With time I became more and more confident in choosing where to spend the night. On my bicycle I could ride into remote areas without being noticed and this made me feel safe. Whereas now with a big, white off-road car it was more difficult to go unnoticed, but slowly everything began to be smoother and I noticed that people were absolutely not disturbed by my presence. Yes, Bosnian people are really easy-going.
The streets were practically deserted and the tourist areas as well. Every now and then I would have liked to have a chat with someone but I also appreciated the privilege of enjoying some places in total solitude. When one is alone, the silence dominates. Sounds or noises were amplified, limpid and clear … it gave me a sense of solemn presence; of me living in the present; now; here; 100%.
The few words I had learnt were a great help in gaining people’s sympathy and trust. I felt so at ease that people thought I was Bosnian: they would talk to me in supermarkets, from the cost of tangerines or a few jokes in the pet department; they would ask me for directions in the street or start a chat in the small village shops: “Sorry I’m a tourist, I don’t understand” I replied smiling. They took a step backwards. They were almost stunned. They studied me with their gaze to understand if I was joking.
I was starting to get used to the terrible roads, the abandoned villages, the bars at the entrance of the supermarkets in a cloud of cigarette smoke, which ‘Sir‘ (local cheese) to buy, the Plazma biscuits, the great seasonal fruit and vegetables from the grannies placed by the side of the road, stopping and looking at the level crossings (yes, because I discovered that 99% of the flashing lights and barriers don’t work … thanks to my powerful guardian angel). I was one of them … almost.
Almost. I was still struggling to see beautiful dogs tied to the chain. Those damn short chains! A boulder on my chest. Anger. Powerlessness. The look in those dogs’ eyes was a cry for help. Pure desperation. But what kind of life is that? Why? Why to want an animal to keep it like that? I cried a lot. On a couple of occasions, I asked if I could walk their dog. I still remember Lucky, a name that sounded like a joke. No one was interested in him. Whole days outside in the heat, cold, snow and rain; tied to his less than 2 m long chain. 365 days per year. I was allowed to walk him. Pure joy. Almost 6 km through groves and running through meadows. Tired because he wasn’t used to walk so much, he laid on his back and licked my hand. A powerful “Thank you“. I didn’t turn around when I tied him back to the chain. I couldn’t. But I could hear him crying.
I knew that sooner or later I would give in. I think a dog would have been difficult to get Dimitri to accept (although on a couple of occasions I hesitated a lot) but a cat … It happened at a campsite in Blagaj. A scrawny little face, a terrible coat, bullied by the other cats was prowling around, completely alone and with terrified eyes. I don’t know how, but I managed to catch her. I gave her some food and from that day on I found her every morning outside the Pajero. I gave her a bath and soon found her in the Pajero comfortably sleeping. I made sure with the owners of the camping that the kitten didn’t belong to anyone and so Cecilia had joined our team.
My trip to wonderful Bosnia continued: me, Dimitri and Cecilia. She was great, as if she had always traveled with us. She was always around and at night she had learnt to use the little clap-door. Inside she carried (she still carries) several traumas and I think there are gestures or situations that still terrify her. It happened several times that I had to wait for her for more than 9 hours. But she always came back.
I loved Bosnia. Its people, its simplicity, the beautiful nature. The situation is not always easy. In some places I felt a certain tension, instability. In some places time seems to have stopped 25 years ago, where the destruction caused by the war silently cries out how much suffering the country has experienced: houses torn apart by gunfire, bombs, entire buildings collapsed, houses ransacked of materials that could still be used, entire properties, factories and businesses abandoned. “It was good once …” older people told me.
It is a country full of resources, with great potential, including tourism. For me it was incredible to camp on an archaeological site (UNESCO heritage site) completely undisturbed. Walking through the ruins and finding earthenware artefacts dating back 2000 years.
It was incredible for me to camp in a national parks with my cats (absolutely forbidden in Switzerland). I was beginning to feel a kind of conflict: on the one hand, I hope that the country and its people can grow and benefit from an increase in tourism, but on the other hand, mass tourism would ruin many areas that are still wild and untouched today.
A conflict to which I have no solution. What I could do was to enjoy what I was fortunate enough to experience in complete freedom. I felt (feel) gratitude for what I do, for the choices I have made in my life. Yes, because this way of living is not a condition that happened to me by chance/luck … I chose it.
Many people think I’m very brave. I’m not. I don’t think so. For me the families I have met along the way are much braver. I have to take care and I’m responsible only for myself (and the cats), but these parents have the responsibility for their children. This is definitely an intense and fulfilling lifestyle but it can also be difficult and exhausting. The family unit becomes the small world of the children. Spaces are restricted. Social contacts with peers are reduced. Language difficulties. And… and… and… but from my personal perspective it’s a wonderful gift that you can give your children even if they aren’t yet aware of it.
We were talking about this with Rebecca, Thomas and their children Vinz (age 7) and Tina (age 12). Them against everyone. “An unconscious and selfish choice” they were hearing from friends and family. The school had refused to let the children participate in some online classes or organize online meetings where they could exchange curiosities and experiences. A pity. A missed chance (for the school). But they pursued their project. They sold everything, even the house, and left. They are still traveling to enchanted places, experiencing joys and difficulties that no school can teach.
I am thankful for this “Bosnia” chapter, Cecilia’s arrival, the encounters (the beautiful ones) with people (the special ones). Thanks also to Rebecca for the opportunity to use her music for this latest video dedicated Sutjeska National Park.
The journey continues in Serbia … another huge chapter of this wandering of mine that I’ll tell you in the next post.
Stefi, Dimitri and Cecilia