I enter Croatia. On my map I had marked a couple of places I absolutely wanted to see … I don’t know what came over me but as I was driving and looking around my little voice inside me was telling me: go to Bosnia, don’t stop here. Would I have regretted it? Maybe. I followed my instincts and drove straight to the border between Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina.
“You cannot pass from here” Excuse me? “This border crossing is not for tourists, it’s only for locals. You have a nice cat by the way”. The young croatian border guard was super friendly. The back road I had taken was too remote. Nothing bad, I drove back for a few kilometres. CLA-CLACK! makes the big stamp on my passport: “Welcome to Bosnia and Herzegovina Stefani Zioldi”.
Bosnia and Herzegovina. I was there for more than a month. Even when I traveled by bicycle I usually stayed in a country for the duration of one month (also because visa issue), but I have to admit that overlanding with an off-road vehicle allowed me to see much more and to go into remote areas that by bicycle would have required a huuuge physical effort. I was not just crossing a country, I was really discovering it at my leisure.
Obviously I had many encounters. Even magical ones. Where a look straight into the eyes magically opens the doors of houses, allows you to attend banquets and puts a cup of coffee (very strong for me) always full in your hands. Ah yes!! The Rakija (Schnaps) was never missing. Communication was easier than I expected: whether it was the well-dressed gentleman at the bar or the cashier at the mini-market, many people here spoke German. Indeed. During the war, many fled to Germany, Austria and Switzerland. Most of them never returned. The elderly who remained died and the villages became depopulated. I passed through many ghost villages. Have you ever slept in a ghost village? Certain places sent shivers down my spine and a couple of times I struggled to find a place for the night where I felt comfortable …
The War. It is 27 years since it ended, but I could still see and feel the wounds … in some places very vividly. I usually ask my hosts a lot of questions: about their daily lives, family, work … Here I didn’t ask anything. I always remained very superficial. I knew for sure that each of them had lost someone between 1992 and 1995.
I let them tell me if they felt like it and many of them really wanted to. Their gaze lost in the void. I perceived that a whirlwind of memories and images was taking place in their heads. Fighting. Imprisonment. Disappearance. Rape. Death. These were the stories I listened to in silence. A boulder on the chest. Perhaps because of this same sad fate, the bonds between them, whether family, friends or neighbours, are very strong and genuine.
In general I saw few young people. They all live abroad. It’s not easy here. But this country has an incredible potential, also in terms of tourism.
You get the idea that these countries are poor … well, if by poverty you mean not having luxury comfort and/or all those futile or minor things that we surround ourselves with, then yes, they are poor.
But , is he poor who owns the ‘weekend house’, hectares of land, orchards, vineyards, huge vegetable gardens, bees, sheep, chickens and maybe even pigs and goats? Is he poor who is totally independent? Is he poor who doesn’t need to go to the supermarket because he has everything he needs? Pantries full of preserves, jams, pickled vegetables, salted and pickled preserves, dried fruit, honey, wine, cold cuts, dried meats and juices of all kinds … I come from a very rich country. But if one day the import of food suddenly should stops for a long time, what will we do? Will we eat our money and gold bars in the vaults? I am re-evaluating the meaning of wealth a lot. Sure, it is a hard life of sacrifice and toil that not everyone is willing to do, but I have become curious to try a similar lifestyle. A simple life, without schedules, at the rhythm of animals and nature, without stress, without obligations.
Of Bosnia and Herzegovina I really appreciated the wilderness. Untouched I wouldn’t say because unfortunately the problem of rubbish in certain areas is evident. Not to mention the mines that still unfortunately pose a threat today (it is estimated that there are still 2000 mines). Diligently respecting the bans on access (mine danger), I nevertheless found myself in wonderful, immense places, completely alone.
I missed this lifestyle. Every day is different. I decide where and when/how long to stay in a place. I can stay alone or in the company of wonderful people.
It is not always easy, especially alone when you have to take care of everything and … let’s face reality: I live in a car together with a cat; I always wear the same clothes; my diet is based on tuna cans … but what I have is enough for me. It makes me feel free. Serene. Rich. Rich in experiences. Rich in emotions (good and bad). Rich in special encounters … And you? How rich are you?
I still have a lot to tell about what I experienced in this beautiful country, which was truly a pleasant discovery for me. I still have many stories of wonderful places, funny, brave and inspiring people. But I will show you more in my next post.
In the meantime, I wish you happy holidays and may 2023 be rich.
Stefania & Popone