Greetings from Belgrade, Serbia. Many people have written saying they miss the newsletters so I'll do my best to get some cool newsletters flowing again. Bosnia is worthy of a newsletter...so sit back, relax and enjoy!
Bliss in Bosnia
Suggestion : Print this out in draft form, on scrap paper, and use it for some bedtime, bathroom or weekend reading. Our journals are more like a chapter of a book and this is 7 pages. So relax and enjoy!
Exciting Photos: Just click the link below. Big thanks to Panasonic for the cameras:
Friday 13th June. 7:48PM. Location: On a bus from the border of Bosnia and Croatia, enroute to Serbia
With my tears just drying up after a very sad goodbye to some truly amazing souls in Bosnia I wanted to get you the guts of the adventure fresh from my head and heart. As I move deeper into the Balkans I seem to be opening up in new ways and connecting deeper than ever to the incredible people coming into my life. I’m now on a bus to the final country of my Balkan adventure, Serbia, where I’m grateful for continued support and connections awaiting my arrival in Beograd in a few hours.
Take some time out of your busy day to sit down and read this with an open heart. It’s a magical story…
Goga, my Croatian rider and butterfly soul sister, decided to join me after our adventure on the Croatian islands of Brac and Hvar to the capital of Bosnia, Sarajevo. I had been exchanging SMS messages with a woman named Nevena, who was a friend of my Croatian brother Svemir, and she had an evening planned for a presentation at a place called Vegehana, Sarajevo’s only real vegetarian restaurant and urban yoga center.
UPDATE: June 16, 2008 3:30PM, from Belgrade, Serbia. Doh! Ran out of battery on the bus but the feelings are still fresh and I’m quite tender having just said goodbye to my amazing Bosnian friend Mirela who kept the Peace Pedalers tradition alive by coming to Belgrade, Serbia all the way from Sarajevo, Bosnia for the weekend.
Back to my first day in Bosnia…
When Goga and I crossed the border by bus from Split, Croatia the rain started to fall heavily. For some reason all of Europe is getting hammered by rain the last few weeks and summer does not seem to want to really arrive and stay. But we made the best of our drive and had some great chats, nice naps and finally arrived about 4:30 into wet, chilly and windy Sarajevo. Nevena was at the bus stop and was quite amazed with the quantity of gear we pulled off the bus and she quickly got on the phone for more support.
It was pouring rain and nobody wanted to go out riding in it so within minutes a bright orange VW van came rockin’ on in with a smiling guy named Mario ready to take us away. Before I knew it we were at Vegehana, the gear found a home, and we were eating yummy homemade vegetarian dishes and meeting great people excited to hear my talk that evening. Goga and I felt right at home immediately and the energy of this place is something to be experienced for sure!
My video presentation and talk went over very well with just the right number of people, great feedback and was followed by a wild balloon artist from Canada who was a real wizard. Most of the people were heading out early the next morning to the coast of Croatia where we just came. Before we knew it a super cool cat Tarana styled us out big time by giving us his room to stay, keys to the place and yummy food in the refrigerator for the next day! The hospitality was amazing!
Goga had to leave the next day and we had spent 4 unreal days together so tears were inevitable on both parties. We leaned a lot from each other and I’m happy to say we are still in great touch supporting each other and keeping the connection alive. After she left I realized I was finally alone for the first time in weeks. I used the time to do some solo exploring on my bike around Sarajevo as a tourist, but with an open heart and really allowing myself to feel the place. And there is still a lot to feel there after everything the city has gone through.
It was amazing to see four different churches all practicing four different religions on the same block. Right now they are in peace, and everyone respects each others choice of celebrating their spirituality. Sarajevo has a fascinating history as a cultural and religious hub for centuries and I suggest taking some time to hit the net and check it out.
Tuesday the 10th was going to be my departure day from Sarajevo and was an interesting day. I had plans to do a 6:30AM ride through Sarajevo with Nevena but she felt sick and I got a last minute SMS from her that she was feeling ill. I was eager to ride with her, listen to her experiences as a woman who grew up in Sarajevo, and have her share it with the world on the film. So I was a bit let down at first, but somehow knew it would all work out.
On the way to the local Awas newspaper with a fellow traveler Patrick I got an excited call from Nevena who said she had great news. She got a call from the national TV station that they wanted me to be in the show called “Good Vibrations” but I had to stay around one more day to do the taping the following morning. She was very excited for me to stay so we could still do our early morning ride and said if I stayed I would also be able to ride with a new friend Milan who could get that day off to ride out of town on the 11th. So plans change, and it was just right, as always!
That night I was able to spend more quality time my friends Tarana, Mario, Sonja, Mirela and caught some great commentary on film out riding with a few of them. I was also able to plant some seeds for riders to come join me up north to the border. Tarana continued to insist on me staying in his room while he stayed on the floor with Patrick. The next morning Nevena and I did an amazing ride around Sarajevo where she shared so much about herself, her life growing up during the war, and how her experiences helped shape who she is today. What I got most out of our chat was how she now chooses, and is content with, simplicity.
After our ride I did a guided mediation with Patrick then hit the taping of “Good Vibrations” with Nevena. After the taping Nevena took me to the “front lines” of the war where Serbs hammered many apartment buildings from a few hundred meters away. She shared with me that she lived very close to this area and her stories of snipers, bullets, grenades, basement living and sneaky shrapnel collecting left me feeling almost sick to my stomach, but fascinated how she has grown to become such an amazing woman. I cant’ imagine living like that, especially for four years!
Milan, my first long distance rider, got off work at 1PM so Nevena and I hit the road back to Vegehana where the final preparations were underway. Milan got changed, I packed up the bike and we were just ready to leave when I realized that my rear rack was continuing to bend and would likely not support the weight. Fortunately my new friend Mirela, who was “on the fence” on coming out to ride and have her first camping experience, stepped up to the plate big time! She offered to take the heavy box of computer, hard drives, tapes, and crap for me and meet me up for a ride up north! Great news! I knew now I had at least 2 riders for my trip to the border!
Milan and I left a huge crowd of waving, cheering and excited friends from Vegehana and we immediately pedaled up a nice hill at about 3PM towards Zenica. Milan, a 25 year old champ of an individual, was so excited for this ride and was screaming and cheering any chance he got. We were soon flying along the big shoulder of the new highway at about 25km/hour and having a blast sharing, sweating and giggling our way north.
Milan’s mom has a vegetarian food catering business so at the 40km mark or so we found a seat on a park bench in the town of Kakani mowed down some amazing food and met the locals in every direction. Something about the energy of Milan and I made people feel comfortable to approach us, stare at us or assist us. It stayed that way the entire day and until we parted ways.
But at about the 65km mark I could feel Milan fading, his legs getting weaker and his spirits not quite as high. We really wanted to ride the last 25km or so by the river, do some filming and get into the countryside. But Milan was doubting whether he would make it or not. In all the years of riding my intuition has grown pretty keen and I knew he could power through the last 25km or so and we took the more challenging, hilly terrain by the river.
Luckily my intuition was spot on and the moment we got off the busier road and into nature, pretty scenery and got the cameras rolling it was all the extra boost of energy Milan needed to power onwards. That last stretch to Zanica is truly stunning with rolling hills, riverside riding, cute villages, no cars, great nature and tons of friendly people out walking, riding and chillin in their yards.
When we finally rolled into Zanica we had no clue where we were going to stay. Actually, the original plan was for Milan to take a bus back to his girlfriend Sonja that night but I was able to convince him to stay the night with me. The post sunset scene in Zenica was stunning—a typical Muslim evening vibe but without the heavy religious feel. It seems to be part of the culture to stroll with the family at night, meet and greet the people, and Zenica was a wonderful place to ride into.
Zenica is not in the guide book so Milan went right to work explaining what we were about and looking for a place to sleep for the night. After a few calls and chats with the locals we were offered a few places but opted for a reasonable apartment down the road as it was immediately available and local and the other invitations would have involved some dark pedaling and waiting around for clearance from spouses.
Milan and I met the owner of a cute apartment complex showing the local Euro 2008 on the bar big screen and settled right in. Switzerland, the host of the 2008 Euro, was losing but putting up a great fight. The bar owner kept delivering cold, complimentary beers and brought his teenage son over for a language lesson in exchange. It was a special evening of sharing, relaxing, celebrating the 82km ride, listening to music and getting a wonderful night sleep basking in our positive energy.
The next morning Milan had to get a bus back to Sarajevo to get to work and I had plans to meet up with Nevena at 4PM about 60km north to ride together to Dobaj. Milan and I gave some strong hugs before waving him off and just as he left the weather turned from mostly sunny to mostly rainy, and by the time I rode out of the city it was pouring rain. And the road was no cakewalk out of town as there was no longer a gentle back road nor a highway that had a shoulder. There was just one two-lane expressway with almost no shoulder and trucks passing by at mach speed.
I had several positive things going for me during that solo morning ride. The main national paper had published an article about Peace Pedalers, I was flying a big Bosnian flag and I was feeling stronger than I had ever felt. Put all those together and, although the rain and busy road was a challenge, I was having an awesome day in the saddle. I took a few back road options that were truly stunning into adorable rural villages by the Bosnian River where I met friendly locals and a cute dog I named Bossie who ran 10km or so with me.
Somehow I managed to keep my average speed up in the 22km/hour zone the entire 75km ride to Maglaj and I was pushing hard to make it to the 4PM meeting time with Nevena. But just as I entered town I got an SMS from her saying that she missed her bus, which was quite a buzz kill for me as the rain was slowing down, the beautiful scenery starting peek out and a 28km back road on the river was starting at our meeting point. But the good news is that she was still coming, and she was not coming alone either!
This is where the adventure starts to get very interesting. My good friend Mirela was eager to come out for a ride, spend some more time together and especially do some camping as she had never done it in her 28 years on earth I had a big tent, 2 sleeping bags and mats and all she needed to give it a try. Mirela was on her way but now she was taking not only Nevena but a new character to the adventure, a 22 year old spark plug of energy named Reza I had met at Vegehana.
So as they were driving my way I still have another 30km of riding to do, which brought my days ride to about 100km of solo loaded riding. I was pretty darn tired when I rolled into Dobaj but I was very excited to meet up with my crew. By the time we finally managed to meet up it was getting dark and we were at least 10km from the nearest place to camp so Mirela. That was not the real problem as much as the fact that Nevena and Reza had no blankets, no tent and nothing really warm to wear. They were planning to sleep in the car and I made the executive decision that we would rent an apartment together so everyone could get a good night sleep, which made Mirela a bit upset, of course.
What I did not realize when I made this executive decision was that sleeping in a car without blankets was not such a big deal to these guys. During the war they often had to sleep on cold concrete, wet, crowded, noisy, smelling and much harsher than the reclined VW seats. But the truth is that I wanted them well rested as we still have over 100km to the border and I was tried after 2 days of tough riding so I treated us to an apartment.
We found an apartment and our plan was to have Mirela and I check in and have Nevena and Reza come join us later and then sleep on the couch and floor. But unfortunately the woman at the front desk was a real pain in the rear and informed us that no guests were allowed in the apartment. By that time we were all pretty tired, especially me, so Nevena and Reza got their wish to sleep in the car, but they did get some pillows and a sleeping bag, which made me feel better.
The next morning we were all in great sprits for our relay ride to the border. Nevena and Reza slept great and told me later that they did not even use the sleeping bags and pillows! We fueled up on some great breakfast and dumped many of the bags into Mirela’s car and headed out of town. Mirela and I were the first to ride and she chose the best leg by far. The ride was along the peaceful Bosnia River on a small back road where most of the traffic was horse drawn farm carts with smiling locals doing their daily chores.
Mirela and I had a special connection from way back in Sarajevo. She’s 28 years old and, like Nevena, she was only 11 when the war in Sarajevo started. She spent four years of her normally blissful youth trying to make the best out of a pretty horrific situation. But there we were riding in the Serb Republic region of the country where the group of people who terrorized her was now settled after the peace agreement. She did not seem to have a problem being there and was enjoying the ride, some great conversations and she even came out of her comfort zone and allowed me to run the cameras for a rolling interview.
After an amazing 38km ride we met up with our support crew to grab some food, drink and bring on the next rider of the day, Nevena. Nevena was like a little girl waiting to go on a roller coaster ride. She was so excited and eager to get the pedals moving. We had a few kilometers of great riding before we had to change roads to a busier one with a nasty headwind. But luckily we found a side road with little traffic, rolling hills, tons of nature and more Croatian settlements as we moved towards that border. We had some lovely chats and Nevena shared with me that she was hoping to discover something about herself on the bike ride, and I’m still waiting to hear what she might have discovered.
After a big climb we stopped for some ice cream and I realized just how exhausted I really was. In all the excitement and fun I forgot to eat properly and at about the 75km mark I was burning out big time. When Reza finally took over I grabbed some food, unloaded the trailer and camera equipment in the car, and we did a fast load free ride from heaven as my strength came back and the fresh, excited, testosterone driven legs of Reza kept the tandem flying along close to 35km an hour.
The last few kilometers with Reza were wonderful. When we were about 7km from the border we mounted up the cameras once again to bring the world along with us and to give Reza a voice to share his feelings and thoughts with the world. His English is a bit limited so all I heard was raw passion being conveyed in Bosnian but I knew he was sharing some good stuff, which you’ll have to wait to hear when the show comes out.
Unlike Nevena and Mirela, 22-year old Reza was too young to really remember the war in Sarajevo. And he was speaking proudly as a member of the new generation with hopes and dreams of peace in Bosnia. He has huge dreams for his life and we talked about me supporting him to realize them He was grateful for this and I hope we can keep in touch as he moves forward to become a future leader in his community.
The sad moment finally came when the border came into sight, with a line of trucks and busses waiting to cross into Croatia. I knew what that meant but I was still hoping I would be able to talk this crew into driving to Serbia to meet me there that evening in Belgrade. But as we sat down at a café after the ride it became clear that most of them had responsibilities back in Sarajevo to attend to and the spontaneous mission to Serbia was not really an option.
We took a victory photo about an hour before my bus to Belgrade was going to leave and a local Bosnian Serb came into one of the photos. He proceeded to put up a sign with his hands using his thumb, index and middle finger that represents the father, son and holy ghost. The Serbians are Orthodox and most of the folks in Sarajevo are Muslims. During the war that sign was feared by the young woman of Sarajevo who heard many stories of their friends and families being raped and murdered after they showed this 3 finger sign.
So, unbeknownst to both me and Reza, this man was flashing this sign in the photo and Mirela would not have it. Reza even wanted to join him thiniking it was some combination of a peace sign and a thumbs up. No, it was not. And if you see our last victory photos you’ll see Mirela holding Reza’s wrist telling him not to show this sign. For the rest of the time while I was preparing my bike for the bus ride Reza and Mirela were having deep conversations with the local Serbian guys at the café about religion, war and they were able to have a peaceful talk to reach an understanding about several issues.
As the departure time of my bus grew closer we were all getting more and more sad. I almost had Mirela on board to give her car keys to Nevena and Reza and hop the bus with me, but it would not be very responsible since they would not be insured and the rain and nasty weather was starting back up. We all grew so very close during my stay in Bosnia and none of us wanted it to end. When the bus finally came the driver was very cool and put the bike in a special compartment and did not charge me a dime. I grabbed my seat, looked out the window and they were gone. Within seconds tears shot out of my eyes like never before. In over six years on the road I have never cried like I did in that bus, looking out the window at the last few meters of Bosnian soil and still feeling my connection with my Bosnian family.
I sent a final SMS from the heart to everyone as my tears were falling and it got them all crying too on the way back to Sarajevo. I also gave one more invitation for anyone to make a weekend run to Serbia to share some more moments together and keep the Peace Pedalers tradition of bringing riders from the previous country into the next alive. By next morning I got an SMS that Mirela was on the way! So I extended my Bosnian yummy experiences into the weekend as Mirela and my Serbian host Bobo hit the streets of Belgrade for some fun nightlife, great chats and more unforgettable moments of sharing.
Even now, about four days after I left, sitting here in Serbia, I still have very warm feelings of all the people and groups (go Vegehana!) that helped make my experience so special. As I close this newsletter I want to encourage you all to put Bosnia on your travel plans one day. You won’t be disappointed! I’m just a few moments from starting my adventure of riding here in Serbia. Unlike Bosnia, I have no planned guest riders and don’t really have the same passion as I did when leaving Sarajevo. But no doubt something wild and interesting will happen.
Over n out from Serbia!
Live Big. Give Big. ;)
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