The Drive North

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After a good stay in Jajce, I left the beautiful city early in the morning to enjoy the sceneries under the magical morning light. Only after a few minutes driving out of Jajce, I was awed by the surrounding landscape. I always love the sunny early morning. It is fresh and it smells new! Usually when I buy new things, I like to smell it once I opened the box, I just love the new smell. And sometimes I find it the same early in the morning, the air is fresh and it smells new… the smell of a new day. And the sun rays shining through the woods and leaves from the far horizon gives magic to the landscape. It makes the landscape here on earth feels heavenly, reminds me of beautiful things in heaven.

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I drove to a smaller path that leads me to a beautiful small lake where there were some tourists, cafes and hotel in one side and almost empty on the other side. I love the calmness of this place. The sound of water, sound of birds chirping and the beautiful morning light making me wanna stay long here. I walked slowly enjoying the moment. It is so clean and the water is always blue and green. There is a small waterfall at the other side of the lake. There is also a small neighbourhood on the hillside near the lake and everyone here greeted me in their local language and a smile. Some even asked me if I need any help. People here are kind… perhaps the environment and beautiful landscape here helps shaping their good characteristic.

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It was a cloudy day but once in a while when the clouds were letting the sun to shine directly at my face for a few minutes, I stopped walking, closed my eyes and think about beautiful things and enjoyed the heat that the shining sun provides me. Me too want to be like the kind people here who live their almost entire life here in a peaceful place, so I let the calmness of this place to shape my characteristic while I’m still here in this beautiful place. Just like us living in big cities to earn money to feed our physical body with food, people live here in a beautiful place to earn calmness and peace of mind to feed and nourish their soul.

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After a while I had to call it enough and get back to my car to continue the journey. I wish to stay longer but this is just a short visit and I wanted to see more things, perhaps there are more beautiful things to be discovered in front of me. I drove really slowly, sometimes I thought that maybe its better just to take my bicycle here and cycle through the country as I was driving at the speed a bit faster than cycling. At least I can save much money from the daily car rent and petrol cost. But then again this is just a short visit and my plan was to take a rest from my bicycle or my skis. I planned to get to a city in the north called Bihac on that same day, at first I thought I should go really early in the morning since the distance is about 140km and it usually takes me a full day to cover that distance on a bicycle and I’m so used to calculate distance by days on a bicycle. Then a moment later I realized that I’m driving and it only takes two hours to cover that distance. So I moved slower. Sometimes after almost an hour drive I will stop somewhere safe at the roadside to park my car and started climbing the hills… since driving makes my body lazy.

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Navigating the roads here in Bosnia is really easy. Signboards are clear but sometimes, I still get lost. The roads are narrow and I usually get lost when entering through small towns where sometimes I turned into a wrong junction and realized something went wrong when the road is getting smaller and smaller and finally the road turned into dirt road. Only then I will turned back since I realized this is Bosnia.. not Mongolia… so unpaved roads will usually leads to some houses or farms. There was once I got lost even deeper when I asked a local guy the road to Bihac.. he pointed straight so I drove straight to some farm. But once I got out from towns and villages, the navigation is easy. The view along the way to Bihac tells me that summer is coming soon to this land, plants are turning green but it is still quite cold… the typical spring season. People here loves the summer season, it will not only bring the heat and green trees and grass to the land but will also bring a lot of tourists to this land… so the locals here who are involved in tourism industry will earn more money.

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After spending a few days in Herzegovina, I drove about 160km towards the centre of Bosnia… and reached a beautiful town of Jajce. I found the place by accident… I travel without gps or even some sort of guide or map. This trip was a total gamble. So what I did, I stopped by in a petrol station by the roadside in some village… and simply ask one of the worker if the road I was taking will lead towards the north. People here are friendly… he gave me a map and even give me some tips on where to go and what to see. He then suggested I spend a day or two in Jajce, they have nice castle, waterfall, river and lake… all in one place. So I drove to Jajce. Its easy to drive here in Bosnia, the road is straight forward and the signboards are clear. There is no need of gps. I was amazed to see the small town of Jajce from afar. It is a nice little town sitting on a hill, with a castle on top and a waterfall below it. It looks gorgeous and special.

the car im driving and the road im taking

the car im driving and the road im taking

some places are still covered in snow

some places are still covered with snow

on the way to Jajce

on the way to Jajce

It is really a special town and I was actually shocked that this town doesn’t receive as much tourists compared to Mostar or Pocitelj. Maybe because it’s a bit far from Sarajevo but I think this place is really worth a visit if we are in the country. I couldn’t wait. Once I reached the town I parked my car and explored the town first on foot. Only after I spent about 2 hours exploring the town then only I went for late lunch and finally looked for a place to stay a day here in Jajce. I found a nice family run guesthouse on top of the hill just below the castle. It is very cheap, clean and the family that runs it were very kind to me. The son speaks good English and gave me a lot of tips on visiting Jajce and Bosnia as a whole. I decided to stay 2 days here in Jajce, since it looks like a nice little town to explore and the guesthouse is a nice place to stay… After all I need a break from driving anyway.

the view of Pliva river from the bridge near Jajce. It is.... awesome!!

the view of Pliva river from the bridge near Jajce. It is…. awesome!!

houses along the way to Jajce

houses along the way to Jajce

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I spent the entire evening exploring the town, the weather was good and the lighting was great during sunset, making the place looks like a fairy tale. I walked in the woods and it feels very quiet even it is very near the town. I really enjoy the surroundings until the darkness came in before I decided to go back to the guesthouse. Once I arrived the guesthouse the owner greeted me. The son, Adnan offered me coffee and I accepted the offer. That’s a wrong decision I guess. I went to sleep quite early that night but woke up in the middle of the night, probably because of the coffee. I couldn’t sleep anymore after that, so I went out and sit outside watching the view of the quiet town. Adnan couldn’t sleep too and he joined me… we talked about so many things for almost an hour in the middle of the night.

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He talked about the future… that he wanted to get married with his girlfriend who lives in Australia and plan to move there. Hes worried to leave his home here in Jajce. He said home is home… there is no place like home. No matter how great other places are… nothing beats home. I just remained silence… keep listening to him. Its not a good thing to worry about things that havent yet happen. But I just told him that my home is now the open road. It makes no difference where my home is… I feel like home everywhere now, even right here in Jajce… I’m so used to it. I have learned to change strangers to become family just with one handshake and a smile. And being long in foreign land can help us to appreciate our homeland even better, since we see things that we don’t usually see when we are back home. It teaches us to stop complaining.

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view of Jajce from the castle

view of Jajce from the castle

I got back to my bed and it was already about 2am. Tried to sleep but my mind was active, perhaps from the conversation with Adnan and the coffee. My mind kept travelling through time while my physical body remained on my bed. My mind finally went almost a decade ago, when I was still young, just graduated and was working as a lecturer back home in Kuala Lumpur teaching filming and animation. I had a close friend during those years, a Burmese girl from southern Myanmar. A lovely young attractive girl, working as a waitress in a local restaurant back home in KL. A girl who is an immigrant from the eyes of the modern society, but through my eyes shes a strong girl with a very strong heart… someone who struggle to change to a better life. An inspiration. We sometimes hangout in a nearby foodstall near her home after her working hours. And we usually shared our life stories.

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She came from a really poor family who lives in a countryside area in southern Myanmar. Having a strong heart and desire to change the condition of her life, she came to Malaysia alone to find a job. She worked hard day and night without complaining, earning roughly around 250 usd a month. Even though she earned small amount of money, but she can still managed to send money to her parents back in Myanmar every month without fail, to support her younger brother and sister so that they can keep going to school. And she planned to keep working in KL until she has enough money to open a small restaurant in Myanmar. I was surprised to hear that. I had a good job and a better pay but I cant afford to give money to my parents every month. Its always not enough even for me myself. I always have difficulties especially at the end of the month and keep complaining about my life back then. Knowing this Burmese girl and hearing her stories, that really inspires me and I could say… it changed me. She was tough, sometimes she felt frightened living in KL since shes a foreigner, shes young and naïve, not much experience in life, no family and friends but she has a very strong will to change the condition of her life. A true inspiration.

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And many years later I received an email from her, telling me that shes happy now, back in Myanmar, got married and now she runs a small restaurant in Yangon and told me to come and visit her family if I ever make it to Myanmar one day. It proves one thing, to achieve something great we must take the first step… which is to get out of our comfort zone… and for me… its called hijrah, get to the next stage, the next step. Sometimes going to a foreign land where we don’t speak the local language and we don’t know anyone… really helps. We feel challenged and our will becoming stronger to survive. The same case with this young Burmese girl. In my case, I chose to change to live my life as a traveller… a nomad. Some people asked who inspires me… was it Ibnu Batutta, Marco Polo or Columbus? I wanted to laugh when I heard those suggestion. Yes they have great names but I never meet those people in real… so surely they don’t inspire me. And some of these great names have crew following them… some travel on great ships. None of these great names inspires me. But surprising… a simple lovely young naïve girl who came from a poor Burmese family gave a huge impact to my life. Sometimes a small unimportant thing that happen to our life can lead to something big… just like a falling of a small stone that creates a deadly avalanche in a mountainside. Destiny…… And after this piece of memory played in my head for almost an hour, the effect of the coffee was finally gone… and I slept well through the night…

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After a good day walking around Mostar, I left the city driving around Herzegovina slowly enjoying the landscape. I drove less than 100km that day… seems that I travel further on my bicycle. I usually cycle around 80-120km a day.. sometimes even more when the road is mostly flat and easy.  But when the terrain is tough I do less than 50km. But now as I’m driving, I think I spent about 5 hours on the road but the distance I covered was only about 70km. I was slowed down not by the difficult terrain but the beautiful landscape in the southwest here in Herzegovina. The weather was good, a lot of sunshine and blue sky giving me a very good mood to enjoy the scenery. I wasn’t tired at all since I’m not pulling the pedal of my bicycle this time, so I took the advantage to climb some hills to get a good view of the landscape here.

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I made my first stop in Pocitelj, a beautiful historical site sitting along the river of Neretva, that flow all the way to the Adriatic sea. It looks like a nice neighbourhood with a huge ancient watch tower on top on the hills. The town was heavily destroyed during the war in the 90s by the Croats forces but walking around the areas climbing the hill to see the surroundings, it looks like this place is forever calm like never been touched before. I saw bullet holes, some destroyed parts but the ray of light from the sun and the calm and cold breeze coming the sea of Adriatic and the sound of birds making this place looks rather calm and peaceful.

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After spending some time there I kept going further entering many small roads to see where will the road lead me. Often I got stared by locals when I entered small roads, probably they are not used to see foreigners driving on small roads since these roads usually lead to places that doesn’t interest tourists. On late afternoon I arrived a beautiful waterfall called the Kravice waterfall. It’s a famous tourist spot in Bosnia, probably the most impressive waterfall in the country but since I came at this time of the year, I saw almost no one there… I was basically alone for almost the whole day. This is not the season for tourists. I stayed a few hours there hiking to nearby hills just to explore the surroundings. I watched the waterfall for hours, watching the drop of water followed by their movement along the river. It isn’t huge, only about 20-30 meters high but beautiful. I just kept looking at it… keep praising on the Hand that created all these.. the same hand that provides energy and allowing the water to flow from the high mountain towards the vast sea passing by this beautiful waterfall… When the sun was touching the horizon, I couldn’t move a muscle, I could only breath to see the beautiful surroundings… all under the last light of the day.

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After I’ve been staying a long time in Central Asia, I wanted something new here in Bosnia… something totally different, just to refresh my mind. I want to see different kind of people, different attitude and listening to different language. But once when I bought something in a nearby shop… the woman said “cetiri piet sot” which means 4.50. “Oh you guys speak Russian here?”, I asked her. She said “Da… quite similar”. I then realized here in the Balkans, they speak Slavic language, similar to Russian. I guess I didn’t travel far enough then. It’s fine with the Russian language, its just that I would prefer something totally different, as I hope this trip will refresh my mind from my long journey in Central Asia. But at least this helps a bit, when I go to countryside… I will speak English first to the locals and if they don’t understand me I will switch to Russian… and perhaps they will catch a word or two which is similar to Bosnian language.

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I finally decided to rent a small car, the cheapest car available and drive around the country. I think that’s the best idea to spend two weeks here in Bosnia… to drive around the country. I then found the cheapest car here at 30 euros or around 60km (Bosnian currency) per day. While its quite pricey for me, I can reduce my travel cost here by sleeping in the car at night so I can save on accomodation. And this is much better than taking public transportation. After so long I’ve been travelling free like a bird on my bicycle, I just couldn’t travel the normal way anymore, I just couldn’t be punctual to take the public transportation and let the timetable influence my freedom. Plus the access to places is very limited if I take public transportation. I want to go wherever I want anytime I want… just like how I do it on my bicycle. So I bought 2 books in Sarajevo and rent a small car… and the journey starts right after I ignite the engine of the car.

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I then drove to Mostar which is only about 130km southwest of Sarajevo. The view is amazing and I drove slowly and stopped a few times to capture the surroundings on my camera. The road is winding and narrow but it’s a good experience. Traffic isnt so heavy and I think it gonna be great to explore this country on a bicycle soon. Everytime when I came across nice places, I will stop the car and start making timelapse videos… and start reading the book I purchased in Sarajevo while waiting for the timelapse videos to be recorded. I talked to many curious local people too along the way…

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While I was filming some timelapse scene in one of the beautiful village not so far from Mostar, a local came and talked to me… curious on which part of the world I came from. We started talking and he said please take good photographs of this country and say good things about Bosnia. Many people thought that they are barbarians and the country isn’t a safe place to visit. I then replied that no one actually think that theyre barbarians and everyone knows that Bosnia is a really safe country to travel. At least us Malaysians… we love Bosnia and its people. I told him we had the same problems too sometimes. Lately my country always appeared in the international headlines for all the wrong reasons. Let it be politics, economy, plane crash or crime… but deep inside we are all a lovely nation. But thats a normal thing. The news seems to be concentrating only on the bad things. I guess thats what the audiences want… reading about bad things. Maybe not many want to read about the good things that are happening around the world. The news concentrates so much about wars and crimes… making the people having this impression that anywhere outside their home country isnt a safe place.

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After a few hours driving slowly and taking photos on the road, I finally reached the city of Mostar. It’s rather a small and quiet town. Looks very peaceful and people are laidback here. I stayed in a guesthouse near the old bridge of Mostar. Woke up very early in the morning and walked around the town. It was so nice to walk around this town when everyone is still sleeping. I was practically the only person on the street. Climbed one of the hill nearby to see the surrounding view of the city… and sit on top of a rock for hours reading my book under the sunshine. It was great. This city has been badly destroyed during the war but no one here talks about it. People here are so friendly. They live in harmony now as I see it. Mosques and cathedrals are standing side by side. Sometimes I heard the sound of Azan (muslim prayer call) and sometimes I heard the sound of bell from the church just next to it. The food is good and cheap… probably even cheaper than in Kyrgyzstan. I stayed two days in this lovely town… exploring it very slowly… as slow as when I take my time drinking a nice hot coffee in a cold morning.

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After I completed my short journey through the Tien Shan Mountains on my ski and snowshoes, I took a few days rest in Karakol, editing my film and writing my diary… putting my thoughts and all the things I experienced during the journey on paper… while they were still fresh in my mind. I then rushed back to Bishkek, the capital of Kyrgyzstan to purchase a flight ticket out of Kyrgyzstan since my visa is expiring. I can simply cross the border of Kazakhstan which is only 20 minutes away north of Bishkek, but I got bored crossing that border, meeting the same immigration officer again on both the Kyrgyz and Kazakh side. I guess they are bored to see my face too.

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I wanted to get away from the world of Central Asia temporarily, guess I stayed too long here. At first I was thinking why not go back to Southeast Asia, away from the snow and cold weather, maybe to the beach southern Philipines. Then I realized it’s a bad idea since flight ticket is really expensive to go there from here, while I can pay really cheap ticket if I go from my home country instead. I then began to put my eye on the map of Balkans, I had Greece, Romania, Bosnia, Crotia etc on my list and the flight is real cheap to those places from Bishkek. The thing is, its so difficult for me to decide where to go. On the day I purchased the ticket, I had either Bosnia or Romania left on my list. When I wanted to purchase the flight ticket, the woman asked me what is my destination… I looked at her and said wait… Im not sure… and a moment later I finally said okay… Sarajevo.

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I don’t really know much about Bosnia. The last I heard about the country was when they appeared on the international news 20 years ago during the Yugoslavia war. When I went back home, I wanted to find some information about Bosnia on Google but I was too lazy to do it. I’m so used to travel without making any reseach beforehand.. and it always turned out to be great. So I decided to keep it that way. My thinking is simple, why bother spending time reading about the taste of coffee, while you are just about to taste the coffee itself… to experience it firsthand. So I just spent the rest of the days chilling with family and friends, editing my film and enjoy the spring in Bishkek. This supposed to be the trip for me to relax from my journey which means… no bicycle, no skis, no tent, no climbing equipments or whatsoever. I just gonna carry light, probably buy 2 books in Sarajevo and spend 2 weeks in Bosnia chilling, being lazy, sitting on the grass under the hot sun for hours and try to finish the books. Also probably make some new friends and try to gain new contacts here in the Balkans. I think this is a better way to spend my time rather than filling it with heavy itinerary such as visiting mosques, cathedrals, castles, bridges, ruins, pile of stones, rocks, pebbles, muds etc.

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Sarajevo Old Town

Sarajevo Old Town

So there you go, I finally flew away from the realm of Central Asia into the European continent… crossing 5 time zones. Once I reached Sarajevo airport, there were not so many people, not a busy airport, the queue to pass the immigration checkpoint is very short and its quiet unlike any other major airports. I just love it. Once I’m outside the airport building, I just sit calmly enjoying the the sunshine and not so cold weather like in the Tien Shan, thinking on what to do and where to go. After a few minutes I then walked to the main road and decided to turn right and just keep walking. So there you go, after a few minutes of walking I saw a signboard saying “Welcome to the Republic of Srpska”! Opss… wrong way… I went to the totally wrong way entering into Srpska so I turned back to the airport and took a bus to the centre of Sarajevo.

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Sarajevo

Sarajevo

Sarajevo looks like a normal city of Europe. Comparing to big cities in Asia, it has less skyscrappers, not so crowded, traffic is flowing well and the most important thing, the air is not so polluted. It is surrounded by hills filled with residential areas and snow. It looks beautiful. I stopped in the old town area to find a cheap place to sleep… and my communication with the local people started from there. That was when I started to discover things, by talking directly to the locals… to find out nice places to go, nice places to eat etc. I used to find information on guidebooks surely… it’s a great source to find good information on places but it also gives a bad impact. I realized most places that are listed on guidebook such as Lonely Planet tend to really increase the price once they discovered that they are listed on popular guidebooks. And things are getting more expensive from time to time… sometimes almost double from what is written on the guidebook. And also they receive too many tourists and this sometimes turned them unfriendly and arrogant. And this is also the same reason why I prefer not to find out much information online… since usually only the popular ones have information on the internet or guidebooks. To me, being friendly to the locals really helps… and they are usually very helpful by giving me great information.

lovely residential areas on the hills surrounding Sarajevo... just lovely... it melts my heart!

lovely residential areas on the hills surrounding Sarajevo… just lovely… it melts my heart like a sugarcube

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I then spent 2 days in Sarajevo walking around the city and climbing the nearby hills. I just love the neighbourhood on the hillside. The surroundings are beautiful. It looks like a nice place to live. The city isn’t too crowded, living cost is cheap, people are friendly and the location is just great. Its like the centre of everywhere, I can easily access to western Europe or the Arctic from here… or back to Asia since Turkey is just next door or I can even cross into Africa from here. This might look like the next potential place for me to stay for a long time soon after Kyrgyzstan. But whatever it is, I will not plan too much, time will give me the answer… As for now, I should gather as much information as possible while I’m here in the country. So far people are so friendly to me. I met a few cyclists here while I was walking on the hills making timelapse photographs and we exchanged contacts. It’s a good start of a short adventure…

hehe, a cool guy wanted me to capture 1/400 seconds of his moment into the memory card of my camera

hehe, a cool guy wanted me to capture 1/400 seconds of his moment into the memory card of my camera

i think i want live in one of these houses soon

i think i want live in one of these houses soon

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