Home Is What Moves You: Tips for Travelling the Balkans

After spending a relaxing ten days in Corfu, enjoying unlimited showers and meals we didn’t have to cook on the side of the road, Joe and I packed up the van and returned to life on the road. A ferry carried our four-wheeled home and us from the Greek island back to the mainland port of Sarande, Albania. When Joe and I first crossed the border into Albania, coming from the North, we were aghast by the number of families dwelling on the sidewalks and in unfinished buildings. There were huddles of older women wrapped in scarfs sitting or sleeping on the sidewalks while children aggressively begged at car windows. There were heaps of trash everywhere and the roads hadn’t been repaired in ages, if ever. We crossed one bridge that was so demolished that we were amazed it was able to withhold our van. As we made our way through the country, we were astonished by how poverty-stricken the northern region really is. I would not recommend parking overnight or camping openly in these parts of Albania – stick to designated campsites or rent a room for the night. There are “room for rent” signs scattered everywhere.

As devastated as the northern part of the country seemed to be, though, the people in the south were incredibly friendly. On our way back from Greece, the locals of the south were eager to assist us with directions as best they could and we even had one gentleman offer us a room in his home for the night when we were unable to find a campsite. Overall, Albania opened our eyes to a way of life we had never previously witnessed first-hand.

On our route through the mountains of Montenegro we had a surprising encounter with a herd of cattle that seemed to be collectively lost. We were driving along a main road full of sharp twists and turns when we came around a bend, only to be stopped dead in our tracks by a massive cow staring us straight in the eyes. We lurched to a stop, stunned by this massive animal standing in the middle of the road. We broke into uncontrollable laughter. Although the cow seemed entirely unimpressed, to say the least. We just sat there, laughing, while the cows leisurely made way. This was not the only time we had company on the road. They should really mark those roads with “Yield to Cattle” signs.

In Hertzgovina, which we were forced to acknowledge that it is, in fact, not Bosnia, we became friendly with a restaurant worker who introduced us to the local cuisine and his cousin’s homemade wine (which was delicious). He fed us drinks all afternoon and then led us to a cave called Vjetranica that ran nearly seven kilometers into the hillside. What was so interesting about this cave was the fierce wind it produced. Standing at the entrance of the cave, I was nearly blown over by its power. This cave is one of many that run throughout the hills of Bosnia and Hertzgovina. Some archeologists believe it to be part of a system of underground tunnels connecting to the hidden pyramids of Bosnia: said to be larger and older than those of Egypt! To the unknowing eye, these “pyramids” just look like regular mountains but apparently they are just massively overgrown with greenery. They say that if you were to dig deep enough, there is a layer of prehistoric cement that not even tree roots can crack. It’s amazing what you can learn while travelling.

Croatia is as beautiful as everyone says it is. The islands are lush and the coastal towns are bustling. The most note-worthy place we visited in Croatia was the ­Krka waterfalls. Located in the Krka National Park, this collection of waterfalls is a must see. Because it is forbidden to swim in the famously pristine lakes of the Plitvice National Park (for preservation reasons), this particular spot is a great alternative to keep in mind. Joe and I dove into the cold, fresh water and swam up to the base of the falls. We carefully navigated our way up the rocks and stood in the middle of the rushing water. The power of the falls was stronger than I imagined and it pelted us like a rainstorm in July. We were entirely secluded beneath the waterfall and couldn’t hear anything but the sound of the water beating the rocks into formation. It was spectacular. If you get the chance to seek out these falls, I highly recommend taking the time to slip into your swimmers and climb the falls. Not only is it a chance to feel the wrath of Mother Nature, you can also get a pretty good look at the surrounding park. If you’re feeling more adventurous than usual, or just love a good adrenaline rush, try jumping off!

Although Croatia is now a major tourist destination, the smaller towns are still very rich in authentic Croatian culture. We briefly visited the old town in Dubrovnik and were entirely turned off by the hoards of tourists and selfie-sticks. We left as soon as possible and enjoyed the rest of the country rural-style. We spent one night pulled into a dead-end dirt road on a hill overlooking the Adriatic Sea. We watched the sun set into the bay and awoke to find we had company: a wild pig! I was lying in bed with the side door open and the pig sauntered past, not five feet away from my head. I poked my head out and saw Joe, chasing after it with his camera. I couldn’t help but laugh at the entire situation.

All in all, my advice would be, firstly, to be wary of your surroundings in poverty-stricken countries, and try to remain conspicuous about the fact that you’re living in your van. Finally, don’t waste too much time visiting the major tourist cities along the coast: the real beauty along this coastline is in its mountains and rolling hills.

Jasmine Peteran
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Jasmine Peteran

Jasmine is an aspiring writer from Toronto with a passion for exploring. She lives life spontaneously and is driven to find the most desolate corners of the world. Currently attending the University of Toronto, she is working on building her career as a professional travel writer. She aims to have her personal brand, Home Is What Moves You, and accompanying website up and running in 2017. Riddled with good advice and compelling stories, her writing is sure to inspire you.
Jasmine Peteran
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