Hills. The hills are everywhere here. I can’t escape them if I wanted to. For thousands of years people have lived in the hills of Bosnia. They plant their crops in these hills, they walk up these hills, and today they drive up them.
The roads here are thin and windy. They get a bit wider out on the main roads, and what looks like an interstate system is being constructed the closer one drives to Sarajevo. Where I’m spending most of my time, though, they are thin. It’s similar to driving a car on a bike path back where I’m from, only I would probably die from exhaustion if I tried to climb this road on a bike. To get where I am staying, I have to go up a mountainous hill and back down into a valley, only to climb another rather large hill to reach my destination. My ears pop multiple times on the trip to my destination.
There are tractors everywhere on this road, as most people are hauling dried grass cut down from a few days ago. They haul other things too. They sometimes haul their cattle or other people. If I can see around the corner, I can pass them. Or if I can’t see around the corner, I can still pass them. That’s how people drive here. It’s liberating, yet terrifying at the same time. It’s like driving a rally car, but having other rally cars going the opposite way on the same track. They don’t just pass tractors either. If I am going too slow for their tastes, they pass me no matter where I am. They pass multiple cars at once, and they will even squeeze back in front of me and expect me to let them over. And tailgating is not a term commonly understood here. I have learned to accept it and embrace it.
People walk up and down this road constantly. I pass children walking down to catch the bus to school, people walking down to the grocery store to grab a few things that they can’t grow themselves, or people just walking down to the local cafe to drink coffee and gossip. And gossip they do. Until they see something out of the ordinary (an American, in my case) and they stop and stare. Staring is perfectly normal here and they aren’t shy about letting me know they are staring either. Driving by, people are working in the fields or on their houses. However, they frequently take a break to stop and take a peak at who is driving by. They know everyone here, so they’re inquisitive about strangers.
They get a good peak at who is in the car because I have to drive this stretch of road slow. People haven’t always driven this portion very slow, and some still don’t. The extra twists and turns to get up and down the hills have made it so it has always been advisable to drive slower here. However, with the recent rainfall, landslides have plagued the area. Edges of the road have been washed away in some spots, while houses and earth being pushed down the hill have ruined the road in others. These parts are filled in with gravel because the people know an incompetent government won’t re-pave the road, and large piles of gravel sit on the road, as another barrier, to further pack the road down later on.
Large heaps of rubble that used to be houses sit just off this road. Some houses that weren’t totally destroyed were pushed off their foundation and sit twisted and torn. Geologists have said that stretches of this road are still unsafe and these hills are still likely to slide more. Most people don’t care. Some people don’t have a choice because this road is the only way to get to their homes; some live or lived (before the landslides) on this road. They drive on. I drive on.
So I continue to drive my compact car; a Volkswagen Golf, like 90% of the local population. These little cars were made to drive this country. They are experts at maneuvering around this road. Two of them can fit on this road fairly well, although there are stretches where my right tires go just off the road. Or when somebody comes the opposite way on a thinner portion of the road, I may have to back up to let somebody through, and this car conveniently fits in tight spots. (The etiquette on a hill, I’ve found, is the person going up hill backs down to a place where they can pull to the side.) And then I reach my destination, but the driveway to the house is too sharp to turn right into. Instead, I pull forward and then head in reverse up a 30 foot portion of hill in order to allow the car to pull forward up the inclined drive to the house. I made it.
That’s driving in (rural) Bosnia. It may seem dangerous or like a hassle. It may seem like a lot to deal with. But it’s worth it once I get up the hill. The view is breathtaking. So maybe you don’t want to drive here, and just by reading this, I can’t blame you. But, trust me. It’s a lot better than parking in Bosnia.