The Corn Flake Traveller – Kosovo to Bosnia
To cycle from Macedonia to Bosnia I had to pass through Serbia and although I only spent a day doing so I was very happy to get out. The place didn’t have a good vibe, either that or my opinion was swayed by stories told to me by people in other Balkan countries about their brutality during the war. Leaving the country involved crossing the border into Kosovo, where I was surprised to meet a long queue of U.K and German registered cars waiting to be searched. I went straight to the front and was waved through not requiring an exit stamp as Serbians don’t recognise Kosovo as another country. After crossing a kilometre wide strip of no-man’s land I came to the Kosovan border patrol and met some very friendly guards who gave me an entry stamp and lots of advice on where to go in Kosovo.
From the moment I crossed No-man’s land the people became noticeably friendlier, a lot more smiley faces and chatty people, typified by a guy at the first petrol station I came to. I stopped to buy a drink and he approached me, shook my hand and repeatedly indicated how pleased he was to meet me. In the next town I stopped to eat lunch and was surrounded by people watching me (mainly kids), in fact, for the next 2 days I didn’t have a meal without people sitting by me and chatting or just watching me. The people were so inquisitive, striking up conversation and asking questions. Every time I stopped I had people come up to me, people talked to me from their cars, families walking along the road would stop me cycling and I had loads of kids race alongside me on their bikes.
One guy pulled over in his car and spent 10 – 15 minutes giving me advice on where to go, took photos of me, introduced me to some other locals and thanked me, as a Brit, for bombing the Serbs. He even offered me a place to stay, although sadly I couldn’t accept his offer as I only had a week to arrive in Visoko, Bosnia. I later found out that 96% of the Kosovan people consider themselves Albanian, which explained a lot as I met hosts of friendly people on my trip through Albania. It also explained why I saw so many Albanian flags everywhere, I must have seen 20 – 30 processions of cars flying big Albanian flags, driving along beeping their horns and standing up through their sun-roofs shouting things I couldn’t understand.
I visited the capital for a look around, although there wasn’t much to look at; a mosque, a dull government building and a statue of Skanderbeg on a horse, the famous Albanian legend. But it was just a large block of concrete really so I left pretty quickly, stopping to eat some corn flakes on my way out of town, next to some graffiti that read ‘Kosova Republik’.
The 40 mile journey to Pec/Peje was full of statues and memorials to people that had died in combat, I lost count of how many I passed and in fact tried not to notice them after a while as they were a timely reminder of the atrocities that took place here at the end of the 90’s. There were other reminders of the war, like bullet holes in buildings and signs on the bridges indicating the maximum weight the tanks could be to cross. I also saw lots of German, UK and U.S registered cars, donations I guess after so many cars were destroyed in the war.
I had to cross a huge mountain to reach Montenegro but was again helped out by the Kosovan community spirit when a guy in a tractor offered me a ride, I absolutely jumped at the chance as it was a 20 mile climb. It felt brilliant sat on his tractor speeding up the mountain, I was able to enjoy the view without having to pedal. We passed the Kosovan border patrol and the driver knew everybody there, which he later told me was because he was a policeman and worked there as well as having a farm. I found this hilarious as 10 minutes before we reached the border he drank a couple of cans of beer while still driving along, this was at 10am.
I passed through Montenegro in just under 4 days, twice as long as I had anticipated because it turned out to be a very mountainous country, this meant beautiful scenery but slow progress and I was running out of time to reach the start of the volunteer program. I was treated to some particularly amazing scenery on the 4th day, which began with a 20 mile cycle to reach Pluzine to buy some food, followed by breakfast next to the gorgeous turquoise lake nearby. I then continued around the lake, passing through lots of tunnels which allowed the road to follow the lake through the massive, steep canyon it was set in. After 10 miles I crossed a dam and the lake became a turquoise river, carving its way through some lovely scenery.