The end of the road
Sremska Mitrovica to Munich, over two days, via Banja Luka – 1,078 kms
Srem. Mitrovica, to give the version in common usage, turns out to be a lovely place. It’s much more than mere gateway to the Gulag Plaza, three star retro commie hotel plonked in the middle of a prison complex.
Srem. Mitrovica was once something in its own right. It is on the banks of the Sava and has several pretty open places with grass, trees and cafes. There are some fine imposing 19th century buildings but the window frames are all peeling and the stucco is cracked and fallen off in patches.
All Srem. Mitrovica just needs is a little tlc to come into its own again.
Onwards and westwards down the motorway and a quick left to Banja Luka, capital of Republika Srpska, an entirely incident-free border crossing from Serbia back into Bosnia. They must be getting used to us…
On the Michelin map, the road out of Banja Luka is marked green indicating natural beauty. And they weren’t kidding. The road passes through a steep sided gorge, sweeping this way and that – fantastic biking country.
One side of the valley is tree covered and rises steeply to some 1,300 meters. The other is an escarpment, bare vertical rock, in places overhanging the road. The river in the gorge has that delicate pastel blue shade you often get in mountain waters.
At the top of the valley before the descent deeper into Bosnia and, out of the Serbian self-government part and into the Muslim Croat federation, we find Motel Lav and bed down for the night, fortified by yet another feed of Serbian meat and Montenegran wine.
The next day, Tony gets all excited about an old Yugoslav army generator sitting in the garage and instructs me to take five hundred million photographs of it. Today’s riding is going to be a long, hard grind. We aim to make Austria is one dash – a good 10 hours riding at least. The main event turns out to be a spell of off-road biking – only it’s on the road, the main road a little southeast of Bihac.
There’s road works and traffic is redirected to what eventually turns into a very narrow, winding gravel dirt track through farm land. The track is bone dry and cars and trucks, none of which slow down very much, churn up the dust until soon we’re riding through a chocking fog. We’ve got street riding tires on, not the nobly ones for off-road biking, and at the slightest excuse the bikes slither all over the place.
Articulated lorries, petrol tankers, cars with trailers, cars without – they’re all hurtling along, passing each other out at will even though you can barely see 20 feet ahead. I’m back in Mad Max land and it lasts for an incredible 20 kms…
And then its out of Bosnia, spluttering and wheezing, quickly across Croatia and on into Slovenia, the Alps beckoning.
It’s been a blast. The whole thing. And I know I’m on a hiding to nothing if I try to say that it was work, that I was up every day at 6, writing till 9 and then out on the road again. So I’ll just give in now and take the hit…
The bikes were brilliant – Stergios the Munich Moto Greek did us proud. I just love these BMW enduro machines. We saw some incredible scenery: central Bosnia is for sure one of the most breathtaking places I’ve ever seen and you must go there. And while some of the stories you will hear from the wars are heartbreaking, the people are warm and welcoming, their hospitality genuine.
None more so than Avdo, Emina and Adina, the grown up children of Abdulah Purkovic whose family run hotel and restaurant, the Misirlije, is in Srebrenica and whom I mentioned in my final report for the Command and Anlysis pages.
We turned pretty much the whole of their eating area into a press room for three days last week. There was Tony and me; Kalle Holmberg from the Swedish newspaper Dagens Nyheter; Stefan Bos, a Dutch journalist, and his wife Ukrainian-born wife Agnes, also a journalist; and a photographer from AFP who glories ion the name Elvis Barukcic. (Kalle seized the moment to utter the must-be-made comment as Elvis was departing…)
The front of the restaurant became a newsroom and radio studio. There were laptops and cable and cameras everywhere. Stefan and Agnes run a newsagency in Budapest, BosNewsLife, and were multi-tasking to a variety of outlets – writing quick news reports, lengthy more reflective material, editing pictures and broadcasting radio reports over the internet to three different countries in five different languages… pretty much all at the same time.
And amid all this babble and confusion, Avdo, Emina and Adina cheerfully provided for our every whim and sat up talking late into the night.
Srebrenica isn’t Auschwitz and what happened in both places shouldn’t be confused. But genocide did happen in Srebrenica because of what people are capable of doing to each other when the veneer of civilization is stripped away and because the rest of the world didn’t stop it happening when it could have.
So I think people should visit Srebrenica and stand for a while among the graves. Show solidarity with the dead and those who loved them and live on, and show the people who did this that it was wrong. Some of them are living nearby…
And when you’re in Srebrenmica, there’s only one place to stay… email@example.com (bikers welcome!)
“Where to next year,” says Tony, before answering himself. “Chad,” he announces.
“North Cape via the Arctic Circle,” I say. “I’m pining for the fjords.”
But this shouldn’t have to end now. We shouldn’t have top stop just ’cus Motogreek Stergios wants his bikes back. I mean, how completely unreasonable is that?
A final look at one of those stunning panoramas high in the Alps, the rest of the world spread out below, all the little Austrians and their cellars, before we descend to Munich.
This blog, this great wheeze, should just go on and on for ever.
“Have you ever seen Thelma and Louise?”