Right now, sitting in my room at the Sarajevo center hostel watching Ellie sorting photos on my laptop, I feel secure and happy. However, there were times during our ride to Sarajevo where this wasn’t the case. Bosnia, we’ve come to appreciate, poses several unwelcome challenges to cyclists. The first and most numerous of these is dogs. There are many dogs in Bosnia and most of them seem territorial, unhappy and aggressive. I suspect a few of them are also hungry.
Before anyone gets too concerned by this post I should point out that the dogs aren’t truly a threat, they’re just intimidating in large numbers. From what we’ve seen they’re not likely to bite if you stay calm and project a posture and air of confidence. But being approached by a pack of large, barking and growling dogs is still very unpleasant. Today, as we walked out of central Sarajevo up a steep hill to get a photo of the city, we stepped into a narrow street wedged between some scruffy old buildings. Immediately we were confronted by a large pack of aggressive dogs. Several got up off the floor and proceeded towards us barking fiercely and showing their teeth. Others stood on walls and various other purchases around our heads and all of them looked and sounded very mean. I assumed that to turn back at this stage, now that they were approaching, would provoke them to chase us. They would think we were afraid and that they were dominant and possibly move to attack. The only option was to brace ourselves and walk right through them. Ellie gripped my hand and we fought the flood of adrenalin that coursed through our bodies to maintain a light and breezy stroll through the center of the pack. One particularly large and scar riddled animal moved in behind me and got within arms reach of my legs, still barking and snarling furiously. I turned around and shouted loudly “go away” gesturing boldly with my arm outstretched.The dog recoiled momentarily but it only seemed to agitate the pack.
We managed to pass safely and found another way back to the city center, where there are still wild dogs but non of which are aggressive. Perhaps there was no real risk and the dogs were simply fearful of us but this is just one of a handful of encounters with aggressive dogs in Bosnia and the perceived threat is enough to be distressing. Some dogs have chased us on our bikes, others have surrounded our tent in the night, again barking, growling and doing their very best to be intimidating. It’s no fun at all.
The second challenge that I’d rather not have to face is that of tunnels. Bosnia, as you may know, is a mountainous and beautiful country. What you might not be aware of is that when Bosnia decided to lay down tarmac for the convenience of the ubiquitous motor vehicle it forgot about every other form of transport. The long and often dark tunnels that bore through the Dinaric Alps towards Sarajevo sit on busy roads carrying fast-moving heavy-goods-vehicles. Some have no paths for pedestrians and bikes and the paths that can be found are littered with debris and have huge holes a meter or more deep.
Between admiring Bosnia’s mountains and lakes and fighting our way along the insides of tunnels and away from dogs the road to Sarajevo left us completely exhausted and unsure what to make of this recently post-war country.
That was at least until we got to Sarajevo itself…