Hi all! I’m going to break this excursion into two, mostly because I have so many photos that I want to share, and I don’t want it to be overwhelming in one go.
Last Thursday I took a bus ride to Lukomir, an “ethno-village” in the mountains about two hours from Sarajevo. I met the tour bus (about nine people, including the guide and driver) at 9am by Vijecnica, where we drove through the mountains to Lukomir. The drive itself was cold and foggy (I didn’t take pictures) but was noteworthy nonetheless. First of all, we crossed the border from the Federation into Republika Srpksa, my first venture into the area. Second, we seemed to be stopped for every police point ever, and I was worried about it until our guide told us that our driver was also a police officer and he was just stopping of his own accord to say hello to his friends. Typical Balkan behavior… Third, we drove through the Mt. Igman Pass, which is a pretty treacherous mountain pass without guardrails. In the 1990s, it became a very strategic road during the conflict, often one of the only ways for Bosniaks to get into the city. It was described as “the most dangerous road in Europe”, but once the US diplomatic team, led by Richard Holbrooke, were forced to pass it in their armoured APC because their access to the Sarajevo airport was denied. The US diplomats Robert Frasure, Nelson Drew, and Joe Kruzel died as their French APC fell off the side. Holbrooke, in a Humvee directly following, survived.
If I’m correct in my rough estimation, we drove past the point where the initial crash occurred. If you follow the crash, the original APC has been left in its crash position next to a memorial to the fallen.
The drive to Lukomir consisted of driving through remote villages, down narrow mountain passes, and a few stopped directions. The remoteness reminded me of how absolutely pervasive the conflict was. My first thought was, “If I could have escaped out here, to somewhere so remote, I think I might have survived.” But then we passed through a small village immediately after I thought that, in the middle of which stood a memorial to those inhabitants that had died between 1992-1995. My thoughts immediately changed.
Eventually we went off the paved path onto a rocky pebbled road, which ran through shallow mountain passes. Stone pastures blanketed the hills, sheep roaming in herds with their loyal dogs keeping them in line.
This early in the morning, the fog still settled in the mountain crevices, adding a sense of moorish melancholy to the vistas.
Our van was white and the sheep dog tried to herd us, too!
Eventually you arrive to Lukomir, a village sitting at a height of 4,905 feet. It’s only passable from mid-April to mid-October or earlier, so for its entire history (that’s known, at least), it’s been a summer dwelling for herders and sheperds and their flocks. In the spring, they herd the sheep up from lower villages, live in this village (Upper Lukomir), and then descend again during the winter months.
Surrounding the village, like most Bosnian cities, towns, and villages, is a graveyard. Bosnian relationships with their various necropoli and the visibility of death is culturally different than our own understanding. Lukomir, which contains original stecci (which you will see later!), dates back to at least the 14th century. You can see the various influences of time on the gravestones here.
I was initially worried about rain, but look how absolutely beautiful the sky was!
Below you see one of the stecci! Again, I left my book at home, so I can’t describe to you exactly why these are different from your traditional sarcophogi, but as you’ll see throughout this blog, they are a cultural symbol of Bosnia and they are only found in the Balkans. Some are plain, like this one, but as you’ll also see later, some are detailed, bas-reliefed or engraved. Some are constructed with this pentagon-shape, while others are flat at the top. It depends on location, time, and inhabitant.
If you ever do run across these, it would be a terrible idea to just… sit on them. They are not benches.
Our group walked from the stecci, past the graveyard, and up that hill you saw earlier! My companions were very well packed for the day, whereas I had just brought my flannel and a camera. Whoops – but I certainly survived!
Houses are made of stone bases and wooden roofs, covered now with metal sheets.
Sheep, chickens, and animals run free. I used to do 4-H (for those of you that are not American, or not from the South, that’s a community agriculture organization – I used to raise lambs and sell them at the North Carolina State Fair), and it smelled exactly like all those old barns. Not a terrible smell, for me!
Below the mountain is one of the deepest ravines in Europe, the Rakitnica Ravine. The local folklore have tales that it’s the home of a dragon – something I certainly wasn’t about to contest.
Below you see our driver (moonlights as a driver- his real job is as a police officer).
This is one of my favorite shots.
We would walk this path a bit later on. It doesn’t look so steep here, but it really was!
I took this because I want to remind everyone that rednecks are rednecks everywhere 😉 rural people all use toilet appliances as water containers and planters – from the highlands of Bosnia to the gardens of North Carolina! And it’s just as charming and resourceful in either place.
This was our guide, and I absolutely LOVE this photo. I’ll talk more about her later, but we’re the same age and she is infinitely cooler.
I’m going to leave you with me flying, and come back tomorrow to describe the rest of the hike, show you the rest of the magical pictures, tell you about our guide, and let you know if I survived the dragon.