I arrived at the border crossing and took a place in line behind plenty of cars. After 20 minutes of waiting I finally came to the booth of the Croatian border police.
– Where going? How long? – grumbled the officer, obviously quite dissatisfied with her life.
– To Rijeka, for two days – I answered, without explaining the details, took my passport and moved forward.
Some minutes later I found myself on an empty road, surrounded by a dry, pale yellow landscape. The place and the whole situation felt kind of unreal. Only the cars passing by once in a while reminded me that wasn’t a dreamland but the real world and in fact that’s how my life looked like now: I am just cycling forward, without knowing where I’m going to sleep tonight. There is just me, White Arrow and the landscape changing every day.
At first I really planned to stop in Rijeka, but the couple who offered me a couch on Couchsurfing turned out to be an open minded couple and they very much wanted to offer me not only a couch. They got it wrong, because I wasn’t at all interested in such a special offer. When I arrived in town, I got reassured that my decision of not staying there was good. Rijeka was sultry, crowded, noisy and dusty. I quickly left its busy streets and in the early evening I arrived in Kraljevica, at a campsite close to the beach, surrounded by fragrant pine woods. I enjoyed the bath in the sea but already the next morning I had enough of the tourist atmosphere of the coast and I was looking forward to be in a less popular area again.
In the morning I headed east on Adriatic Magistral. As cycling this busy road (despite its undoubtedly picturesque location) is not the biggest pleasure, I willingly accepted my GPS’s suggestion to leave it and go to Otocac through 700 meters high mountains. Recklessly and without thinking too much I assumed that I would find a store to buy water in, in one of the villages on the route. After climbing about 400 meters I realized that this assumption was completely wrong – all the villages I was passing by looked deserted. No people, no stores. Meanwhile the thermometer showed well over 30 degrees and my water bottles were getting more and more dry.
Finally at one of the few houses I noticed a man working in the backyard. I stopped and asked if he could give me some water. He took my bottles and knocked at a little window. His wife opened the window, took the bottles and came back with full ones.
– Where are you going? – she asked curious.
– To Otocac, and then to Plitvice Lakes National Park.
– This road is not good, you should cycle the way down along the shore – said the man.
I showed him the route my GPS suggested and explained that I didn’t want to take the main road.
– Well, but here you will have no asphalt in a few kilometers, just stones. You will have a big problem cycling there on that bike and with all the baggage.
– I’ll give it a try, I’ll push the bike if I have to – I replied.
But the woman looked clearly worried.
– It’s not good that you’re alone, it’s dangerous. Imigranty are using this route, some suspicious types sometimes. Maybe now during the day it will be ok, so hurry up, you shouldn’t go there when it gets dark. And you have to be careful!
I didn’t like the idea of cycling extra kilometers and coming back to the Adriatic Magistral, so I just said thank you for the water and good advice and assured them that I would be careful. The woman showed me that she was crossing her fingers and wished me a safe ride. After a while I entered a forest and after having heard all the warnings my imagination started to see danger in every rustle and in every moving branch.
– Did you really need that? Next time when somebody tells you that a place is dangerous and that the trail is bad, just turn back, for your own peace of mind. Who needs all this stress? – I scolded myself in my thoughts.
The trail full of stones was endless and indeed I was unable to cycle there. After I left the forest I found myself on a windy plateau with some windmills. The whispering wind created an ominous atmosphere. Luckily I finally arrived to the top of the hill and the tarmac replaced the stones. Yellow, dry grass swaying on the hills contrasted with the intense blue Adriatic on the horizon and the adrenaline went down from an unpleasantly high level and then went up again, this time to a pleasant level caused by the fast ride down the serpentine road.
I liked inland Croatia much more than the coast, even though the landscape was much less spectacular. Or maybe because of that. I felt some hominess in the golden fields and the sweet scent of ripe plums. I liked the mysterious aura that surrounded the crumbling houses and the rests of the walls standing in the deserted villages. Everything was somehow more authentic than in the beautiful, but full of Polish, German and Slovenian tourists, Adriatic resorts.
Remembering my adventures from the day before, I was quite skeptical about the route to the Bosnian border my navigation suggested for me and I almost chose the main road instead. Luckily the owner of the campsite where I stayed that night asked me about my plans when I was leaving. He assured me that there was a very nice tarmac road through Plitvice Lake National Park (unfortunately quite far from the lakes) and he regularly took this route by car, so I could just follow my GPS’s advice. And I didn’t regret that! A completely empty tarmac in the middle of the woods was surely much more pleasant than breathing in exhaust fumes.
After I climbed to almost 800 m a.s.l. there was a long way down waiting for me, all the way to the border. Behind it was a big unknown – Bosnia and Herzegovina. Besides typical associations (war, mosques and mines) and the warnings I read on the home page of the Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs (watch out for pickpockets, homeless dogs and mines) I had no clue about this country. When the officer at the border checkpoint stamped my passport, I felt a characteristic tingling in my stomach. I packed my passport, clipped my feet in the pedals and cycled into the unknown. I passed a sign with the Bosnian flag and an inscription „Dobrodošli u Bosnu i Hercegovinu”, a silhouette of a minaret loomed on the horizon and even before I got to the first village I already had an unclear premonition that me and Bosnia will probably like each other.