Interesting conversations with Tarek, of the war and Osho, but we decide not to stay with him any longer. We fill our days with recuperation. I replace my rim and change old chain, cassette and middle chain ring for new ones. We wander in the old town, eat bad food and find insipid parties where every one else is allowed to enter except us. We make plans for the future, deciding to travel through Montenegro and then Albania instead of going to Kosovo. We organise work for the winter, finding a farm on the southern Greek coast to pick olives while staying in our own private villa. Wild dogs howl in the night in competition with church bells and minarets. We are rested and ready for the mountains to come.
Cold night as the temperature drops to 5 degrees. The mist hangs heavy as we wake. Long climb makes the beard drip with moisture. Amplification of noise from rear wheel reveals a crack in the rim. The bike soldiers on but the noise intensifies. We pass through Stjenice, then Podromanija where we shelter from the cold and eat potatoes and sour cream in a roadside restaurant. The sun comes out to play and the villages and landscape all grow richer as we approach Sarajevo. The crack in my rear rim grows larger and we debate it’s chances of survival and whether or not to hitchhike. We decide to cable tie it and I limp the final 30km with the rear mudguard scratching the tyre emitting a painful noise with every rotation. We enter Sarajevo through a final tunnel to a vision of houses lining the valley and a castle perched on top of a hill. We flow into the city and join the main road to find the house of Tarek. What we discover is not what we expected but we are too exhausted to care. The night turns out to be monumental, as from the one-bedroom apartment of a Bosnian War veteran with PTSD, insomnia, and a snoring problem, we hear the mesmeric sound of the Muezzin reciting the Adhan for the first time in our lives as it floats in the window from a nearby minaret.
We pass through Mokra Gora, where there is a traditional timber village called Drvengard built by the Serbian director Emir Kusturica for his film “Life is a miracle”. We are anticipating another big climb but are thrilled to discover a tunnel through the mountain. At Krotroman we cross the border into Bosnia, our twelfth country. The scenery is instantly spectacular. We glide downhill through valleys and numerous tunnels. At Visegrad we get some Bosnian Marks then get caught in a storm and sit in someone’s garage until 19:00. Lacking options we continue cycling in the dark and ascend through unlit tunnels with lorries speeding by us. The experience is terrifying. I have no front or rear light so am forced to wear a head torch which gives a weak sliver of light to guide me as the thunder builds of approaching juggernauts that cause the wind to whip us as they pass. Riding our luck and anxious to extricate ourselves from constant series of tunnels we pull into a side track where signs warn us about mines. At the time we think it refers to a mining quarry, it is only later that we realise it is warning about landmines in the area. Luckily we don’t venture from the path as the land is too steep to camp, we are forced back onto the road but find another side track soon after and make camp for the night.
We rise to another egg feast, and spend the morning with Nikola and his parents Radisa and Ljilana. They give us a tour of their farm and Radisa tightens my bent spoke with what will prove to be a little too much vigour. They send us on our way with gifts of a bottle of homemade Rakia and some hazelnuts from their land. Nikola then leads us in a convoy in his car to the road we need to take. Hearty goodbyes and offers to build a house on his land and marriage between families. We begin another arduous climb to over 1000m in alternating blazing sunshine and torrents of rain. We get lucky that we find shelter every time the rain comes and we stay dry from the rain but drenched in sweat from the sun. Descent to Kremna where we get touched up by another old man and then get permission to camp in a pub garden after harassing some confused locals. We have cycled only 31km but are exhausted and capitulate to slumber.
We rise to a feast of eggs with leftovers to take for lunch. We thank Nikola and his mother and continue our gruelling passage through the mountains. An inquiry for directions leads to schnapps and a carton of juice from a group celebrating the 18th birthday of a family member. Final agonising climb to Jakalj, then the sweet relief of a long downhill to the village of Kostojevici where we shelter form the rain, discover a bent spoke, and get touched up by an old man. Cruising towards Bajina Basta we spy a smiling couple in their garden and getting good vibrations from them we double back to inquire about a camping spot. The call their English speaking son Nikola and soon we are eating and drinking with new friends. They invite us to sleep in an upstairs annex and we retire with full bellies and fuller hearts.
Easy riding into Valjevo convinces us that we’ll reach Sarajevo from Belgrade in the 3 days we had planned. Leaving Valjevo convinces us that we’ll never make it out of Serbia. Exiting the city we climb for 17km to over a 1000m on rocky roads. As it grows dark we ask for water in a village house and the owner is adamant that we must sit down and drink with him. His name is Nikola and we sit down with him and his mother to drink the obligatory shot of Rakia. After talking with them they invite us to camp in their garden and to eat a dinner of egg and pig fat. After dinner we go wandering in the woods to find a special mountain elixir.