Monday, 12 July 2010

Camping in Bosnia (Republika Srpska)

For a change of scenery, we decided to trek off Bosnia & Herzegovina for a few days (camping not boating, seeing as they only have about half a mile of coastline). We weren't sure what to expect really and were pretty ignorant about the country as a whole. So the first thing we learnt was that BiH has been split into two parts: Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina and Republika Srpska. Most of our journey took us through Republika Srpska which outside of the occasional small town, is pretty much deserted/undeveloped and the scenery is similar to Montenegro, though softer and prettier. And the roads are bloody great - no potholes, relatively flat and empty of other vehicles. And no high-powered cars being driven by testosterone-fueled dicks.

The scenery on entering the Sutjeska National Park was breathtaking. Similar soaring, steep-sided mountains and karst formations to that of Montenegro with razor-sharp peaks, trimmed with pines. We entered the only (Deliverance stylee) settlement in the area, Tjentjeste, and found the campsite. It should have been a pretty spot, along the banks of a fast-flowing glacial river, beneath trees providing much needed shade. However, the abandoned and burnt-out buildings (including the toilet block), the lack of any other campers and the presence of a picnic table full of around 100 empty beer bottles and a group of men - plus another 4 Land Rover's worth of Landmine Clearance workers having a BBQ gave the place an uncomfortable feel.

However, having driven for 6 hours and having no alternative, plus it being a great little spot for a tent, we stayed and ended up there for 3 nights.

It was a gorgeous area but utterly inaccessible due to the only 2 roads going off into the mountains being terrible, unless you have a 4WD. And believe me, we tried, having driven on uncovered road, up a mountain for around 30 minutes before finally giving in (and a good job too as not long afterwards, a huge logging train came down the single-track road in the so-called "virgin forest" - well, it is virgin forest - but not for much longer if they intend on logging it!). There is also no tourist info, no decent mapping and no obvious marked trails. Plus, and this is more worrying, there are still unmarked landmines around. So not the best area for trekking at the moment, it has to be said. It is just all so empty and weird. Not empty like Monte is empty up North - more kind of sinisterly empty.

Many bad things have happened there - both in recent times and during WWII. Thousands of Partisans were trapped in an area, only 5 minutes walk from the campsite, and pretty much starved out by the Germans, only some of them escaping via a mountain pass just above where we were staying. There is an impressive monument and 3300 Parisans buried there. More recent evidence of atrocity includes the many shelled and burnt out houses along the roads. We also got followed by a weird, quite insane looking fellow in his car up one of the mountain roads who, when we turned around and met him coming the other way, careered back down the mountain in reverse trying to get away from us then tried to block the road (I just stepped on it and drove off as fast as possible!).

This would have been all weird enough but there was a walker's tent on our site which looked lived in but there was no one there. After 2 nights of them not returning, I spoke to the campsite manager/(empty) hotel manager about it asking whose tent it was and what was going on, expressing concern that it didn't look like the guy had gone off for days (the tent had been left without a flysheet, stuff left outside, compass in his tent etc - which we put back inside as it looked like it would rain). We discovered he was a 21 year old French boy which worried us even more. We left a note for him in his tent when we left and again, I expressed concern to the campsite owner and emailed the French Embassy when we got home.

A few days later back in Montenegro, I got a call from the Bosnian police who had found my note. The lad had not returned. We spoke to the police again today (2 weeks later) and they have not found him, despite a full-scale search including support from NATO. So a seemingly tragic and grim end to a strange little trip.

1 comment:

Claudia said...

Hi Tim, hi Katie,
I just read your entry regarding our favourite national park. My friend and me had the same feeling these days when we met strange people as as you did. Also the old guy who made these strange signs and kissed our hands suddenly was a strange character (that was just before we came to your tent). I was thinking about this guy from the abandoned tent sometimes, I really would like to know what happened to him!
Nevertheless, it was a great evening with the two of you. Hope next time we meet is in a safer and less creepy environment.
Take care, Claudia