July 6, 2013
Distance: 33.9 miles Climbing: 3425.2 ft
Maybe the ride into Mostar was bad because we were expecting a headwind, no shoulder and lots of traffic. That is exactly what we got. So, we just put our heads down and pedaled as fast as we could.
Once in town, we headed straight to the famous Stari Most (“Old Bridge”) and took turns waiting with the bikes while the other went to take a look. The bridge is actually very new as the original one was heavily damaged in 1993 by Bosnian Croat bombs. There is the usual tourist area around the new bridge with people selling the usual cheap crap, but also relics from the Bosnian War, including decorated bullet shells. While the tourist areas are our least favorite places to be, we were not especially eager to get back on the road.
Instead, we took a long lunch over pizza and several cups of coffee. Knowing that lodging was expensive, we had to keep moving. We wound up the less busy road out of town which turned out to be pretty nice. There was still a lot of traffic, but the trucks were all routed a different way so that gave us some relief.
We are always seeking the road less traveled, even if it adds more miles, so when given the opportunity we turned off the highway. As usual, the road started out wonderfully. We passed through a neighborhood and a wedding, with a large group of drunken men serenading the bride. The scenery was beautiful and we were having a lovely time, and then at the bottom of a huge hill the road turned the dirt. We were on another Chandler “shortcut” or “adventure route”, as he now calls them.
This one wasn’t too bad after the first mile of gravel gave way to smooth, hard dirt. There were a number of ideal free campsites, but the fear of landmines and the desire for a shower, kept us moving. We were looking for a place to camp that looked like people used it, so we didn’t have to worry about mines, but also not too used so that people wouldn’t find us and kick us out. A few sheep pastures looked OK, but nothing stood out.
The road led us through a small village. Chandler stopped to take a picture of a pretty church while I continued on slowly. When I didn’t hear him coming after a few minutes, I waited near house. As Chandler approached me, a young man hanging around the house asked if I needed any help or could he fill our water bottles. Never one to give up the chance for free water, we took his offer. Ivan, two sisters and mother immediately made us offers of juice, coke, coffee and beer.
One thing led to another and we found ourselves being lead next door, to his grandfather’s house, for a glass of homemade grape whiskey, rakia. We asked about camping in the area, finding out there was none, he called the hotel we were headed for to make us a reservation. It turned out, there was a wedding at the hotel that night and no extra rooms. The next hotel was at least 20km away and with the sun setting, we had no idea what we were going to do.
Ivan and his dad exchanged a few words before announcing that we would be spending the night in their extra bedroom! We were then ushered in the house, dropping our bags off in the spare room, and told that dinner would be a few more minutes. Dinner turned out to be an amazing feast of fresh cheese, beef soup, cucumbers, grilled green peppers for me, prosciutto and bread. Everything was from the garden in their backyard or from a family member’s farm. The grandfather joined us for dinner and contributed homemade wine.
After dinner, Martina, Ivan’s younger sister, gave my hair a little trim (she is going to school to be a hairdresser) and Chandler hung out with the men getting a tour of the backyard orchards. They were very curious about our trip and assumed that we normally found a family to take us in for the night. After my haircut, we all ended chatting outside and eating watermelon. At 1am, when everyone was clearly tired it was time to go to bed.
We could not believe our luck with finding Ivan and his family. We had both read about other bike tourists having similar experiences, but never thought it would happen to us. It is incredibly inspiring to meet such genuinely nice and generous people, who ask for nothing in return. It really made us think about how we want to live and treat other people, especially strangers, when we return to the US.