Day 3 – Metkovic to Mostar: Entering Bosnia & Herzegovina

Monday September 6, 2010, 49 km (31 miles) – Total so far: 178 km (110 miles)

I woke at 6 AM and started packing up the tent. Despite the bad nights sleep it felt good to wake up in the countryside. I stopped at a scenic spot by a canal and had a breakfast of bread and chocolate, a winning combination.

Wild Camping Spot
Road I camped along

I arrived at the bike shop at 8, just as it was opening. It turned out neither of the 2 guys there spoke English or German so communication was a bit hard. They seemed to be saying that they couldn’t fix the bike and that I would need to get it serviced. There was a workshop with all the tools outside the shop so I was a bit confused. They drew a map for me though, with detailed directions and distances through town to a building labelled “Mirza”. I thanked them and set off in search of what I assumed would be an auto-repair place.

I was a bit worried about this since if they couldn’t fix the bike, the journey was most likely over. I followed the directions down some backstreets and arrived where the building was supposed to be. All I could see were old apartments so I asked some elderly Croatian guys standing on the side of the street. They only spoke Croatian but one seemed to understand the map and told me to follow him into one of the old crumbling apartments. I was a bit confused but followed anyway. He pointed out a name on the letter box (“Mirsad”) and then it clicked, I was looking for a person not a place. I headed up the stairs and was greeted by an elderly woman who I assumed was Mirsad’s wife. She again spoke only Croatian but she seemed to be saying to come back at 10.

I headed off to the park to kill some time and came back to the apartment at 10. I still wasn’t sure whether I was on the right track but headed up anyway. Mirsad was there and he led me down the stairs across the street and into another old building. Once inside I definitely knew I was on the right track! There were bicycles and bicycle parts thrown all around the room. He soon got to work and took off the back wheel. The problem was fairly obvious, the rear axle had snapped clean in two! No wonder I was having trouble pedalling. This was surely because of the pressure of going over the bumpy gravel road yesterday with the added weight of panniers. After an hours worth of tweaking Mirsad had the bike ready to go. I paid him a bit extra and took a photo of him in his workshop. He wrote down his home address for me and asked me to post it to him which I must do. I thanked him again and hit the road.

Metkovic Apartment
Mirsad in his garage
Split axle!

It was fantastic to be back on the road again. I had lost a day and a half’s worth of cycling so my ambitious plan to cycle the length of the country was now beyond me. I decided to just hit the road for Mostar and take the next few days with no set plan.

I went through the nearby border into Bosnia & Herzegovina proper. Crossing the border was hassle free and I was soon pedalling along the main road to Mostar. This road was a bit worse than the coast road due to the huge amount of trucks which gave no room when passing me but it was just something I would have to put up with. This area just across the border seems to be home to mainly ethnic Croatians. Interestingly the road was dotted with Croatian flags and some of the Cyrillic text was spray painted over on road signs.

I decided to stop off in Pocitelj, a charming village that was extensively bombed by the Serbs during the war. Now 17 years later, the village is rebuilt and has become a popular stop off for tourists on the way to Mostar.

No Cyrillic here
Pocitelj Stairs

I had some Cevapi in Pocitelj while I waited for some heavy rain and a thunderstorm to pass. It eased off a bit so I set off in the rain. Another worrying thing about this road other than the trucks was the amount of unlit tunnels. Luckily most of them were short but having no lights on the bike I was still a bit unsure about them. At one of the tunnels I saw a van fishtail for about 50 metres before regaining control. Due to the lack of grip on these roads if a car/truck saw me too late in a tunnel this is what could happen. This led to me having to wait at the entrance of each tunnel until I could see no traffic behind me and then sprint like hell through it!

One of the many tunnels
Mostar Road
Road to Mostar
The Green Neretva River

Soon enough the weather was back to normal and I arrived in Mostar in the sweltering heat. Mostar came highly recommended so I decided to stay there for the night. It was still early in the day so I’d have plenty of time for a bit of sightseeing. I quickly found a pansion for €15, left the bike there and went off to explore the old town.

Mostar is most famous for it’s bridge “Stari Most” (The Old Bridge.) Before the war it was one of the most famous pieces of architecture in the country. After standing for over 400 years it was destroyed by Croatian forces during the recent war. With the war over, the bridge was rebuilt in 2004, the government hoping it would symbolise the better relationship between Croatians and Bosnians a decade after the war.

For hundreds of years there has been a tradition of local men jumping off the 25 metre high bridge into the Neretva below. Nowadays the tradition continues, however the divers now make a good bit of money from the onlookers, waiting until they have a nice amount of money before eventually taking the plunge!

Stari Most
Old Town
Bridge Diver
Koski Mehmed Pasa Mosque, built in 1617
Mosque Ceiling
View from the mosque’s minaret

After a long walk through the old town and the surrounding sites I decided to have a look for some signs of the war. The scars weren’t hard to find and once outside the old town there were bombed buildings and signs of bullet holes on every street. It was a stark reminder of the atrocities that happened here only 15 years ago.

Scars of the war
Bullet Holes

I ended the night with a nice meal on a terrace overlooking Stari Most, listening to traditional Bosnian music being played across the river. A nice end to my first day in Bosnia & Herzegovina.

Stari Most by Night

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