BootsnAll Travel Network

Bosnia: Expectations

When Bec and I were back in Rome, we shared a short bus ride with a couple who lived just near my home town of Ballarat, back in Australia. We got to chatting, as you do when you come across other travellers from your home turf (and as an Aussie, this happens endlessy. We’re bloody everywhere), about where we’d been and where we’d recommend. During this rather one-sided conversation (uh, we’ve been to Rome, that’s it. Sorry), they recommended going to Sarajevo, and even suggested a hostel that they rated pretty highly.

With no real itinerary, and no schedule to keep to, we thought stuff it, lets go to Bosnia. And so at 7.30am on the morning of the 17th of September, we were at the bus station in Dubrovnik, about to get onto a bus heading to a country that we knew absolutely nothing about. I’m serious here, absolutely nothing. We didn’t know what language they spoke or what currency they used. A can of coke might have cost 1 thingy, or 1000 thingies, who knew? And with no guidebook, we didn’t even know how to find this out.

First though, we had to actually find a seat on the bus, something that proved alittle more difficult than it really should have. Whilst I paid the bus driver some cash to put our bags under the bus, Bec went on board to find us a seat. A few moments later, stepped onto the bus and saw Bec sitting in a window seat about half way down. Nothing out of the ordinary there. What was out of the ordinary was the chubby old lady standing in the aisle next to Bec’s seat with all her belongings piled in the seat next to Bec, and the look of fear and bemusement on Bec’s face.

As Bec had walked down the aisle she found a seat to her liking, a few seats in front of where she now sat, and went to sit there. The chubby old lady had grabbed her by the arm, preventing her from sitting, snatched the ticket out of her hand and begun inspecting it. Not satisfied that this was where Bec should be sitting (even though there were no reserved seats on the bus), she shoved Bec into the seat where I know saw her, and plonked her bags down preventing Bec from getting out.

“Uh, what’s going on?” I asked.

Bec shook her head to say she had no idea, and the chubby lady started jabbering away at me in Croation (presumably), and grabbed my ticket out of my hand.

“I don’t know what’s going on. She just shoved me in here. I think she thinks it’s set seats.” Bec said, trying to stand up and get out, but to no avail.

“What, that’s crap.” I got my ticket back off the lady, and tried asking her to let Bec out, as Bec tried to indicate that we would like to sit together. The chubby one kept on chattering away, and it wasn’t until a friendly local a few seats down came to help, explaining to the lady that we would like to sit together, that we actually got Bec out of there. We quickly found a seat together across the aisle, and sat down. The same problem was encountered by the next person to walk down the aisle. The chubby lady stopped her in her tracks, and began inspecting the ticket for god knows what, whilst a line of people trying to get seats formed down the aisle and out the door.

Eventually, chubby lady relented, people were able to find their own seats, and the bus finally got on the road. The Croatian coastline again dazzled us, as the bus left Dubrovnik and began following the waterline. But one hour into what we thought was a seven hour bus ride, we stopped for a 10 minute break. Bit early for that, I thought, but anyway, may as well stretch the legs.

That 10 minutes turned into 15 before we got going again. The chubby lady, seated opposite us, returned to the bus with bag full of two packets of chocalte cream biscuits, and a stubby. We finally got going again, only to stop not 500 metres down the road to pick up more passengers. We knew the bus was a sellout – every seat needed to be filled, including the one next to the chubby lady, but she didn’t want a bar of it. Another Croatian lady, her arse sticking into Bec’s face, began arguing with her. And hearing two fat ladies arguing in Croatian is a scary thing, you can go ahead and trust me on that folks. After twenty long minutes of trying to get everyone a seat, we were once again on the road. This time for less than five minutes before we hit passport control, still miles from the Bosnian border. Another 10 minute stop. In the last 45 minutes, we’d travelled no more than a few kilometers. Well, this was enough for the chubby lady. Not long after 10am, and she was into her first stubby. This was going to be a long bus ride.

Eventually, we did hit the Bosnian border, and not too long after, drove onto Bosnian soil.

I won’t go into too much history here, as my knowledge is still very limited, but basically, in 1992, Serbian nationalists, whipped into a frenzy by Slobadan Milosevic, began moves to create a Serbian only state. War between the Serbians and the Bosnians followed, with the Croats at first siding with the Bosnians, but later attempting their own land grab by turning on the Bosnians. For the next four years, Bosnia was a place to avoid.

After crossing the border, we drove through a hilly countryside, dotted with half destroyed, abandoned houses, and others that were in perfect condition, a sign of the ethnic cleansing that I would learn about later. Stories of Serbian nationalists destroying the homes of the Bosnian neighbours they had lived next door to for years were not uncommon. We passed through the town of Mostar, a place where Croat troops had reportedly rounded up and executed Bosnain men in their thousands. 10 storey buildings stood abandoned, burnt out and full of bullet holes, next to the post office where people went about their daily business. It was a bizarre sight, where every other building was half destroyed, left to crumble at its own pace, while others stood clean and proud.

Beyond Mostar, the terrain turned mountainous, and we followed the path of a river that flowed in the valleys at the base of the surrounding peaks. The water was a brilliant deep emerald green, and the mountains were covered in trees, with rocky peaks exposing themselves high up. Having had no expectations for this country I knew little about, this bus trip was breathtaking.

Nine hours after leaving Dubrovnik, we pulled into the bus station in Sarajevo.

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