We stayed in a campsite outside the city before heading towards the town of Travnik. With thunderstorms and rain due that night we took cover off the road in an abandoned semi built house which looked as if it was going to keep us dry. It was a bit early to stop but at least we would be safe from the weather when it decided to lash down later that evening.
We waited… and waited… all night for the rain to hit but it didn’t start until 4:30am when it dutifully came teeming down. Unfortunately for us the building wasn’t as waterproof as we though and we woke the next morning to the tent sitting in a pool, water seeping into the tent and all our gear waterlogged… Frustrated and grumpy we climb out and try and dry everything off as well best we can. The rain continues all morning and at 11am turns to thick snow which eventually starts to stick.
We cower in our shelter and watch all the tv programmes we’ve downloaded from BBC iplayer hoping it’ll stop. It doesn’t, and at 2pm we admit defeat and decide to find a restaurant for dinner. We weren’t going to get anywhere today… The best place we find is a pizza joint in a big shopping centre where we hide for the rest of the evening. The snow melts quickly but it’s still pretty cold and we simply head back to the same shelter for a second night.
Selim our Sarajevo host had suggested a route to Banja Luka but the road was really busy with traffic so we reconsulted the map to see if there was an alternative route.
We spotted a smaller road – the R440 – which would take us up over a 1000m pass instead. The climb initially was very manageable and thankfully, the weather dry and sunny. We passed through some nice villages. Communities outside of Sarajevo, feel more segregated between the three ethnic groups. Further down the valley we had seen lots of Croatian flags and Croatian beers for sale but up here we suddenly find ourselves cycling past Mosques with the house doorways and vegetable patches are full of women wearing colourful Turkish trousers and head scarfs.
After this final village the Tarmac ends and turns into a dirt track winding its way up the valley next to a river. No snow on the ground yet but we still had 500m to climb… We pass an old army checkpoint and we assume that we are now about to cross into official Republika Srpska territory. No one is manning the post and none of the villagers stop us as we cycle through – we do wonder if we will encounter a difficult road ahead though…
In short we do. The road gets gradually worse and worse and patches of melting snow start to appear. We’re able to cycle through most of these and we are cheered by some fresh boot-prints on the track too. Then we encounter our first major hurdles: first a dug out trench which covers the whole road apart from a thin slice at the side where we precariously push the bike across, the back wheel sliding slowly into the ditch as we go. Then, around the corner, a man made mound which we have to lift tandem over. Overcoming these obstacles the track starts to snake upwards and disappear under icy water… Melting snow. Up we scramble – at times pushing the bike through inches of fast flowing water. Paddy’s shoes do not hold up well to this treatment!
The boot tracks are still visible which tells us that a person has definitely used the road as a thoroughfare quite recently – this is encouraging. As we’re struggling up the last section a deer walks out onto the snow and turns his to look at us. We realise the remoteness of our surroundings and then get back to heaving tandem to the top. Here we are able to get back on board and fortunately it’s not as steep on this side so we’re able to wheel slowly down and we only skid and fall over once – me, unusually, taking the brunt of the fall this time.
After a short while we find ourselves on a dirt track, the countryside opening up in front of us. We stop outside a house where a friendly family come out to say hello. When we point in the direction we’ve just come they look at us as if we are slightly insane! We meet back up with a proper road soon enough and we enjoy eating up some easy miles freewheeling down through the valley where at the bottom we dip into an open field and set up camp for the night.
The next day was very hot! Quite a change from the snow, sleet and freezing temperatures we had the previous days! We reach Banja Luka which is the capital of the Republika Srpska state. We sit and enjoy basking in the sunshine next to the old castle ruins and the river with no desire to do too much more cycling.
We decide we can’t set the tent up here though, however tempting, so we head out of town and swing west through some lovely rolling green countryside which reminds us both of the U.K. We pass a sign for a waterfall and decide we have time to investigate especially as it might provide a good opportunity to wash ourselves and our clothes. It’s a good waterfall and although the water is freezing we both brave a bath and feel very refreshed after.
It happens to be a public holiday that day so lots of families and neighbours are sitting out in their gardens together as we pass. At 6:30 we approach a red faced farmer who is busy fixing his tractor outside his house and ask if we can pitch our tent in the field over the road. There’s an amazing sunset.
Our final day and night in Bosnia saw us make good headway through some very beautiful remote countryside towards the border with Croatia. Lots of rolling hills and quiet lanes lined with green hedgerows full of familiar flowers and plants. A nice few final days in Bosnia which has been really enjoyable despite the extreme changes in weather.