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Monday, 10 October 2016

PART 12: BALKAN COUNTRIES

CROATIA, BOSNIA, MONTENEGRO & ALBANIA (10TH – 15TH MAY 2016)



The 12 hours Jadrolinija ferry ride from Ancona (Italy) to Split (Croatia) was okey. Adriatic Sea was calm so the ride was smooth. The ferry arrived Split Harbour at 8am. I got on my bike and rode to the immigration. Border crossing was smooth and easy. The customs asked for Croatia's Green Card which I didnt have any. The one that I have didnt cover Balkan countries. I lied to him saying that the GC was in the bag which I strapped on the pillion seat and it would be troublesome to take it out (a method taught by advrider friends to me....LOL). Looking at the long lines of vehicles behind me, the officer waved me off. Yeayyy, it worked :)





Split city was exactly like I saw it in 2010. Nothing had changed. I rode along the coast to the south of the country. Too bad that it was a cloudy day, so I couldnt enjoy the blue Adriatic Sea. The road was quite narrow and winding which went up down up down along the way. On my left was the mountain and on my right was the sea. Most of the time the road I was riding on was higher and the sea was down below the cliff. It would have been very beautiful if the sun didnt hide itself behind the clouds.




As this was my 2nd time in Croatia and I had covered most of the country before, I didnt intend to spend any night here but rode straight to Bosnia. I crossed the border at Metkovic. It was a very small border and the border post was a toll plaza kinda office. I didnt have to get down from my bike at all. Everything was settled at the window. I need to hand over my passport and GD's registration document to the officer and it was done in less than 10 minutes.





Bosnia too was a second time visit for me. Bosnia was a small country in the Balkans which was once ruled by the Ottoman empire from 1463 – 1878. My actual plan was to ride straight, crossing the smallest part of this country and after that cross into Montenegro. However, I changed my mind due to a request from a Malaysian traveler who asked to meet me in Mostar. The ride into Mostar was okey. The road was so-so. I had to ride in few unlit tunnels. It was very dark but fortunately the tunnels were short in length. Nearing Mostar, the view of the green Neretva River came into sight. It wasnt difficult for me to find the hostel which I booked via Airbnb.




About 1 hour later, Menk Mahawangsa, the Msian traveler, came to meet me. Menk was a famous backpacker icon in Msia. At such young age, he had traveled solo to many countries and its always a long term traveling. His epic solo travel was overland from Msia to UK, to the place where he once lived when he was a little boy. He managed to find the same house. It was interesting to hear his story. We had lunch together and after that we walked to the Old Bridge, Stari Most. There were too many tourists and it was very crowded everywhere.




I noticed lots of differences in Mostar now compared to 6 years back. It was December 2010, winter, when I first came here. The old city was very deserted. Perhaps it was off season, so there were very few tourists at that time. It was very cold then, and stalactites of ice could be seen dangling from the tree branches. Part of the Neretva River surface was frozen and theres not many souvenir shops, only some along Kujundziluk. At that time, I really felt the effects of a postwar city by the stillness and the quietness around me, and I drowned myself in the emotions while walking from tomb stone to another tomb stone in the many cemeteries, feeling sad on how young the Mostarians lost their lives during the war. But now, the old city was so lively and full of people. Lots of cafes, bars, shops, loud music and everything. Its good for the economy, but I somehow felt that it had lost its charm as a postwar city. The war museum and mosques which were free to enter last time were now not free anymore. Everything had its price. The only thing remained the same was the green green Neretva River.




During my time here, both Menk and I managed to visit some old mosques and we climbed up a minaret to enjoy the view of the old city. From above, we could see that the right side of the old city belonged to the Christian Croat community and the left side belonged to the Muslim Bosnian community. They had a long complicated history with each other but now they lived in peace. They learnt well from the unpleasant bitter past.




We also walked from cemeteries to cemeteries. Graveyards were norms here. Effects of war could be seen everywhere. Mostarians preserved the war proof as they didnt want to forget what had happened here in 1993, and during the previous wars. Bosnia went through three major wars for the past hundred years. The First World War in the early 1900's, Second World War in the mid 1900's and Bosnian War in 1993.




After 5 hours walking and chatting, its time for Menk to go back to Sarajevo. We were not aware of the time as we had so much fun talking to each other as if we had been friends for a long time. I felt at ease with this young man who was a funny guy, yet matured and wise despite of his young age. I guessed traveling had made him into such, as how traveling had moulded me in becoming who I am today. Goodbye Menk. Good luck in all your future business + travel plans you had in mind. I hope to meet you again someday.


The next day, I left Mostar and rode to the Bosnia – Montenegro border. It was a fun ride with lovely views, green Neretva River, sheeps, some twisties and some straights.



The border crossing at Deleusa was very fast and easy too. The procedure was just the same as when entering Bosnia.



Montenegro was a very beautiful country. Green mountains, lovely twisties and nearing to the capital city, Kotor, the beautiful bay welcomed you with amazing views. It was so hard for me to focus on the road as I kept looking at the bay down below.



It wasnt hard to locate my hostel which was situated right next to the bay. I could enjoy the beautiful view from my room window.

View from my window


I'm supposed to meet Msian advrider friends but it was only before sunset that they arrived my hostel. It was soooo nice to meet Faizal Sukree again, after the last time I met him in Madrid. This time, he came with Musa and Musa's wife. They were doing Europe and Balkan ride together. We walked to the old city and had dinner together. We exchanged route infos as I had came from Croatia (north) and they had came from Albania (south). Thanks guys for meeting me and buying me dinner.



The next day was a very wet day as I made my way out of Kotor Bay. The road was very slippery and many times I felt GD's tires skidded. I had to ride with lots of caution. I did two crossings today. The first border was at Sukobin to enter Albania. This border was located in the mountain. I didnt hv to pay to bring GD in. Faizal Sukree had warned me that theres plenty of road blocks when he rode in Albania. I didnt want to get into trouble if the police stopped me so I purchased Albanian insurance for EUR13.




The ride became more stressful due to heavy rain all day since early morning. The narrow mountain road was so slippery. About 30kms to Tirana the road was quite bad with pot holes and the driving attitude was crazy. I felt as if I'm entering El Alto, Bolivia. After I exited Tirana, it was again narrow, winding and slippery all the way to the Macedonian border (again in the mountain) with thick fog blocking the view.







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Band: NASTIA, Title: ANGGUR (taken from EP 'EKSPRESI')
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