Part 2 of Balkan Roadtrip following, Sarajevo, Bosnia & Herzegovina…
After retrieving the rental car from the airport, we headed north to Kulen Vakuf located in Una National Park for some hiking fun. I opted for the more scenic route (aka. toll-less) from Sarajevo. This next stop was the farthest north we would be traveling. The route started as a rainy bore, meandering out of Sarajevo as I became reacquainted with European directional signs, and with the tiny, blue Opel. As we climbed through the mountains, I then had to become reacquainted with driving in a blizzard. It’s April! Why is there this much snow coming down?!?! Nerve-racking moment… driving up a mountain side on an untreated, rural road with zero guard rails in a tiny front wheel drive car as a freak blizzard decides to hit. Made it out alive without wrecking the vehicle! In the photos below, the snowy ones that is, the emptiness where the sky should be is actually a mountain disguised by the white, flaky stuff. Once clear of the snow, I found myself looking around and wondering why on Earth this road even existed. Nothing around for miles and miles, no towns or even villages in sight, and I haven’t seen another vehicle on the road in ages. Fingers crossed I don’t break down.
Sooo deserted, I was able to do a handstand in the middle of the empty roadway!
Five hours after departing Sarajevo, we arrived in Kulen Vakuf, a small town nestled in the mountains. At our first AirBnB fail. Greeted by the parent’s of the owner, the non-English speaking couple welcomed me upstairs. The apartment was in a great location for our purposes, so plus there. It provided parking and a tranquil location in Kulen Vakuf. The apartment itself left a lot to be desired. The “kitchen” it claimed to have only provided a sink, ancient hot plate, and kettle to warm water for coffee. The hot plate stopped functioning in the middle of preparing dinner on it one night. Thankfully, the host responded quickly, and his mother brought up a slightly newer one. The living room and kitchen area were on top of each other – only a foot of space was between the counter and the couch. Hubs learned this the hard way when he actually broke his pinky toe on the couch while trying to get to the sink. Cleanliness was clearly not on the priority list, as I discovered green snot smeared across the shower wall. Please excuse me while I vomit thinking about that. The owner claimed there was a washer and dryer, which we were counting on, but it certainly did not. They alleged there was a pool… is the trench running behind it what you were referring to? Where are these other amenities: Hangers (there wasn’t even a closet to hang things in), a fireplace, dedicated workspace (are you counting the floor?), stove and oven (no oven in sight, and the dead hot plate does not count as a stove), beach (again, the trench out back doesn’t count), and BBQ grill (again, did you mean the hot plate?). It was a disaster. On to better memories.
Una National Park largely centers around water, specifically, the Una River. Una, Latin for “One,” is about 50 acres of forests, rivers, meadows, pastures, mountains and valleys. The park is a fairly new one, only having been declared a national park in 2008, after the foundation was laid centuries earlier by Bosko Marjunovic, who said, “The Una should be protected from the people, the people should be educated how to protect the Una.” Random, but interesting, side note: The park does not have an abundance of trails snaking through it, and this is for good reason. Due to the pesky wars and 1990s siege, there are still thousands of land mines littering the hills. The Bosnians nicely placed skull and cross bones ominous signs along the roadway urging people to stay out of the woods for fear of exploding. How thoughtful! Poverty is also obvious in the northern mountains region. We strolled passed a dilapidated RV with an even adder outhouse looking ready to collapse nearby. Plus, you can’t help but laugh at how the “repair” fallen bridges (image below). That’s safe, right?
Day two in the mountains, we left our accommodation enroute to Martin Brod, a tiered waterfall in the park. Armed with our hiking packs, plenty of water, and lunch. The “trail” was simply the roadway we had driven in on, and the trek for today’s walk was approximately 15 miles roundtrip of relatively flat surface. Beware, driver’s tend to drive AT people walking along the road, but other than that, it was a rather uneventful journey to the falls. You stroll by an old Monastery upon entering Martin Brod with a violent history (shocking, I know). Rmanj Monastery was founded in 1418, and became an increasingly more important religious center in the 16th and 17th centuries with 100s of monks living within it’s walls. However, it was devastated in 1875, and the inhabitants were tortured. Used a hospital during WWII, until the Nazi’s leveled it. Jerks. It lay abandoned for 30 years until the monks returned in 1974 and restored the building to its former glory.
On to the falls… the water is gradually taking over an abandoned house that was once on land next to the swiftly moving water. The lower portion is the merging of the Una and Unac River’s, which are both rapidly consuming a peninsula between them. A creaking, rotting wooden walkway dumps you square in front of the falls for a great vantage point. The falls consist of 800 meters (silly Europeans with their metric system) of cascading water, making it the longest in Una.
This hike was the beginning of me mastering panoramic toilets for females. I shall explain. While hiking the The Inca Trail, the guide taught us about relieving one’s bladder during the hike. The toilets along the trail are less-than-desirable in most cases, as they are cleaned about once a year when the trail is serviced. It is generally best to utilize panoramic toilets, aka. squatting along the trail with a view of the Andes Mountains. I drink a lot of water, especially whilst hiking. The bladder in my pack holds 2.5 liters of H2O, and that liquid has to go somewhere. I learned to bring TP and mastered finding locales to empty my very full bladder. It’s the little things in life. Men have it so much easier in this regard.
Just before we got back to Kulen Vakuf, the skies opened up as the ominous, dark clouds breached the top of the mountains ahead of us. One of the only times you’ll catch me running (if only I knew what was going to happen in Sarajevo in three weeks). While we were sprinting towards the bridge over to Kulen Vakuf, a local saw us, howled and teased us for getting caught in the rain.
Next up – Štrbački Buk near Orašac. We actually drove partway to this one, electing to park the vehicle in a random swimming hole/picnic area and hoped for the best. Since I’m the least lazy person out there, we walked the rest of the way, which paid off later. The trail was again a roadway that was under construction, but it was tranquil, weaving along the river banks. We meandered through a couple small villages, one complete with a mother dog biting at our legs as she protected her puppies. Please no rabies on this trip. A ranger demanded 7 Bosnian Marks to view the falls, which is a whopping $4. We’re almost there!
Separating Croatia and BiH, these falls are ridiculously impressive. Rickety, non-ADA complaint, rotten, wood pathways weave along and over the falls. Some even have warnings on weight and people limits… glad I’m not fat. There are far fewer safety precautions in these countries – A common theme I have noticed throughout Europe. Survival of the smartest and least klutzy. A pleasant, grassy knoll sits just above the falls, complete with picnic tables. Lunching along the river was quite relaxing. Take a stop by the tiny shops near the falls… COVID has horribly impacted their businesses, so we made sure to buy some homemade ginger and gold mountain forest honey. Now back the way we came!
Not driving all the way to the falls paid off ten fold. The construction workers had dug out a deep trench spanning the full width of the road with no finish in sight. We’d have been a little bit trapped had we driven, since the only way to pass was a giant leap over the pit. Pretty confident the Opel does not have flying capabilities. Win for not being a lazy, useless human! And the car was still tucked away in the picnic area upon our return!
Japodski Otoci, otherwise known as the Japanese Islands, are located near Račić a short drive from Bihać. Unless you intend on staying in one of their A-frame “tents,” this is relatively quick stop to marvel at the crystal clear, turquoise water in the pools surrounding the islands. Granted, the tents and cafe were currently closed, likely because of the wrath of Corona, but you can still enjoy the scenery on one the swings, beneath which lies a decapitated teddy bear? Little fucker hurt the ambiance a touch. And just straight up confused the hell out of me. Assassinated bear, where did you come from?
Onward to Bihać, and a fortress overlooking the city. Stari grad Ostrožac, or Ostrožac Castle, is a 12th Century fortification atop a hill. Captured by the Ottoman Empire way back when, ownership of the properly is still disputed. The grounds of the castle are lush and green, often used for concerts, and are littered with weird statues that aren’t even from the time period. The interior of it is in less pristine shape, covered with graffiti and crumbling… literally. While fun to explore the unrestored structure, watch your step since the floors and ceilings in much of it are collapsed. As per usual, safety precautions are pathetic – a simple string of yellow caution tape saving visitors from plummeting to their deaths. Be mindful of the sketchy gent sitting in his car in the parking lot. He speaks zero English and demanded 4 Marks from us to gain entry. I take that back, he definitely knew the word “ticket,” but that’s it. Until we finally saw the sign on the gate, I didn’t believe cagey little man was legitimate.
Weather in the Balkan Mountains is unpredictable. We woke at 0400 and fled the small town in order to beat the incoming snow storm. As I drove down the mountain, the rearview mirror displayed some forbidding, black clouds moving in fast. Crisis averted.
Ta-ta Kulen Vakuf, and the Una Mountains! Dovidenja… yet another unpronounceable word for goodbye, this time in Croatian. Last stop in Bosnia & Herzegovnia… Mostar.