Belgium - Australia on an BMW R1100 GS motorcycle, solo.
Report #3 - May 31st to June 1st, 1998...
After reception of my last message you know now that I have left Bosnia. This is the way it happened:
I intended to leave Bosnia, where I thought myself to be in the midst of a war, via the shortest route, but preferrably not by the road on which I had arrived. So it was on to Zenica. After my arrival in Zenica I noticed I was almost accustomed to my surroundings: my sense of unsafety was diminishing. From Zenica on I wanted to go to the coast, to Split. Because there are the boats leaving for Rijeka, and from Rijeka it is just a small trip back to Italy.
But as I said: the bullet holes were starting to become a part of the environment - gradually I noticed the beautiful scenery more and more, the tracks of violence less and less. From Zenica it was on to Banja Luca. I ended up on a small road that went in the right direction (according to the compass), but could never be the thruway to Banja Luca. The road changed from a regular paved one into some kind of Roman-built road paved with cobble stones , and then it was all unpaved. I passed a small community - the people abandoned their work (yes, even on Whit Sunday - I have much to learn about religions) to check it out. But for that I now have a plausible explanation - they probably were tourist watching.
The scenery is very beautiful here. An unpaved road is a nice change from a paved one, and the road was obviously one that lead to little visited places. I ride through a valley that steadily gets narrower, while I climb constantly. The people in this community saw wood (that is, the men do) and split the sawn trees (the women handle the ax) together to supply the whole village. Near the houses I notice the trees in their different stadia towards the fireplace or stove. Each stack of wood is handled by more than one family at the same time. After I left the village I meet a couple of fishermen and cattle minders. All in surprise at my appearance.
I pass a truck. It honks loudly at me, and starts to chase me. So I stop, and turn around in an attempt to find out what is going on. The driver and his passengers can only talk Bosnian, but "serbska territoria", "mine" and "UNPROFOR: not go", combined with the efforts they take to get through to me, make me feel that the area which I cross on my way to Banja Luka is Servian, and has not been cleared for traffic by the SFOR minesweepers. An unpaved road is a nice diversion, a landmine is not. I turn around.
Back to the main road. I follow the main road and stumble upon a damaged bridge. All traffic is diverted via a road (unpaved - golly !) through the valley. It turns out to be the most fun part of the main road to Banja Luka. The scenery is great, the hills about the size we have in the Ardennes. It rides nice and I even see less war damage. Probably things were less violent here.
From Banja Luka to the border with Croatia it's via Sanski Most, reachable via Prijedor. Probably you couldn't care less, but Prijedor is not on any road signs, and Sanski Most is. So what to do? One follows the indicated road. An unpaved road not going through Prijedor at all. On an inside track, 50 miles, over a kind of sandy path where nothing crosses, except a few hurds of sheep. Fantastic!
Halfway there I encountered SFOR soldiers from the Tzech republic. Aimable men: the remainder of the road to Sanski Most is free of mines. They are in the process of mapping the area: one of the men is sitting on the hood of the car shouldering a video camera. I'm thoroughly filmed, license plate and all, which is pretty grey from all the dust and mud, as am I. All four occupants exit the Jeep to talk to me - although we do not speak the same language.
Did I mention I'm perfecting myself in speaking-Dutch-with-everyone ? One talks Dutch, knowing they do not understand you, but from your intonation and facial expressions, aided by gestures, they do understand you. Works much better than no talk at all...
From Sanski Most it's (using paved roads) to Bihac. The landscape is somewhat flattener, like in southern Limburg. The scenery however is dominated by demolished, deserted houses. After 20 miles of looking at houses-without-people I start to wonder where the occupants are. Then I start to see the first memorial signs. Every village has its own memorial place, the list of names differing in length. I start to reflect on the newscasts I watched from my lazy chair about people being murdered or having fled, thinking: "Again that bullshit about Yugoslavia". I now see things in a different light. If I will watch the future newscasts differently than before remains to be seen.
By the way, more domestic business: I get more and more excited about postponing this world trip. The past year I practiced in the Ardennes, and that comes in handy now. I know my little scooter (U-Haul, according to some) better than I did a year ago, and the sweat drops left behind in the Ardennes do not have to be repeated in a temperature of 25 degrees Celsius. I also decided at the last moment to leave my top-case behind. Hadn't I done that, it would have broken off its hinges about three times already, because I fail to see what connection exists between the type of road pavement and the speed I maintain. (This is an euphemism for "I also fly over sandroads", but my mother isn't to know that.)
From Bihac to the (Croatian) coast the road leads me along many, many miles of deserted houses, many of them more beautifully set in the landscape. Almost all buildings are larger than my own house. Imagine: the Wallonians decide to shoot all Dutch people, and burn their houses (and there are a lot of Dutch people with a holiday residence in my neighborhood). The war is getting to me - it's time to leave this area.
I stop, put in my ear plugs (seemingly I had foreseen something when I packed), although those bitches hurt like hell after three hours, and I open the throttle to go westbound. I reach the coast at 20:30, after exactly 12 hours on my bike. I put up my tent amidst a group of Dutch and German holiday partiers. I eat (garlic-rich) in one of those despised tourist joints but it tastes great.
Greetings from Croatia,
(I only have written "greetings from..." a few times, but I already feel like Sonja ("... and tomorrow a healthy wake-up") Barend - if you have any suggestions.....)