Friday, January 30, 2015


     Two months looking forward to you and only two weeks to get bored with you. Dear Croatian coast, Dalmatia dear, you have sold your beauty abroad and have lost authenticity for doing business, you have revitalized your roots by betraying your fruits. It is not your fault, you did what you thought was right, but you are not for me. I'm tired of your turquoise water, your cliffs do not impress me, I have no interest in diving in your coves. Tangerines wither on the branches… Why not let me enjoy your olives? My beloved sea, it’s not you, it's me. I cannot pretend to be a saltwater animal, when I'm a fresh water fish. I am not a mermaid, but rather a salmon.
Adriatic Sea.

 At last we left Castel Luksic, where we have been living for the last week waiting for the Bura to leave. We continue the logical line which runs along the Adriatic coast and come to the city of Split. Why the Diocletian Palace leave us indifferent? Could it be that we are beginning to get tired of traveling?

Diocletian Palace, SPlit.

    We look at the map, which coincides exactly with what we face: the city of Makarska (whose visit we have said that you can do without) and again a mountain range and the road which is between the sea and the mountains. The only flat places where we can set up the tent have already been occupied by resorts.  The Bura continues to blow furiously along the coastline. Then we come to Omis, the end of the canyon of the River Cetina and we do not think twice. Almost without talking to each other, we point the bike handlebars to the continental interior without looking back. We ignore the men in town, who cry out that it’s not the way to Dubrovnik. "Just a little way," we say. "We take a look at the canyon, find somewhere nice for camping, and if we like it, we’ll rethink the route."
Nice weather in Biokovo Park, Croatia.
   Of course we like it. The road goes up and down the canyon, making us sweat in a way that no longer remembered. What was to be a small raid to find a good location for the night turns into a trip to Mostar, going along the back of the Biokovo National Park, the second highest mountain range in Croatia. It is a demanding route due to the steep slopes to be overcome, but also by the cold that we endure. The entire region is covered by a thick layer of snow left by the storm last week, and the clear skies predict a descent in the temperature. We camp near the border between Croatia and Bosnia, surrounded by snow. Although we have not seen any public water fountain that works, even in the handy cemeteries, we can melt snow for cooking. But we pay well for our inexperience: as we had empty drums, we thought it would be a good time to fill them all. The whole process took us an hour, and all for what? For the next day we had drums of ice, so were carrying around several kilos of transparent stones for several hours. Even if we had put the bottles inside the tent, it would not have been very different. Steam also freezes at five degrees below, forming a thin layer of frost on the walls of the tent. The worst thing was that the ice has penetrated the seams, causing numerous holes for rainwater. For breakfast we have snowy porridge and orange slush.
Melting snow.
    Actually, visiting Mostar is just an excuse to go back inland. Undoubtedly, the Mostar bridge deserves a photo, but the view of the city from the mountains is breathtaking. Walking through its streets, empty of tourists because of winter, we begin to feel that our journey is entering new territory. We arrive just in time for the call to prayer of the muezzin, which surrounds us in an atmosphere different from the Europe that we already know well. Next to the bridge, built by the Ottomans five centuries ago, destroyed during the war and returned to lift a decade ago, a stone reads "do not forget". There are so many things you do not forget that it becomes difficult to know what the sign means! But how difficult it is to remember things without perpetuating hate!
Mostar, Bosnia.
     When we leave Mostar we follow the Neretva Canyon, furrowed in equal parts by water and an endless stream of garbage. The city extends its tentacles along miles and miles. You have to carefully choose the place to put up the tent, it is estimated that there are still some 120,000 landmines buried. There are not always warnings of the presence of mines with posters, as we saw in Croatia, and floods this summer have moved many from their former location. Davor explained to us the protocol that is followed to disarm them: combing the earth divided into small portions wih a knife, slow movements accurately repeated over three hours. The stress suffered is such that it a greater exposure to the mines is not allowed, nor is it possible to spend more than three days a week doing this task. Despite precautions, at least two soldiers die each year deactivating mines, and it is estimated that it will still take some fifty years to clear all of them. So we decided to go to the cemetery by our own will rather than by a twist of fate, and spent the night in a cemetery in the village of Buna. We said on one occasion that cemeteries are places of rest valued by travelers as they nearly always have water, grass, a good place to put up the tent, it is quiet and there are not usually people there at night. The cemetery in Buna did not meet any of these conditions: the fountain is frozen, so there is no running water; instead of grass the ground is covered with stones and gravel; there is no position from which the tent remains hidden from the road; nor is it quiet and the nightlife is rather active. At least the ground is a safe place to step on.

     We wait until the evening to put the tent, but that night we sleep very little. At midnight a car parks right at the back door, very close to where we are. The attitude of the driver seems very strange to us: at first we think it may be a couple looking for privacy, with the engine running to keep the heat on. But after a long while the man turns the engine off and gets out of the vehicle. We do not think he has seen us, but we are not sure. Nor do we know what he is doing out there at night. Nobody takes so long to smoke a cigarette. We do not know (and we prefer not to imagine) his intentions, he has come with the lights off and now he is waiting out in the open. Thirty minutes, one hour, two hours go by, and he finally gets back in the car. He gets in and out several times, and finally, at about three in the morning, he leaves again with the lights off. We close our eyes, but not for long, because some dogs wake us up. Now is a pair of mutts who are at the back of the tent. They have found us and they bark at us with all their might. And it doesn’t look like they are going to leave. As it’s very close to dawn, we decide to pack up all our things as fast as we can and leave this place of eternal rest.
    We end our little excursion inland to go towards Dubrovnik, where once again we are fortunate that the cold has scared off the tourists. We enjoy the touristy part of the city, one fraught with bars, restaurants and souvenir shops, but we visit the hall to commemorate the memory of those who died defending the city during the siege between 1991 and 1992. A Mexican has written the following lines in a guestbook:
"What is the use of so much history, so much blood shed, so many dead! What good is all this if Europe instead of being noble has become a picture of vanity, conceit and rudeness!
What a disappointment to be in Europe and not find kindness nor hospitality! What a pity! So much history in vain! "
DUbrovnik. Gabi, don't be shy.
     Amazingly, even wars have good things, or at least that was true for the Simic family. Zvoncica (meaning Bell in Spanish) and Ivan were two teenagers when they met in Germany, thanks to a program that took the children away from the war. They maintained contact for years, until one day their lives crossed again, this time to raise a family. They will welcome us in a few days, during which time we can repair the tent, recover a little social life and contemplate under cover another terrible onslaught of Bura, converted into electrical storm and hail. They are happy days in Mlini, one of the most beautiful villages of southern Croatia, where we can celebrate my birthday (we are already in our thirties) and recover some of our forgotten social life over the internet.
Simic Family, Dubrovnik.
     But the journey must continue and we have already decided that we will say goodbye to the coast at least until we get to Greece. Our parting of the sea is in style, and never the better. We leave behind Croatia and head to the Bay of Kotor in Montenegro, the southernmost fjord in Europe. Again, we have trouble finding a place to camp in an overcrowded coastal line, so we have to keep moving despite the fatigue and the sun begins to fall behind the horizon. Thus we arrive in Zelenika, after leaving the city of Herzeg Novi, where we decided to change tactics when looking for a place to spend the night. We follow an alley in a village and try to get to the outskirts, where surely there are fields or, hopefully, the mountain still has a gentle slope. And indeed, we come to the end of the village, but all of the land which is more or less flat is fenced in. We try to talk to a farmer, who in the end turns us over to his daughter, working in a hotel. So that’s the way we meet Adriana, who prepares the best Turkish coffee we've tried so far. She offers us a small room that they have in the barn, where we sleep warm and dry.

The fire of home. Zelenika, Montenegro.
Boka Kotorska.
    The next day we face the most demanding cycling stage of this journey, where we climb with our bicycles along the wall of the fjord from the city of Kotor, at sea level to 1,200 meters. We decide to take it easy, so the second day we sleep near Cetinje, in a small field next to the ruins of a stone house. The cold is intense, inside the tent we reach a seven below zero, and Gabi loses his gloves just when he needs them the most. Sheepdogs chase us, we continue uphill, but again we are extremely happy. We are delighted with the winter landscapes, these sepia photos that a famous adventurer from Cadiz commented on, the snow around and Mount Lovcen in the distance. We descend to Podgorica, capital of Montenegro, knowing that our problem was not that we had tired of traveling ... we simply have become demanding, or maybe just the opposite! Now do not go in search of superlatives: the most beautiful, the oldest, the largest. We just yearn to see what is different. The surprise, the spark of life that jumps out to meet you.

Njegusi, Montenegro.
Frozen late afternoon.
View over Cetinje, the old capital of Montenegro.

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