On our final morning in Mostar we awoke early to begin our drive towards Konjic, just south of Sarajevo.
We had initially intended to visit Tito’s Bunker as part of a tour, but misjudging the duration of the drive along the Neretva River (perhaps most famous for the destroyed railway bridge, a movie prop representing the bridge blown up by Partisan forced during World War 2 to stop the Nazi’s advancing) and the standards of the main roads meant we were too late. After having a coffee on the river banks overlooking Konjic’s beautiful bridge, we decided to take the drive up to Lukomir’s ethnovillage ourselves rather than wait for the next bunker tour.
The drive up to Lukomir was difficult to say the least, and the fact we got an SUV that was a good height from the ground was also vital. Had we got a normal car, it simply wouldn’t have been possible and we’d probably still be stuck there now! The road began as a steep, single carriage mountain climb – well surfaced, but narrow with extremely sudden and large drops off the sides. At the time, it was a beautiful view but alarming, and then it descended into chaos. The road was a good 30 kilometres of large stones, holes and generally being thrown around. I cannot stress enough that if you want to go – go with a tour! There are plenty organised from Lukomir and Sarajevo, possible even from Mostar and Dubrovnik. The drive is beautiful but painful, and there were times it would honestly have been quicker to walk. On the whole, Bosnia’s roads go from ‘better than the A1’ to ‘freshly plowed field’ in terms of quality and the further east you go, generally, the worse the roads are.
Lukomir itself is beautiful and incredibly peaceful. We had a local lunch of salted doughnuts (a sort of puff-pastry-bread) and fresh goats cheese, the peace only broken by cowbells and the herding of sheep and goats down the road behind us.
We drove back down the road to head down towards Foca and Bastasi, near the Montenegrin border, to get to our next stop, Rafting Tara. Still on the stones, Bosnia decided to throw us another curve ball with an epic thunderstorm, hailstones and rain. So far, we had only had 30+ degree heat and sunshine, but as we went further east the weather became more erratic and unpredictable. We arrived that night for tea, with football, Chile vs Serbia, on the TV in the large wooden cabin before retiring to our camping pods ready for two days 4×4 safari with someone else driving, a big relief!
We began the next day with a hearty Bosnian breakfast, complete with strong coffee before meeting our guide, Dragan, driver, Drago, and vehicle for the day. We set off around the winding roads and up some narrow, paths that very much weren’t roads. On the way we were warned of snakes, including the most poisonous in Europe, and the possibility of bears and wolves which are rare, but still found in the wild mountainous areas of Bosnia-Herzegovina.
Our guide, Dragan, was a Serb and another who was too young to have fought in the war, but joined the military around the turn of the century. He told us stories about his childhood including playing with artillery shells and anti-aircraft guns. He also had a fondness for bad Christmas cracker jokes! It was strange to learn that a lot of jokes translate rather well, and they even have their own Bosnian-Serbian-Montenegrin equivalent jokes to our Englishman-Irishman-Scotsman format.
Our driver, Drago, was also Serb, older and didn’t speak English. We did find out that he was a journalist in old Yugoslavia, a country at that time where “you could do what you want, but not say what you want”, as Dragan put it. Needless to say he was a brave man, and the roads didn’t worry him!
We stopped at various points on the way up the Prijevor mountain before reaching the Purecica primevil forest, the last ‘jungle’ in Europe. The views were incredible and really put into perspective just how big and untouched a lot of this country is. We took in the views of Sutjeska National park and the plateau at the top, before setting down near an observation tower as a thunderstorm rolled in over the mountains on the horizon. Here, Dragan shared his knowledge about the local forna, from elderflower, like we have in the UK to Mountain Germander, a herb that grows at high altitude and contains a natural chloroform.
On the way back down we stopped at the World War Two memorial shrine, Tjentiste. This sculpture, slightly damaged by recent land movement was the site of the Battle of the Sutjeska and marks the lives for the thousands who died in the area during the Nazi invasion of Yugoslavia.
On the way back we had a near miss with one of the free-roaming cows on the road. This was incredibly common around the south-east of Bosnia, with farmers happily allowing their cows, goats, sheep, chickens and the occasional horse to roam free.
We retired that evening to another hearty lunch before making friends with a couple of huge communal dogs that had taken the camp as its home, before a comfortable sleep in our cabin, ready for a similar journey tomorrow.
A similar start to the following day, but this time our journey was up the Zelengora mountains. A beautiful plateau at about 4,000 feet. We were a few days late to see the bears, our driver had seen a mother bear and two babies a few days before, but we were treated to the peaceful plateau of giant crickets, butterflies and horses.
On the way back down we stopped at a local house serving coffee, rakija (a type of brandy), fresh juice and straight-from-the-goat milk. A homely experience, sat within a family farm as the locals spoke, we were told, about politics and free speech.
Back at the pods, we had another hearty tea of lamb, goulash and cheese before heading in for our final night. Tomorrow, Sarajevo!
by Tom McBeth and Natasha Bryan
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