There are two routes to cross the border near the coast between Montenegro and Croatia. I took the road less traveled by. It probably didn’t make a lot of difference, but it was more pleasant. The road wound around the peninsula through brush and forest that sloped steeply down to the sea. Along with Fernando and Veronica who I had met in Montenegro, I camped behind the house of another Warmshowers host, Marko. Marko had a lot of stories to tell about life as a refugee–more from his father than from Tito–and politics in the countries of the former Yugoslavia. The next morning featured a steady rain so we had a long brunch waiting it out and listening to Marko’s tales.

Approaching Dubrovnik I had to take the highway again which was unpleasant, but the old city was a beautiful and interesting place to spend an extra day. Then it was back on the bike and quickly off the highway and up into the hills on narrow, winding secondary roads. The roads ran along the border with Bosnia and I saw plenty of evidence of the war, mainly in the form of mortar blast marks on the pavement and a few actual mortar shells–or their fragments–embedded in the road. I crossed the border into Bosnia where a spit of the country runs out to its only sea port, then back into Croatia to spend another night. The border crossings between the countries were the most laid back posts I’ve ever encountered. At the first a couple of guards joked with me about whether I was headed the right way and at the second the guard didn’t want to miss any of the soap opera he was watching. Neither asked me for my passport.

A day’s ride into Bosnia brought me to Mostar where I spent the next few days. Another beautiful old city, Mostar sits along the crystal clear Neretva river and gets its name from the old bridge there. Or rather from the name of the guardians of the bridge which was first built in stone by the Ottomans. Evidence of the war is everywhere in the city. Many of the buildings are still in ruins and many more still have bullet holes in the plaster. The old bridge itself was destroyed during the war, but has been rebuilt in the same form since then. I was able to meet Stephanie, a Brethren Volunteer Service worker in the city, for coffee and got a better idea of the city from her. While still divided, she says the city is not as divided as the politicians and media like to claim. A common enough problem.

I considered riding to Sarajevo, but the road between the cities was busy and narrow so I turned off to head north a couple hours out of Mostar. I spent the evening camped in an idyllic setting on a peninsula in the middle of Lake Ramsko, west of Prozor. Then it was over another 1100 meter pass and a long day riding down the other side. More camping along a river near Kljuc and then just the other side of Jajce, after touring the old town and fortress there and admiring the old mosques.

I finally crossed back into Croatia to visit Plitivice park and suddenly found myself back in a busy, expensive tourist destination. The park itself was beautiful, featuring a long series of crystal lakes with waterfalls leading from each to the next down into a canyon. But I didn’t realize how dramatic the canyon itself was until I was leaving and stopped alongside the road to get a picture back up the valley.

The traffic and an unfortunate encounter with an angry driver–which almost lead to me getting beat up in the street–convinced me to skip the rest of the tourist areas in Croatia and head straight north. This immediately became my favorite part of the country, redeeming it from my first impressions. Quiet, winding roads headed north through green rolling hills. Past little farming villages with stands selling local honey and cheese. And people that will wave back and greet you as you ride by.