HIKING IN THE UNDERRATED BOSNIA AND HERZEGOVINA
What do you know about Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH)? What images do you have in mind when you think of this country or its capital Sarajevo? Its inhabitants, how do you call them? Bosniak? Bosnian? What does the country look like? Has the war left many traces still visible? Can you hike there without too much risk of stepping on a landmine?
We did not know anything about it. Sarajevo reminded us of an assassination that triggered World War I, and more recently a city under siege, bombings and the explosion of Yugoslavia. Yes, it's not much...
To be honest, we even thought that "Herzegovina" was a Bosnia qualifier (in French t's called Bosnie-Herzégovine). In fact, today the country is divided into three autonomous entities: the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Serbian Republic of Bosnia and, more anecdotally, the Brčko District.
The citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina are called Bosnians. They are from three main ethnic groups: Bosniaks (Muslims), Serbs (Orthodox) and Croats (Catholics). From our point of view, this mix that led to horrors in the 1990s is now at the origin of a certain tolerance and open-mindedness among its inhabitants. At least, it is the general impression we have had. Digging a little bit more, talking with locals, we realized that the picture is not all bright however. The children of the three peoples generally go to separate schools and study different programs, for example.
Overall, the country's development is slow, partly because of the governance system: each people elects its President and the three elected members hold a rotating presidency every 8 months.
At the beginning
Our first contact with the country was in the small town of Livno. What first jumped to our eyes? Life ! There was a real village life, entertainment, young people (a lot) and cafes (full of young people). Upon arrival, we were put in contact with Jelena. In her thirties, an Biology teacher and a passionate hiker, she, along with her sister Marija and their father, were perfect guides for our first steps in BiH and for us to discover their beautiful region.
On the Krug plateau, ten kilometers from Livno, live about 500 wild horses for more than half a century. Surprisingly, they resist everything and their population increases slowly from year to year.
It's impossible to go to Livno, without going to see Duman, the source of the Bistrica river that runs through the city. Thanks to the explanations of Marija and Jelena's father, we understood how life was organized around this spring and the surrounding mountains.
Want to bet?
In Livno, you can not ignore the huge number of sports betting shops. They are everywhere! And it soon became clear that the rest of the country is not spared even though they are much more widespread in Herzegovina than elsewhere. It is in BiH that we find the largest number of gaming shops per capita in Europe.
As an example, the "Premier" betting company was the fifth most profitable company in the country in 2017.
Studies have shown that the worse the economic situation is, the more people will bet...
In good company
Leaving Livno, we met our 17th guest! Aldin is from Jablanica, do not tell him that he is Bosnian, he will tell you that he is a Herzegovinian... Can you imagine the hell for us? We just thought we were starting to understand who was to be called how, what were the administrative divisions of the country and we learn that there are still other subtleties and... susceptibilities!
Anyway, spending this week with Aldin, and a part of it with his friend Jusuf, was a first time for us: to have a native guest of the country. We became the guests in a way, they are the ones who took us to their lands and made us discover the mountains they have traveled forever.
Snow mode: activated
It was in Bosnia where we really went through the heart of winter. Its mountains and continental climate have left us no chance to escape. No problem, we were equipped!
In anticipation of the Bosnian and Montenegrin highlands, Nil has made DIY ultralight sledges! From "snow carpets", plastic mats normally used for sledding, he added elastics, small holes, eyelets, some carabiners and ropes further, we had our new companions! We had to tame them, understand how they behaved in what terrain, but now we know where they are useful to us and they are so compact and light that they are not a burden when we do not use them.
In Croatia, we had already begun to feel that the way people looked at our adventure was changing, it was slowly confirmed here.
Until now, people made us feel that we were brave, adventurous, even a little crazy. For some time, we have felt that, in the eyes of people, we are mainly people who have the leisure and the economic power to travel. And that's normal. If we have the feeling of living a more modest life than before and limiting our expenses to the bare necessities, we must admit that this trip can be seen as a luxury.
The consequence of this change of perception is that we are now sometimes seen as pure tourists and that some intend to take advantage of our passage to make the most money possible. Thus, we have sometimes seen our bill doubled compared to the advertised price or small hitches like that. This has not happened often and it is not what we will remember from our stay in Bosnia.
You should start to know it by now. The Via Dinarica is this network of trails connecting 7 countries from Slovenia to Albania. In Bosnia, she really took us to sublime and impressive places. We had rarely experienced so much the feeling of being alone for miles around, in the middle of powerful and wild mountains. Whether in Blidinje, Prenj or on the way to Lukomir, we never saw any other traces than ours in the snow.
Blidinje park and its frozen lake
The three Vran in the moonlight
Veliki Vilinac's ascent
The legendary Hajdučka vrata
Prenj, the "Bosnian Himalaya"
Lukomir, the highest village of Bosnia
Yes, we made the detour to Sarajevo to discover this city steeped in history. Like the rest of the country, the city is cut in half. In most cities in Bosnia, a river runs which usually separates two communities. Wherever the war raged, the bridges were all destroyed and then rebuilt. In Sarajevo, the Serbian and Bosnian majorities are not separated by the river but the border between the two entities of the country literally passes through the city. For example, taxis in the northern part are not allowed to work in the other part of the city, in the Serbian Republic of Bosnia.
It is impossible in Sarajevo to ignore that there was war. Many buildings remain riddled with bullet holes or even heavier ammunition.
We mainly explored the Bosniak part of the city and we loved it! We have never felt so close to Istanbul! Turkish coffee (Bosnian sorry) on the terrace, Loukoums and Ottoman architecture.
In the plate
On the kitchen side, most of the specialties found in Croatia have been also found in Bosnia, even though there has been an Oriental, Ottoman influence.
The inevitable burek and other pites, filo pastry filled with meat, cheese or spinach. Nowhere will you find a different variant of these three basics.
THE specialty, and it was already the case in Croatia and Slovenia, is the cevapci. Minced meat sticks mixed with onions and spices, grilled and stuffed into a round loaf grilled in oil. Nothing but raw onions can accompany the cevapci except for the ayvar, a puree of peppers, and some cream cheese.
It is usually made from plum, pear or apple, Here they call rakija, shnaps in Slovenia, pagaso in Portugal, aguardiente in Spain, eau de vie ou gnôle in France... This is perhaps the main constant of our trip, haha! Everyone thinks it's a specialty of his region or his country but we find it everywhere! Small difference, here they also drink it as an aperitif.
We spent about a month hiking in Bosnia and Herzegovina and in general, met a lot of people. In fact, the second we crossed the border, we felt the difference and realized that the crossing of the desert in terms of meetings was over! We even took back the good habits by going to sleep "homestay", it had not happened to us for a while. It was Emir who was kind enough to welcome us to his home in Sarajevo. There, we also had another invitation that we could not honor, with a heavy heart...
We met members of the association Avantur. The mission of the association is to promote access to nature for young people through hiking, biking, winter sports and other activities. Mustafa and Sumeja were our guides for our first evening in Sarajevo.
We can not name them all, but each of these meetings helps to make our experience in Bosnia unforgettable.
This one though, we would like to tell you about it. We did not speak the same language and yet, on seeing us come down exhausted from the mountain, she took out a table, three chairs, apples from the garden, rakija from apples from the garden and prepared us a hot coffee. We did not speak the same language and yet we talked for an hour.
We thank her, she answered "dobro e čniniti dobri": it's good to be good...