25th – 30th September 2013
Croatia had captured my heart all over again and after the 60th wedding we enjoyed the drive back along the stunning coastline. Each time we saw somewhere we could pull over to inspect the water we did do.
Its like we had to keep checking it was real, that the liquid sapphire was not a figment of our imagination. We could touch it, hear it and swim in its cool embrace. It was slow going for a change and we enjoyed every second of it. I would have happily stayed there forever…but we are always moving forward, onto the next country, the next adventure, the next wedding!
Next stop on our wild wedding adventure was Bosnia Herzegovina. As always we filled the fridge and hit the road to our next destination. We literally drove over the mountains and found ourselves weaving through a totally different Croatia. Farm land, tiny villages and a rusty coloured forest, Autumn was hot on our heels.
We got a funny feeling in our tummies seeing the bullet riddled homes and once beautiful houses giving in to become piles of rubble. The tumultuous past of the country evident as we got further out into the sticks. To think that Croatia had been at war less than 20 years ago felt too real. We talked about war and our feelings about guns in the modern world, how sad it is that the ownership of guns is defended daily in some parts of the world. Seeing the destroyed homes and considering the destroyed lives in this part of the journey, and that it happened within our very own life times bought a lot of feelings home.
We continued on to Plitvice lakes hoping to spend the night there before crossing into Bosnia but as we drove towards them we encountered far too many tourist buses to even get close. We retraced our path and hit the border into the unknown.
Bosnia Herzegovina seemed to be immediately greener than Croatia, more fertile, even after gorging ourselves on ripe figs, grapes and pomegranates that in Croatia had seemed to grow everywhere, we couldn’t believe the abundance of even more fruit in Bosnia. Huge blue plums hung to the floor pulling their trees limbs taught, apples groaned to be picked and pears as big as tennis ball tears threatened to crash to the ground and release their juices in defiance!
We avoided the four legged traffic and asked for directions to Bihac due to the lack of road signs and snaked our way along a narrow lane that was wound around a railway track.
As twilight set in we began to look for somewhere to sleep. The first night wild camping in a new country is always a bit stressful, we don’t know the rules, what the police are like, what the locals are like or even if there will be somewhere suitable. We kept our eyes peeled as the railway track took us alongside a river and eventually spotted a patch of flat ground that looked like a likely spot. It was however on the other side of someones home. We bit the bullet and went to ask if we could stay there. We drove into the drive way and stopped at a chain marking the gate to the waters edge. A lady appeared and with our well trained charades we explained we wanted to stay, she charged us some loose change and released the chain.
The chickens, kittens and cockerel came to check out the new addition to their turf and we settled in for the night. Alex rustled up some home-made burgers and we slept soundly knowing we had permission to stay. We even pushed the boat out and lounged around in bed in the morning! A rare luxury!
We roused ourselves to move on around 11am and as we made to leave the lady at the house refused to move the chain until we had joined her for coffee. Eagerly she and her husband ushered us to sit at the table outside their home as she rushed back and forth bringing mismatched cups and saucers, a bowl of sugar and a pot of coffee wrapped in a warmer. She poured us the thick black liquid and disappeared again to bring more glasses and a plate of biscuits. The husband sat sipping his coffee urging us to do the same. The glasses were soon filled with a clear liquid and pushed towards us with huge smiles.
The rakija was even more startling at that time of day but we knocked it back as we had been taught and smiled in thanks as we washed it down with a swig of coffee. Apparently this was a sign in Bosnia that another glass would be needed and we cried a little inside as the glasses were topped up again.
Alex declined his as he was driving and I took heed and sipped slowly at the fiery liquid as we sat and chattered with the couple. They showed us photo’s of their family in Canada and we explained that Peggy was from there too. We showed them our world map (actually a piece of wrapping paper so not totally accurate) and ran our fingers along our journey and they looked at us like we were crazy.
The chickens pecked around at our feet and I remembered a bag of cereal we had bought that we didn’t like and bought it out to give to the big nosy birds. We asked if it was ok to give it to them and the couple, intrigued, tasted it and decided they would quite like it. It was too good for the chickens and they poured some out onto a plate to eat with their coffee. Little did I know I had started a ‘gift off’.
We were given a bag of walnuts which they had picked from the tree we sat underneath and had dried in their shed. They showed us the piles of nuts and proudly told us they sold for $50 a sack. To whom they sold them we had no idea, we were literally in the middle of nowhere!
In exchange we handed them a special bottle of Italian beer with a stopper so that they could use it to brew their next batch of Rakija, they gave me some bangles and after that we had all run out of things to exchange. After another rakija and taking a few pictures together we left and waved goodbye feeling on top of the world. Again, our faith in human nature reinforced. Any fears we may have been harboring about being in this little known (to us) country were well and truly vanquished.
We are so lucky to be made to incredibly welcomed by so many people around the world. Such generosity and kindness is a myth to some. After only one night and one chance encounter Bosnia already held a special place in our hearts.
We arrived in Prijedor the following day, the destination for our 61st wedding.
Sadly the city has a rather tainted history due to the atrocities committed there during the Bosnian war. Prijedor is where the second largest massacre was committed during the war in 1992, now known as the Prijedor Massacre or the Prijedor ethnic cleansing.
During the massacre period it is estimated that around 14,000 were missing or killed.
Just 22 years ago.
When I was 10 years old, riding my bike in the tenfoot by our house with my friends or having sleep overs and watching movies or arguing with my parents about going into the town by myself on the bus, there were people in concentration camps.
Less than 2000 miles away children the same age were in the middle of a war. Children the same age as me were witnessing the most horrific things, things we believed were all in the past, things that we thought belonged in someone elses life time.
The friends we were about to meet had lived through these atrocities and some had even arrived in Prijedor as refugees, having had to flee their homes to stay alive. If there is anything that can bring you down to earth with a bump it is hearing the history of war from someone the same age as yourself!
Regardless of our friends history, and of the cities history, the moment that we arrived in Prijedor and met with our friends, we felt settled. The town itself had an uncanny resemblance to the town we are from. Hull couldn’t be further from this towns history but it had the same feel about it.
Working class people in a working class town. Smiles on faces and cigarettes clasped in fingers as people chatted over coffee at busy bars after work.
We met with Goran and Bobana who had contacted us inviting us to the city, like most people we hit it off immediately but this seemed different, like meeting up with old friends. Goran told us how he had read our blog and had decided to contact us to have a wedding with him and his friends, Bobana, Ogi and Gaga, and a year or so later there we were!
Bobana rushed off to a family wedding that afternoon, she told us that at a traditional wedding in Bosnia there would be at least 300 guests to help with the celebrations.
We spent the next few days meeting more friends and making last minute arrangements for our 61st wedding day. I tried on dresses, we ate at the local McDonalds (McMiskas) and drank in the local pubs which were JUST like those back home and generally settled even more into life in Prijedor.
We had no idea what to expect from the wedding but we were already overwhelmed at the welcome we had received and felt incredibly close to the friends that we had made, that we knew it could only be an amazing day!