We lay in the tent like a pair of wet socks, steaming in the morning sun. It was by no means a cloudless morning, but for a few lazy minutes we savoured the beautiful knowledge that our gear was slowly drying around us: our clothes, our mats, our sleeping bags. After yesterday’s deluge, just about everything was wet.
Perhaps we lingered a little too long on the beautiful ridge, because we were still packing when the telltale jingle of sheep bells emerged from the fog. They were moving fast, urged on by the trills of an unseen shepherd. Shaking my body from its lingering reverie, I dashed about the paddock, gathering up our gear from where it had been arranged in opportune patches of sunshine. The last thing our raincoats needed was a sheep hoof massage.
As bleating sheep swarmed around us, the grinning figure of the shepherd we met yesterday trotted out of the forest, accompanied by an older woman who I think was her mother. With loud voices, more used to calling across a field than a room, they bid us good morning.
“Dobro jutro!” we replied, tentatively using one of our few Bosnian phrases.
As we finished packing, they sat on a nearby rock, stirring occasionally to yell at a wayward sheep or throw a rock at an over curious cow. I felt very watched. We had a lot of elaborate gear – water filter, solar panel, alcohol stove. For us this is remote wilderness, for them an ancestral home.
A few more people wandered by until we were surrounded by three generations of shepherds – evidently we’d camped on some sort of highway. They called out greetings, laughed at jokes, and then headed their own ways. Soon enough we were ready to leave as well, taking the path along the cloud filled ravine.
It wasn’t long before we reached the abandoned village of Blace. Like so many other remnants of the recent conflict, it’s hard to find out what happened here. No signs, no memorial, just a lot of ruins and our imagination. It must have been a sizeable town – twenty or so buildings (which is a lot for a mountain top) – but almost all of the old houses had lost their roofs at the very least. The only intact building was a small chapel residing over a cemetery that’s half medieval and half modern. Prehistoric burial mounds lay side by side with modern marble graves in an astonishing display of continuity. A continuity that’s now broken, I guess.
From Blace the walking grew harder as we exchanged rolling mountain pastures for tufty peaks. The track seemed to always be steep, or slippery, or difficult to navigate, so it was slow going, and we were tiring rapidly in what had turned into a hot day. With all the moisture in the air, mosquitoes were having a field day, descending upon us the moment we stopped to rest in an opportune puddle of shade. By the time we finally saw the vivid green minaret of Lukomir (the next village) we were in dire need of a rest.
Unbeknownst to us, Lukomir was actually a major tourist destination. Old ladies sat on street corners knitting souvenir socks for the car loads of tourists visiting from nearby Sarajevo. I guess the idea is that Lukomir is a slice of traditional Bosnian life, though I don’t think they always had so many restaurants. Lukomir also has the (dubious) appeal of being the highest altitude village in the country.
After recovering for a moment at the town spring, we decided to embrace the touristy-ness and grabbed a drink from the nearby restaurant. In the same way that an unexpected hill can ruin a day, an unexpected drink can save it. We sheltered in the shade for an hour, nursing our drinks and reading our books. At Kristen’s tiny sneeze, the friendly manager came over: “Bless you,” he said, “You sneeze like little cat.”
The restaurant was near deserted when we arrived, but it didn’t take long for a horde of cyclists to pour out of the mountains like wasps. They were insanely energetic: seeing a local man slowly load a wheelbarrow with sand, they snatched away his shovel and finished the job in triple time. While they laboured, the manager spread their table with a mouth watering buffet of traditional Bosnian food. There was so much, I found myself staring with glazed eyes as they tucked into their meal, hoping they would offer us at least a slice of bread. But alas. We only had a limited amount of cash, so we had to be content with the meagre wraps we’d eaten earlier.
We left Lukomir with a vague sense we hadn’t quite ‘gotten it’. It’s touted as the authentic village experience, and even listed as one of the Via Dinarica highlights, but it didn’t feel half real as this morning’s shepherd’s community.
The road down towards Vodenice was easy and well trodden, and we made quick progress to find old watermills that had been converted into an emergency shelter. Usually the words “emergency shelter” mean an adorable little mountain hut, but here I’d say they were pretty accurate: while the stream was nice, the mills were literally just boxes with a door and no windows. If we wanted to keep the mozzies out, the light had to go too. Basic, but good enough for us.
By the light of our head torches we made up some packet mushroom pasta. Not a particularly healthy meal at the best of times, today it tasted distinctly ‘chemically’ – I have a suspicion some ethanol might have gotten in. I tried to eat some, but even my usual unfussyness has its limits. We chucked it and started over.
Take 2: an identical pasta, which thankfully turned out fine this time. But cooking twice was an unneeded extra chore at the end of a long day, especially as we only have limited food supplies to last us until our next resupply in Kalinovik.
With the daylight locked outside, we went to bed early. It’s been a really interesting day, seeing how different life is around here. The old ways of life have survived, but it’s a precarious thing. This traditional world in the clouds, just thirty kilometres from Sarajevo.
Start and end points: Meadows past Vranske stijene to the old, restored watermills at Vodenice (can’t say I’d recommend staying at the watermills… a better option onward from Lukomir might be to take the turn-off to Bobovica (on your right, about 1 km past Lukomir) and hike there directly across the valley, skipping Vodenice and Umoljani).
Villages: Blace (abandoned) – Lukomir