got to inspect from all angles.
From one side of the river
Less blurry from the other bank after a 15k detour.
Less blurry from the other bank after a 15k detour.
Arriving on the outskirts of Mostar I decided to save the city for the next morning and instead stopped at the implausibly named Kamp Mali-Wimbledon. The scrubby tennis court explained the Wimbledon part but I never did get to the bottom of the Mali part. A dinner of river trout at a local restaurant and a pretty sunset saw me go to bed tired but content.
Before heading to Mostar I headed a little way up into the hills to investigate the source of the river Buna which a number of helpful tourist signs had suggested might be interesting to see. (in marked contrast to signless Kreviche.) The sheer cliff face rising hundreds of meters and the clear cool water issuing from the belly of the mountain was impressive. As was the tasteful way the sight had been developed with pretty riverside cafes and bridges which complimented rather than overwhelmed the setting.
Mostar, the aim of my Bosnian detour, soon hoved into view. Subjected to a year and a half long siege during the independence wars of the early 90's, Mostar suffered considerable damage and the scars remain with numerous shelled out buildings and bullet scared facades.
But Mostar is not defined by the few scars which remain. When I arrived it was abuzz with tourists and the shockingly turquoise river which forms a canyon through the center of the city provides a natural backbone around which the old stone Starigrad, with its twisting shaded streets, clusters. The heart of Mostar (to continue the body metaphor) is its incredibly proportioned bridge. The arch shoots towards the sky from the cliffs at an arresting angle and when originally built during Sueilman the Magnificent reign in 1558 and was the technological marvel of its age.
It is tough to get an angle which does the arches lofty angle justice
It's destruction by Croatian forces during war stands as a depressing counterpoint to the humanity I had heard about in Orvieto during WW2; but the sensitive rebuilding of the bridge has now healed Mostar's spectacular heart providing a most excellent backdrop for my extended lunch waiting out the heat of the day and relaxedly watching tour group after tour group tramp across the bridge.
With midday past but the sun still scorching I set off SW heading for Dubrovnik.
An arduous ride was enlivened by the beautiful Bosnian countryside and a charmingly understated way of presenting important historical sites with a minimum of fanfare or fuss.
A small sign some 15k earlier had mentioned a Necropolis and here it was 20 metres from the side of the road - one small information board in five languages including English told me about its medieval celtic roots and not a sole was there to interrupt me. A blissful way to interact with history far from the maddening crowds; no turn-styles, lines, ugly barriers and extortionate ticket prices.
Passing down through Stolac, a well proportioned town which sits astride the confluence of three rivers beneath an imposing Ottoman fortress I rode south east and encountered an uncompromising ascent which soon had me struggling.
Now pushing the bike uphill a kindly Bosnian guy who had apparently seen me laying by the side of the road outside Mostar with bandanna over my head trying to escape the heat offered me a lift. I politely declined sure that I was up to the task ahead and so instead he offered me a coffee should at his bar "cafe Rio" if I make it as far as Ljubinje.
This sign momentarily had me thinking I had taken a wrong turn and ended up in Serbia some 400k distant
By 20:00 I had crested the hills and was freewheeling down into the small city and in the dusk I sought Cafe Rio. I found a boarded out bar with a notice in what I presumed was Serbo-Croat which may have said it had moved but was beyond my hopeless language skills. The rest of the city was gearing up for a big Sunday night with the dozens of bars down the main drag doing a brisk business. I chatted briefly with a young couple who spoke excellent English and explained that Sunday was a big night in Ljubinje which was itself a big party town for the surrounding region.
Ljubinje's odd fairy tale church the next morning
They suggested a few places i might pitch my tent but warned that it might be noisy. I decided I would feel more comfortable wild camping in the hills and so set of back the way I had come using the last of the light to find a little spot not far from a friendly looking but isolated restaurant where I would later stop for an evening beer.
They can't all be beauties
Found this the next morning not far from my camp
Awaking at dawn after a restless nights sleep I had an excellent days cycling in the morning cool and have covered some 60 kilometers before 10:00 swooping out of the hills into the low lying plain which leads into the relaxed city of Trebinje. I hadn't planned to visit but deciding to stop there for lunch I was immediately delighted with my decision. A cobbled central square shaded by chestnut trees full with people but never feeling crowded was the perfect place for a Siesta, nodding gently in a cafe chair.
A picture which fails on every level to capture Trebinje's subtle charms
looking back at Trebinje
With a sleepy goodbye it was also time to say farewell to B&H which had been full of beautiful surprises. My travels had been restricted to the western Herzegovina region where the Croat minority is most prevalent so my view of the country was clearly partial and no conclusion can be made without a visit to the pre-eminent Sarajevo but what I saw on my short visit I liked and what I had expected was confounded at every turn.
Like expecting the main road from Trebinje to Dubrovnik to be for motorists (and cyclists) rather than cattle.