How far can you go in a country where an ethnic war still lingers in the air and landmines are a present danger in the woods? I stand in the tiny town of Nahorevo, a short bus ride from Sarajevo. Nearby, at the top of Mount Bukovik, sits a geocache. Finding it is my goal of the day.
In 2010 there were nine geocaches in Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia & Hercegovina. Compare this to any other major European city, or any large city in the US, and you get a picture of how unknown geoaching is in Bosnia. It also says something about the country and its society. The war in Bosnia spanned from 1992 to 1995 and it was on these hilltops that Serbian fighters were situated. During their siege they bombarded the city every day for a thousand days. Geocaching isn’t something you know about here. But the fact that it does exist at all reveals something about the development of the country since that last day of bombardment.
A fear of landmines
As I stand beside a statue in Nahorevo, in memory of the fallen men and women, ready to start walking towards the cache, I hesitate. I think back on a woman I met a few days prior. A young child during the war, now a successful lawyer 15 years later, she’s still afraid of stepping on grass growing out of the sidewalk. Most of the woods around the city have been cleared of landmines, but there are still stories of tourists and locals falling victim of leftovers. And I can only imagine what horrors the woman experienced during the war. Memories that she has to live with for the rest of her life.
But I trust the person who placed the cache. And if I have to leave the trampled paths, I can always head back.
In the outskirts of the village, just before leaving it behind me and entering the wild, I stop to talk to a family dining in their garden. Which way is the best to get to the top of the mountain? Is it really safe? In broken english an older man manages to warn me that there is something I have to watch out for. Landmines, I suggest. He laughs. No, wild boars. We’re a few kilometers away from Sarajevo and landmines are no threat this far from the city, according to the man.
His words don’t reassure me. Now I have two things to worry about.
Lost among the boars
The first thing I do before leaving Nahorevo behind me and starting my climb of Bukovik is to get lost. Instead of sticking to the “main road”, which is no more than a set of wheel tracks, I end up on a much smaller path leading away from the forest and into an open field. I continue, but soon realize that the path is turning away from the mountain. The GPS is pointing east. I’m heading south. I finally reach a small stream where the path ends. But instead of turning back I choose to follow the stream eastwards. The heat makes the thought of the long walk back unappealing. Landmines or not, a path made by animals will have to do for safety. But the older mans’ words about boars return to me.
A sudden sound makes me freeze on the spot. I scan the area for movement and start to consider which tree is best to climb. But all is quiet again. I take a step forward and the twigs underneath me break. The sound returns, maybe twenty meters away. But I still can’t see anything. I get the feeling that we’re both awaiting each other’s next move.
Okay, I think I’ll go back then. And a few minutes later I’m back on the main path.
Towards the top
After a while of heading back and forth I bump into a man standing next to his car, peeing. How he’s managed to get the car all the way up here is puzzling to me. But there he is, turning away slightly embarrassed. I let him finish before approaching him to ask for advice regarding my next move.
Without being able to say anything else in English than “no English”, the man manages to explain to me that he owns the field next to us, that he lives in a cottage nearby, that he has two dogs that he loves and that I can take a shortcut through his field on my way to the top of Bukovik. We even laugh together and his energy makes the walk ahead much easier. I thank him and continue, soon finding myself on the right track once again. A narrow, steep and twisted trail to be sure, but I smile the entire way thinking about the man and his laughter.
The heat is exhausting and the water I’ve brought is quickly draining. I have to stop and rest every few hundred meters. On top of that darkness is approaching. With all my wrong turns I’ve spent more time than planned on this trip.
A cache with a view
A few hours after I first left Nahorevo I finally reach my goal. Up here, the mountain is bare and covered only with grass. A lonely bush grows on the top and beneath it I find what I came for: a small glass jar with a logbok, pen and some trade items in it. There’s a metal coin with the logo of a unit within the American army. Fitting, I think, as it was with the help of America that peace was finally achieved in Bosnia and is kept even today.
I read what others have written in the logbook. The view is acclaimed, as is the challenging road up. People from Hungary, Poland and South Africa, among other countries, have been here. But it’s no well-visited mountaintop or cache. Only seven names are written. I add the eighth.
I rest for a while, then begin my descent back to Nahorevo and Sarajevo. I arrive just before darkness takes over. Few caches can compare to this trip. And if I ever get the chance, I will visit Bukovik again t pay my respects to the fallen victims of the war.