Properly speaking, its only a sunny and comfortable little uphill cycle ride from the park next to the market in Gruz; which is just along the coast to the north from Dubrovnik, and up into the interior of this incredibly narrow strip of Croatia, and then to Bosnia & Hercegovina. I’ve been looking forward to getting away from the coast, with the cruise ships, ice-cream sellers, sun-worshippers, and planeloads of inebriated British wedding party arrivals. I’ve been looking forward to getting the pedals turning on the hills, with the heat bouncing off the tarmac. But its a longer and more complicated journey.
Within less than 15km, I’ve climbed from sea level to just about 400 metres above it, and to the border crossing at Ivanica. At this point, to my surprise, is an apparently very sound track bed for a railway. This is the surviving evidence of the railway network that was built by the Austro-Hungarian empire towards the end of the nineteenth century; and which fell into disuse in the 1970’s. Now, parts of the network have been developed as part of the Ciro bicycle network.
Overlooking the rail-bed from Republika Srspka, to Dubrovnik and beyond
Mine presence warnings just off the roadway between Ivanica and Trebinje
Other roadside warnings; the current gastronomic fashion for ‘ pulled-pork ‘ comes to mind; and not in a good way.
Contrary to the signage, physical hazards along the way are few, but I’m trying to understand the complexities of the territories that I slowly move between and across.
I want to get this right; for one thing, for fear of offending someone for getting it wrong, but fundamentally, because I want to try and understand what has been happening and to be able to follow the course of events that will surely unfold here in time to come.
In the period since Yugoslavia came crashing apart after Tito’s death, one of the countries that came into being was Bosnia-Hercegovina . Its also sometimes known as Bosnia and Hercegovina, and in Bosnian or Serbian, Bosnia i Hercegovina. Its sometimes just called Bosnia, but people from the region known as Hercegovina quite rightly wouldn’t be entirely happy about that.
Bosnia i Hercegovina consists of the two autonomous entities – Republika Srpska and The Federation of Bosnia & Hercegovina. And if that’s complicated to comprehend, then Wikipedia notes the detail about the ethnic groups. There are three constituent nations…and they’re all given equal recognition by the country’s constitution; are Bosniaks, Serbs and Croats, not necessarily in any particular order. This is just the little thread of this earth that I am spinning along, and there is this complexity, and these differences. As anywhere else in the world, but perhaps more exaggerated here than in most places, people and societies feel the need to differentiate themselves, to gather around totems, and to note and assert their viscerally felt differences.
The more recent that wars are, it seems the more keenly the need to do that is felt. From my peaceful and safe and unthreatened little corner of the world in Wales, I do not feel this need, but I can understand its origins. What worries me is the ability and ease with which those that want to keep sorting through the entrails to find some difference to highlight, and to rattle the nationalists’ cages about , and can raise the spectre of internecine warring again. I was struck by a footnote in the Wikipedia excerpt which I’ve referred to here.
It refers to the study which concludes ” A Y chromosome haplogroups study published in 2005 found that “three main groups of Bosnia-Herzegovina, in spite of some quantitative differences, share a large fraction of the same ancient gene pool distinctive for the Balkan area” . ( (1) ) Differences are human-constructs; overlaid and highlighted for all manner of reasons.
By the time I arrive in the lovely town of Trebinje, still in Republika Srpska, I’m ready for a drink. The centre of Trebinje is a very genteel looking place. Tall, poplars and pines shade shiny limestone-paved squares and avenues and what seem to me to be an inordinate number of places to drink coffee and beer with friends. I join them, and then later walk along the river in the late evening sun. I visit the bridge which this town is renowned for, and draws both tourists and religious pilgrims to.