It’s an easy days cycle to Sarajevo from Mostar but we were both keen to get off the main road again as there was no hard shoulder and rain forecast for the next day. Instead we opted for a much more difficult route involving 2 climbs but hoped it would be a scenic climb. Still being wary of the land mines we asked a young lad if it would be OK to camp in the orchard behind his house. After running off to ask his dad and grandad we’re waved in, shown a great spot for the tent and offered a peppermint tea. The house is a new build situated right next to a beautiful old stone house who’s roof has gone. The lad – Mark – speaks perfect English and explains that this house was once the family home for generations but it was destroyed during the war.
We fall asleep to the sound of an excellent singer performing the call to prayer – Mostar is predominantly Muslim. Paddy and I have got quite good at discerning the good singers from the bad by now and we are sad that Bosnia will probably be the last country where we are likely to hear it regularly. We find it very comforting and quite beautiful. We have found the standard in Bosnia to be excellent and they seem to have a slightly different style from others we’ve heard in places such as Turkey and Iran.
We sleep well but wake up to lots of rain – a bit of a nightmare when trying to put everything away under the tent. We find cover in our guests old porch and manage to pack the bike up before starting the climb in what is now persistent drizzle. The climb ends up being a humdinger and we grind along at 4.5km for nearly 2 hours up a valley.
Mist rises up like puffs of smoke to join the low lying cloud as we struggle up sweating in our rain jackets. One minute I’m in shorts and t-shirt despite the cold the next fully thermal. Near the top the road turns to switch backs and with these an easier incline. The clouds part for a quick snap of the valley, Mostar in the distance, before the next weather front comes in and the rain turns to thick snow.
Fortunately we find a very cosy lunch spot in a swanky pub on the other side of the pass and decide we’ve earned a bit of luxury. It’s a great spot with an open fire and lot of locals enjoying a warming Sunday lunch. Bosnian food doesn’t really divert from what Paddy and I now call the Ottoman diet. I.e a version of some cooked meat with bread. The national dish is Cepavi – a plate of small kebab sausages in a flat, pancake-like bread with raw onions. It’s no cunelry masterpiece but it’s good for a hungry cyclist. This flirtation with meat and bread has continued throughout all of the Balkan states and it’s definitely a custom which comes from Turkey – as is the coffee which is essentially prepared the same way as Turkish coffee.
After lunch we have another steeper but shorter climb and the asphalt disappears and we have 20km of bumpy, stony track and there’s quite a bit of snow at the top. As we descend into the next valley the track overlooks an amazing gorge with a crystal blue lake and a picturesque town called Jezero at the bottom.
We finally meet back up with the asphalt and freewheel down to a town called Konjic where we begin to look for a camp spot. We meet Philip a motorcyclist from Germany who coincidentally happens to be searching for somewhere to pitch his tent too! We end up choosing a nice grassy field at the top of the town next to a ploughed field and empty house. I go off to knock on a few of the nearby houses to check its all ok before we get set up.
It’s a cold night and our tents are stiff with frost and water half bottles frozen the next morning. We lie in bed waiting for the sun to pierce through the thick mist hanging in the valley. Fortunately a nice lady invites us in for coffee in her cosy sitting room and by the time we leave it’s warming up with plenty of sunshine.
Over dinner the evening before, Phillip had told us about a sight of interest nearby which had been the secret location of Tito’s nuclear bunker. Naturally we were interested so we made plans to all head up together to check it out. Philip didn’t know much about it so it was a bit of an unknown and it wasn’t until we finally found the site that we realised the awesomeness of what we had stumbled across!
During the height of the Cold War the leader of Yugoslavia Tito – like all the leaders at that time – believed that a nuclear war was teetering on the edge of becoming reality. And being a communist state who was not part of the Warsaw Pack Yugoslavia was in rather a precarious position!
So Tito ordered for a state of the art top-secret bunker complex to be built deep underground. The site chosen was just outside this small quiet village of Konjic, set on the banks of a river from where the bunker was tunnelled deep into the mountainside. These two ordinary, very unassuming houses mark the entrance to the crazy military world within. It’s so well hidden that it took Paddy and I an hour to find the entrance!
The deepest rooms are 280m underground and could house 300 military personnel and a handful of Tito’s closest advisors and family members for up to 6 months. The extent of the complex just shows how real the threat must have felt and it makes you wander what kind of military complexes our current political leaders have incase amgeddon strikes!
The tour of the bunker takes around 90 minutes. The whole area makes up 15,000 square meters and is complete with everything that 400 people might need to survive a nuclear attack. Fresh water, 2 huge oil tanks, a huge air conditioning system, a secret helipad and access tunnel and state of the art communication devices. The whole place feels like the interior of a large ship.
The bunker took 26 years to build and the engineers working on it were blind folded on their way in and out and sworn to total secrecy regarding their work. What is perhaps so surreal about this place is that it is totally unused – it was completed a year before Tito’s death in 1980 and has been left untouched until a few years ago. Everything is pristine and even some of the furniture still has its plastic wrapping on it. A perfectly preserved time capsule of the 60s and 70s. It is very very cool!
To make the place feel even more surreal, the complex is also a curated exhibition space so as well as large portraits of Tito on the walls, there are over 100 art installations which you encounter along your way. They are all commentating on aspects of the Cold War and are works by artists from across Europe.
After the bunker we said our goodbyes to Phillip and cycled towards Sarajevo where we will stay for a few days before heading northwest into the Republika Srpska territory.