I’d pulled into the car park of a cafe, ripped off my helmet and vibrated with over-boiling irritation. “I had to stop,” I told Sarah through gritted teeth, “I’m starting to get really pissed off.” She wasn’t happy, looking everywhere but directly at me. It pissed me off more. I rubbed my face and eyes too hard and tried to ingest some of the guttural growls my throat had started making. I was super pissed off.
It was a bright sunny morning. Sarah and I stirred awake slowly in our apartment after last nights beers. The displeasure of packing (read: ramming with fists, elbows and foreheads) our gear back into the panniers was already looming so I lugged myself out to get preparatory coffees. I had to loop my way around the old winding streets to find someone who sold takeaway coffees – a pizza joint, already full of clients for breakfast. Pizza breakfasts? Nice.
Back in the apartment Sarah and I hatched the plan to visit Mostar as we were riding through Bosnia and Herzegovina anyway. As far as we could tell from a brochure we’d picked up there was only an antique bridge and some old buildings to see, however everywhere travelled we’d seen advertisements for the place… must be one spectacular bridge to see in person. We finished our coffees and finished head butting out gear into the panniers. I started to notice more things that weren’t here but should be. I’d lost my shorts, leaving me with only jeans to wear from now on, a sweaty and unpleasant prospect in the Mediterranean heat. We couldn’t do anything about it here, Old Town was too expensive, so it was in my jeans that I hoisted panniers overflowing with luggage onto my shoulders, put my shades on and made way to the steep stone staircase underneath the city walls where Candy was parked. The bags were heavy and each stone step chipped a little more from my resolve. I was wet all over by the time I summited, the car-park exposed to the full heat of the sun afforded no respite while loading the bike. It was safe to say the caffeine boost had worn off.
The cool breeze as we careened along the winding coast road, overlooking coral blue seas dotted with islands, was all the refreshment I needed. It was a stunning place.
It wasn’t long before we’d passed through the border into Bosnia, which holds only a tiny stretch on the coast. It was at the tiny town there, Neum, where we hitched inland at the request of old faithful, my Navfree GPS software. Only this time, lesson learned, I wouldn’t put stock in the software alone. The Adriatic coast map Sarah bought with her winked back up at me from the shiny top-pocket of my tank-bag. We’d be all right.
We weren’t all right. An hour, maybe more, were lost. A combination of bad GPS (who’d have thought?!), misleading maps and bad judgement all-round from myself led me past our intended junction as far as Gradac, 20 minutes the wrong way, before realising and turning around. The junction was hard not to miss, signposts being an unaccustomed extravagance this side of Neum. It looked and felt like a private road and I was giving up hope following it north into the hills, but the GPS, without maps of Bosnia, was tracking through a blank background heading straight for the road I’d planned to be on in Croatia. Out of the tight curves bordered by short cliffs and short dry-leafed shrubs emerged the border – the smallest I’d seen. The one guard had emerged from his hut and come over to us. “Mostar?” I asked, pointing forwards. He was quiet as I showed him the map and the route we were taking. After walking full circle, paying special attention to the number plate, he muttered.
“No.” I tried to show him the map quickly but he’d already backed off 5 yards to stand looking at us.
“No?” He shook his head and pointed back past our shoulders. I had stood my ground with the Macedonian border patrol a few days before, but here I had no information. Was it a no because it wasn’t the scenic mountain road to get to Mostar (it sure looked like it) or no because he couldn’t be bothered to look at our GB Passports (it sure looked like it). I pulled the bike around and rode back with my tail between my legs – rejoining the coast road we’d left earlier. I managed to encourage Sarah to try rolling camera work – shooting videos on the fly. I’d mastered pulling the camera out, shoot some pics and putting it back in a jacket pocket while riding solo, so I was surprised to hear so much protesting from the back. Worse, the helmets muffled the words into one long whine that was quick to grate. I’d already started to get snappy.
Determined to make up time and put our detour behind us I began to pin the throttle more and more. Most of the road had a low 60km/h limit despite the wide open corners and long stretches. I swooped round out of a 100km/h zone down through tall narrow trees and towards a village at the back of the bay, doing at least 20km/h over comfortably. I rolled off the throttle past a pair of red 60km/h circles still carrying speed as the tarmac wove its way through the forested verges. A white scooter was parked where the road curved leftwards a few hundred meters away. Looked suspicious. I continued to slow with the engine braking, getting closer, close enough to start making out details. When.
Fuck. The front brake and back brake hissed as the autopilot went all-or-nothing. My wrists took the weight of two people, luggage and the back end of a motorcycle. The back tyre danced over the tarmac as it was momentarily unburdened. There he was, white cap and radar gun pointed straight at me. I looked down at the big ’83’ framed against the orange back-light on my dashboard. Fuck.
If you’ve ever known you’ve lit up a police speed-trap you might sympathise, if not I can tell you how bad the miles after are – just waiting to see around which corner the police will be waiting for you, smug grins and big tickets. If I hadn’t got a helmet on I would have pulled my hair out. Just an hour back we’d watched four bikers being escorted back to Neum by a cop car. The day before oncoming bikers had warned us to slow through a village where police were doing speed checks. Now, carried away by the good quality of the roads and the blissful settings, I’d blown it. I even tried pulling off into a residential area to see if there’s other coast roads that would avoid enforcers. No luck, I had to face my judgement.
In one kilometer. Ok maybe two. The stress was pulling at my shoulders. I wish they’d just materialise and be done with it. But they didn’t then, or ever did. I was away clean apart from the residual dread from the incident itself. I rationalised all the scenarios into my helmet but none mattered – there was another sign for Mostar.
The road had turned to shit. Roadworks, large gravel, big dips and ramps. We followed the same shit-stain road for half an hour, making little progress. I kept looking for a buyout clause from Sarah. I’d ask, time and again. “Are you sure you want to go to Mostar?”
Each time there would be what felt like a nonsense diplomatic answer like, “We can go there if you want to,” or, “We can go on if you’d like.” My brain whizzed.
NO. How can you not see what I mean? I wan’t to see if YOU want to go to Mostar, not ME! I want to see if you want to go to Mostar and I want your answer to be NO. Stop asking what I want! I’m only asking YOU because I know I don’t want to go to Mostar!
Evidently, a gasket was broken somewhere deep inside me. After all, a man could only take so much dust from the muddy gravel road and heat from the baking sun. Mostar looked less like an interesting tourist destination and more like a tortured pilgrimage for some old, fucking, bridge. I turned the bike round, kicking up dust, and blasted back past the cars I’d overtaken 10 minutes previous. All the way back to tarmac. All the way back to another main road I’d left earlier.
I’d pulled into the car park of a cafe, ripped off my helmet and vibrated with over-boiling irritation. I was super pissed off. After ten minutes of hand trembling rage I felt better. I thought I deserved credit for taking a time out rather than riding angry, credit for being so attuned to my feelings but Sarah was making it clear that she was only just putting up with me. Maybe two months with no prolonged contact had left it’s mark on human interaction. Possible. Nevertheless, I made it very clear what I wanted next. To head straight to the ferry port in Drvenik, get ourselves to Hvar and unwind. It was a done deal.
The ride to the ferry port took no time at all and neither did the wait for the boat. Sarah and I bought tickets and barely finished an ice cream before rolling onto the small ship bound for Sucuraj on the furthermost eastern point of Hvar island. Leaving the bike in gear downstairs we sat on deck, I fired off some photographs and wrote a little for the blog. The crossing took about half an hour on the calm seas – the Dalmatian coastline that looked over us at the ferry port shrank slowly back into the sea.
Rolling off the ferry and round the back of Sucuraj the early evening sun lacquered the road, trees, grasses and houses gold. It was the sort of summer vista you find on festival posters but cynically assume it’s down to a wild amount of photoshopping. Then the roads. Twisting tightly through vineyards, we were banked over with 20ft of air beneath our heads and the ground as it fell away from the bridged tarmac. Long open stretches through moors at the tallest point of the island, overlooking the steep drops either side into the blue. Deteriorating technical sections through woods. Huge sweeping cliff side slaloms on brand new, sun-baked tarmac beneath clay red cut-out hill side faces. We were shredding all of it. My audacity was emboldened with every mile. Thankfully my excuse, the small island not meriting a strong traffic police presence, didn’t come back to bite me in the ass. We rolled into Hvar triumphantly under our ETA, went to the high-street and relaxed with cappuccino while we stole WiFi to find a hostel (that was far easier to find online than it was in person). The big party hostel we’d booked had made a mistake with the reservations and we’d be in separate rooms this evening. Sarah got the first room, full of people sleeping. I was shown to the second room with 5 Canadian girls and a skinny Chinese Canadian guy who sounded like Roger the alien from ‘American Dad’. We barely had enough time to order a pizza and eat before joining the first pub crawl on Sarah’s holiday. We had two nights here, so I eagerly anticipated to the opportunity to get roaring drunk for the first time in a while, especially after the stressful and misguided attempts to reach Mostar earlier. Fuck Mostar.
So off we went, Sarah and I, into the night with another group of perfect strangers. Beer’d up and ready to paint the town red. Bring it on Hvar. Bring it on.