There was no hurry to wake up as we only wished to travel 60km. By 10am we had bought some supplies and stood by the side of the road. With no sign in hand we were heading back in the direction of Plitvice Lakes National Park as just before it began we needed to take a side road which lead to the border crossing of Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina. Miraculously a Bosnian plated van pulled over and without the understanding of any shared language, we found ourselves pulling our passports out then being dropped a further 20km to a small town. Our first impressions based on what we could see were infiltrated by the very small amount of knowledge we had on the country. Ravaged by war only 22years ago, still crumbled buildings, bullet holes and overgrown infrastructure could not help our impressions feel prejudiced. To no help was the tiny isolated village we had been dropped in, despite maps showing it was the main route. For a short time we actually felt fear, a stupid thought that was soon to be changed!
15 minutes later we found ourselves our second lift for the day. Despite the language barrier again, the name of a the town Bihac was what we understood and the kind man dropped us in the centre, calling his son in the process and getting him to meet us as he could speak english and offered us help. It was an extremely lovely, slightly odd experience when getting out of the car he asked us if he could help us in anyway. We politely told him where we wished to reach, Una National Park, and with his directions of where to hitchhike from, waited another hour for the next lift.
English was beginning to become a less spoken language as again we had difficulty communicating with our driver. He was a younger guy who (we interpreted) had done some hitchhiking to Croatia when younger so was happy to help. Squished in his old tiny two door hatchback we travelled another 20km to his home town. Getting out he asked the owner of a small market where Una national park was and being told it was 15km away (we tried to explain with no luck) he continuously reassured it was no problem to drop us. The 15km however was only to the beginning of the park and as it began raining and traffic was extremely scarce, he continued to drive us the final 23km to our campground! The road we drove down was incredibly quiet, the smallest of villages and houses scattered along its side. The guy was so extremely nice, a pure display that our preconceived prejudiced thoughts on a poorer country could make it dangerous were false. As we said goodbye his car was failing to start and awkwardly we watched hopping desperately it would start. On the 8th attempt it thankfully did and we waved goodbye, walking down to our 5€ campground for the next few days.
The following 4 nights and days we spent an incredibly magical time living relaxingly on the banks of Una River. Situated in the heart of the national park, our campground had only ever six other guests. Our tent was pitched two meters from the water edge and slightly further from a small cascade of waterfalls. A tiny village, the largest in 45kms, was 10 minutes walk and had a small supermarket with fresh fruit and vegetables. On the second day we walked 9kms, finally managing a hitched lift for the final kilometre to another tiny village, renown for it operating water mills and waterfalls but despite it being a “European funded” tourist attraction, had only a hand full of tourists. It was a French couple we had hitched with and with some quality timing, managed to see the attractions at similar times and hitched a lift back. As everyone, they were so generous and offered us a place to stay near Paris if we ever ended up there.
The following day we borrowed, just functioning, bikes from the campground at no cost, riding 15km to another waterfall. Once off the main (tiny) road we crossed through a small village then continued along a gravel road, huge potholes resulting in us over taking tourists cars. We continued following the incredibly blue water of River Una until 7km later, after passing farms which seemed to had been cut off from civilisation up until a decade ago, emerged at a dirt carpark on a hill with nice timber facilities. Small stores sold fruits and tourists bustled around, having come via a large bus. It seemed quite odd in the middle of nowhere however the waterfall was beyond impressive and the perfect weather made for an enjoyable afternoon by its shores. Our first impression of Bosnia and Herzegovina was well and truly eradicated, left behind with an excitement for what else it has to offer.
Our time of daily waterfalls and river swims, local vegetable dinners and continuously fed rakia (a home-brew alcohol spirit) had come to an end as we stood out the front of our campground waiting for a bus. Due to the previous days experience of how little traffic there was in the area, we opted to catch a bus the 23kms to the busier main road. A Polish and Lithuanian hitchhiker did similar and while the bus was heading directly to the city Bihac which they wanted to reach, got out of the bus when we did and hitchhiked. Dedication! We however were travelling further south and while it was early at 9am managed to get a short lift with a Park ranger who kindly pointed out the number of bears on each mountain. Hitchhiking in Bosnia was proving to be incredibly easy as in only 20 minutes we were picked up and allowed in the back of an empty work van by a friendly local couple travelling all the way to the Capital, Sarajevo. While we were heading there in some days, they did offer to take us until to entrance of our next nights accomodation, even going well out of their way to drive up to a large fortress on a mountain just to show us.
Dropped at an eco village named Zelenkovac, we checked into our first airbnb accomodation, a wooden cabin built within a community of other lodges of all different styles and sizes. Each one was intricately decorated with traditional old furnishings, unique in structure and placed in a ecologically pressured pine forest. It was one of the coolest places we had stayed and while it was 30€ a night, the previous days of camping had made it affordable. Our two story, fully self contained lodge with three bedrooms, was much too large however one of our most memorable. Some of the cabins were build along a small lake which we explored while a resident kitten kept us company all afternoon. Bosnia and Herzegovina was continuously providing amazing times and that night as we lay on our tree trunk bed, a deer hide and thick woollen blanked for a blanket, we felt entirely as peace.
The next day we were on the move again heading a short distance to the town of Jajce. It had long been on our list of places to visit and as we walked towards the nearest town to begin hitchhiking we had angst in our step. It was a short wait again as a familiar face, a lady staying in the cabin beside us, was making a short trip to a larger town for supplies and dropped us 10km back to the main road. It was the perfect location to hitch, a bus stop and after 30minutes of waiting we were picked up by a non english speaking old Bosnian man. He dropped us just 4kms shy from our desired location however due to the hot temperature we thought why not lets hitch. A father with two young children showed no concerned when he dropped us to our destination, a large lake before the town of Jajce where we wanted to photograph some old watermills. The spot turned out to be crazy popular with Muslim tourists and we spent the entire afternoon until 6pm there waiting for the crowds to lessen. Thankfully we had two nights at a couchsurfer lined up and with our final hitch, 2km into Jajce, we shopped and waited at a supermarket for a “taxi” to pick us up based on our couchsurfers request.
A guy jumped out of his car and walked over to us sitting on the pavement. He was our couchsurfers taxi and due to a slight language barrier over messages we were not able o acquire his address to walk to. It was 7pm and almost dark so we got into the guys car, unfortunately having to pay 2€ for the 1km lift. Slightly back outside of the town in a quiet neighbourhood the sun set as we knocked on our couchsurfers door and was greeted by the inspirational French man Adrien. We were given the one bedroom of his flat then cooked a pasta dinner while we talked late into the night about each others travels. It was odd to find a French man in Bosnia however falling in love with the country through his many and varied hitchhiking travels he decided to stay due to it being ridiculously cheap. Adrien was an amazing inspiration as being born with a muscle disability could not work or drive. Everyday, all the time he lived off his 10€ a day disability pension and still managed to have an amazing life; traveling and living in so many countries and loving life. He was an incredible showcase of no matter what your circumstance, if you want to achieve something, it is possible. No limits!
The next day Adrien took us to a small restaurant for lunch which one would never find if it weren’t for a local. Taken through a series of paddocks and a school we followed the old main road as it bent around a mountain. Nestled below the road and beside a river was a cafe with seating on a man made dammed lagoon. The water was insanely reflective and an unimaginable green aura shone from below the surface. We ate a traditional cevapi (mince sausage in amazing sort of turkish bread) for lunch for 3€ each. That afternoon we explored the old castle and town of Jajce which has a huge waterfall running directly beside it. Once back at Adrien’s we cooked a quiche then rushed to bed as we had an early morning to try photograph the waterfall at sunrise.
It was before 5am that we snuck outside of Adrien’s having said goodbye the night before. Despite the overcast sky above we rushed to a viewpoint on the opposite side of the waterfall and watched while the sunrise gave no effect. Weary eyed and tired it was still nice however and we ate breakfast enjoying the usually busy tourist location empty. By 8am we had walked a few kilometres down the road to where a gravel patch just before a tunnel acted as a nice hitchhiking place. We planned to reach Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina and although we are not particularly into big cities, previous recommendations of how it somewhat resembles a “little Istanbul” made us excited. With our hitchhiking luck continuing, a friendly German couple pulled over within 10 minutes and they were heading the entire way! Bosnia was still proving to be our easiest hitchhiking country!
We chatted passionately about the country and the two hour trip quickly slid into a memory. We were dropped right in the centre of the large, traffic dense city and having no plans except the cheapest hostels location screen shotted on our phone, decided to walk the 200m to its door step and take up a bed for 5€ in a 14 share room. Our luck hitchhiking resulted in the entire afternoon to walk the city. We explored the popular markets, giving off an almost middle east bazaar vibe with its tiny cramped walkways and busy stalls. We searched every corner for a carpet store to photograph and in our tired last minutes, discovered it within a turkish quarter. A further 5€ was spent on ingredients to make pasta for dinner and our day was finished early as we prepared to reach Mostar and see its famous bridge, the next day.
Checking out of our cheapest hostel to date, the helpful lady suggested we purchase a tram ticket when we told her we would be catching a tram to hitchhike towards Mostar. Doing so we immediately had no regrets on the spending as 4 times our tickets were inspected. It was a slow 25 minute tram ride followed by a further 20 minute packed bus to take us to the highway. We chose the easiest option to reach a good hitchhiking spot this day as we had a hostel booked and was meeting our close friend Johl. Standing on a tiny road which our maps showed to be the main highway, cars infrequently drove by. Perhaps now, we thought our luck may end and we experienced our longest wait for Bosnia! 40 minutes! An older man in a work van spoke no english however we understood the name of a town he was driving too. It was 30km away and we happily jumped in, being dropped at a central bus station in Konjic and then walked to its outskirts. We skipped lunch wanting to reach our friend and continued on hitching, having to wait another 40 minutes before a dad and young son dropped us a further 30km. Mostar was only a straight stretch of 70km away and having to walk again to the outskirts of a town, felt the pressure of reaching our friend by 4pm. We had one hour until then and giving up on finding a hitching spot that satisfied us, stopped where cars could pull into a car park and through our thumbs out. Using signs seemed to be a thing of the past!
Yet another 40 minute wait and our most insane stop ever; a full semi trailer truck slamming its brakes on and holding up all traffic on the narrow residential road where we stood was our final lift. Rushing to through ourselves and packs up the steps and into the truck, we were half thankful and apologetic. The Bosnian truck driver showed little concern, speaking no english but continuously saying Mostar, chain smoking cigarets and terribly driving the huge truck along a narrow mountainous road. He was kind enough to stop for us to take photos and for a brief second, a large blue river running beside us between huge mountain peaks, we felt as if back in Norway! This is one beautiful country we both agreed. Half an hour later we were dropped at the far side of Mostar and slightly late, walked our final 2km to a tiny 3 bedroom hostel inside a lovely ladies flat named hostel Dada. Johl was waiting and we all embraced, feeling good to see a familiar face for the first time in 3 months! That night we felt as if on a normal holiday going out for dinner, a whopping 3€ each, and having a beer.
The next day we hitched as a three. Staying another night in Mostar we took a day pack and caught a local bus to a nearby town named Capljna. From there we the hitched to a renown waterfall named Kravice. Surprisingly it was only a 15 minute wait before a middle aged man picked us up, driving 20km to where we needed to change roads and then beginning to walk the final 3km was again picked up. The rest of the day was spent laying in the sun and swimming among the many amazing waterfalls as they plummeted in a huge arch around us. They resembled similar to the Croatian Plitvice Lakes however was one large cascade over 25m wide. It was whilst climbing between the falls that we met the two legends that are Riley and Holly. An Australian and Irish couple road tripping their van around Europe. It was over to request to take a photo that we began talking and later that afternoon the five of us were heading back to Mostar together.
After another 3€ dinner we all sat down on the waterfront and drank beers amongst the local teenagers. Looming in front of us was the famous Stari Grad bridge which the city was well known for and as drinks were sunk conversation flowed effortlessly past midnight. Walking back to our hostel we forever felt blessed to be always meeting such awesome people. We also had tee’d up a lift to Dubrovnik the next day 😉 thanks legends!
Four hours later we were up again, down by the bridge in a similar position taking photos to yet another non existent Bosnian sunrise. The empty town however was much nicer to explore when free of tourists and on trying to find a vantage point to capture the bridge a friendly man from a mosque let us into its courtyards to an area we would otherwise have to pay. The sun cast its rising rays over a nearby barren mountain and illuminated a large white cross sitting on top. Despite our lack of sleep every moment was priceless and whilst venturing back to the hostel to pack up we bought bureks (a balkan pastry we highly recommend. Best in Bosnia!) then checking out, returning to the familiar riverbank beside the bridge where we laid in the sun waiting for Riley and Holly.
By noon they emerged having explored the city and we all walked to where their van was parked. They had similar plans to stay in Dubrovnik that night and having mentioned a small town called Blagaj, where a well known white house sat against a huge cliff with a cave spilling out water, was happy to see it. On arrival an enormous storm swept over and we found ourselves running back to the van as heavy rain fall began. Lucky to have made it inside, only five minutes down the road the rain became catastrophic as continuos lighting streaks fell in front of us and all traffic was forced to stop. Large volumes of water ran off roads and while we tried to continue multiply times, the heavy rain made it impossible to see! The 2 hour journey became 4 and as we followed the GPS the not so common way. It lead us to take a road which did not exist on some of our phones. A barley wide enough gravel path that seemed to be having a highway constructed beside it eventually lead to a normal road again and driving along a mountainous ridge which separated Croatia from Bosnia and Herzegovina, the border control boxes appeared in the distance! Dubrovnik, and the beautiful Dalmatian coast lay just beyond..
(188km walked, 692km hitchhiked)
Our close friend Johl has also been travelling Europe for the past 3 months, been taking awesome photos and his blog can be reached by clicking HERE!