Our visit to Bosnia and Herzegovina was one of our very favorite stops along this journey so far. The terrain is breathtaking, the people are kind, generous and so very resilient, and the recent history is heartbreaking but also inspirational when you see what these people have been able to overcome. It is a place that I feel like I needed to experience in order to grow my soul a bit, and at times it was undeniably heavy. Montenegro, it’s neighbor to the south was much lighter and fluffier by contrast, which was also very welcome at this stage in our travels.
While Montenegro aligned with Serbia during the Yugoslav wars, their forces did relatively little fighting and there was no real conflict on its home turf during the war. One might even say that Montenegro was rather indifferent during that period, and if you asked for my impression of Montenegrans, the word ‘indifferent’ would probably describe them as well as any. This isn’t to say that they’re unpleasant in any way, because they’re not. They’re fine, polite even. They just didn’t seem to care much whether we were there or not, which suits me just fine, as I never really felt like we were standing out as foreigners or tourists.
I was fifteen years old when I first heard of Sarajevo, Yugoslavia. The city was the host of the 1984 Winter Olympics, and I was at an age where I was getting really interested in world geography, not to mention skiing. Bill Johnson, controversial as he was, was my hero of those olympics, winning the gold in the men’s downhill, but it was this mysterious land halfway across the planet that really captured my attention that winter. I remember tuning in each evening with my family to watch the events, but I also distinctly remember many of the images ABC was bringing to our living room of this exotic city set within these majestic mountains. I remember pouring through our family encyclopedia and atlas to learn more about this spectacular place. I was fascinated with Sarajevo, and I’d venture to guess that I shared that fascination with many, many others all over the globe. Sarajevo had successfully parlayed it’s moment in the Olympic spotlight into becoming a destination for travelers worldwide, and the citizens of this great city had a lot to be proud of.
I was a political science major at the University of Oregon when the Siege of Sarajevo began in 1992. In the year previous to that I had helped to organize a student organization in which our chief role was to protest and bring awareness about the Persian Gulf War. I was heavily involved in grassroots peace politics at that time, and I was acutely aware of what was happening in the crumbling communist state that we knew as Yugoslavia. I took part in numerous benefits and student initiatives to bring awareness to the tragedy that was unfolding in the Balkans, but for the most part it felt like to me that most Americans were turning a blind eye, especially our government. It was a horrifically grueling 1,425 day period for Sarajevo, and it was heartbreaking to see a once triumphant city and it’s people brought to their knees by an enemy bent on hate and ethnic cleansing. It was also a relief when the International community finally stepped up to help facilitate an end to that war in 1995 with the Dayton Agreement, and by early ’96, Serb forces pulled out of Sarajevo completely.
Leaving Split, Croatia, our journey took us inland through beautiful, mountainous landscapes toward Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina. Just before getting to the border, the remaining passengers on the luxurious Croatian bus were abruptly ushered into an old beat-up minivan to take us the rest of the way to Mostar. Once at the border, all of our passports were collected by our driver and the pile of passports was unceremoniously handed over to a guard in a booth. This was a departure from most border crossings we’ve experienced where you typically never lose sight of your passport during the process. It was one of those moments where you’ve just got to trust, as putting up resistance will help nothing. Eventually we all got our passports back with a new stamp for our efforts, and we only had to wait another 45 minutes while some mystery package in our van got searched by a border guard, only to be left behind in Croatia in the end. The vibe on this side of the border was palpably different… a little edgier, a little more raw.
The region of Dalmatia is a thin strip of arid terrain that stretches along the modern day Croatian coastline of the Adriatic Sea from the island of Rab down to the Bay of Kotor in Montenegro. Besides being a place of extreme, stark beauty, it’s natural resources and strategic location have made it a hotly contested region that has seen it’s fair share of wars and conflict over the course of human history. The Roman Empire took it over from the Dalmatae, an Illyrian tribe, and as such, Roman architecture still punctuates the coastline and leaves no doubt of it’s influence on the region. In the Middle Ages, Dalmatia changed hands between the Venetians, the Byzantines, the Avars, the Croats, the Mongols, the Serbians, and the Ottoman Empire of Bosnia. In modern times Dalmatia was controlled by the Austrian Empire for nearly a hundred years before becoming part of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia after WWI. The violent and conflict-ridden break-up of Yugoslavia resulted in the region falling into hands of Croatia, with small chunks being occupied by Montenegro and Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Long term traveling has it’s ups and downs. For the most part, it’s eye-opening, mind-expanding and an overall delight to the senses. There are also moments when circumstances are stacked against us, and it can be a real challenge to move through them. Then there are those mundane periods that rarely I write about, because they’re boring… waiting for a bus, riding a bus for several hours, waiting till it’s time to check in, blah, blah, blah. And these are all part of the traveler’s gig.
One thing for sure that separates a traveler’s life from “regular life”, is this ability to pick up and change scenes on a dime. If someone or something isn’t working for us in a certain place, then we can simply remove ourselves from that scene and beat it on down the line. Problem solved. When we have a home and a job and we’re locked into some sort of life routine, it’s much more difficult to just remove ourselves from undesirable situations. We have to navigate those challenging waters with others in order to achieve harmony in our life, and for most of us humans, that’s a full time job. For me, this seems to be one of the key differences between my life now, and my life before we started traveling. Of course Haruka and I have to consciously work at maintaining our own harmony, but that’s always come quite naturally to us, I feel. The travelers life, for all of it’s virtues, can sometimes lose connection with that aspect of life that involves developing meaningful human relationships, which is a void that we’ve found can be at least somewhat filled by workaway experiences.
Our second course of Italy took on a much different flavor than our run through the northern part of the country back in May. At that time we were traveling at a tourist’s pace, checking out the tourist hotspots of Milan, Verona, Lake Garda and Venice. It was beautiful, delicious, enjoyable and all of those things that people generally travel to Italy for, but I still got the sense that the real Italy was effectively eluding us. This time around we were being lured in by the band, Morcheeba, who had also been eluding us for many years. We spent June and much of July in Slovenia, with the aim of spending a few more months in Croatia, Bosnia and Montenegro, so it was going to take a considerable force to alter our course through the former Yugoslavia, back over to the other side of the Adriatic Sea, and Morcheeba was just that force, but more on that later.
Fake news. Our Embarrassment-in-Chief would have you believe that this is something new, crafted by the media expressly to make him look bad. First of all, he’s doing a fine job of that all by himself, and secondly, fake news has been around as long as news itself. Certainly truth leaks into the equation from time to time, but the media in all of its various forms has long been used as an instrument to tweak the truth in ways that suits a certain agenda. The internet definitely hasn’t slowed that instrument down. In fact, it serves as a massive invitation to everyone on the planet to join the fun and twist the facts whenever it serves their purpose. Of course I’d like to believe that most of us humans are pure of heart and generally doing our best to represent the truth, but still, discernment is a most critical tool in this day and age.
We’re very much finding this to be the case in the realm of Workaway, a web-fueled mechanism for connecting travelers with hosts for work/trade arrangements all over the world. The arrangements vary, but a worker is asked to exchange his/her labor (typically 5 hours per day, 5 days per week) for room and board. As Haruka and I get deeper and deeper into our travels, Workaway is proving to be a crucial tool for extending our travels while simultaneously giving us the opportunity to visit farms and permaculture projects all over the world. Free accommodation and food is obviously helpful, but our main motivation for doing Workaway is to expand our knowledge and skills, while physically engaging our bodies and minds in something productive. Workaway is still a relatively new adventure for us, as we’ve only been to four different spots, and while I’m certain that there are countless amazing hosts out there, false advertising is as much a thing in Workaway as it is in the rest of the world.