While Bosnia-Herzegovina is one country, the peace accords to end the war here in 1995 gerrymandered it to grant a degree of autonomy to the area where Orthodox Serbs predominate. This Republika Srpska, or "Serbian Republic" — while technically part of Bosnia-Herzegovina — rings the Muslim- and Croat-dominated core of the country on three sides.
When asked for driving tips, Croatians — who, because of ongoing tensions, avoid Republika Srpska — actually insisted that the road I hoped to take didn't even exist. As I drove inland from Dubrovnik, directional signs sent me to the tiny Croatian border town...but ignored the major Serb city of Trebinje just beyond. Despite warnings from Croats in Dubrovnik, I found plenty past that lonely border.
As I entered bustling and prosperous Trebinje, police with ping-pong paddle stop signs pulled me over. You must drive with your headlights on at all hours. The "dumb tourist" routine got me off the hook. I withdrew cash at an ATM. Bosnia-Herzegovina's currency is called the “convertible mark.” The name goes back to the 1980s, when, like other countries with fractured economies, they tied their currency to a strong one. It was named after the German mark and given the same value. Today, while Germany has switched over to the euro, the original German mark lives on (with its original exchange rate) in a quirky way in Bosnia. I stowed a few Bosnian coins as souvenirs. They have the charm of Indian pennies and buffalo nickels.
Coming upon a vibrant market, I had to explore. The produce seemed entirely local. Honey maids eagerly offered me tastes — as if each believed her honey was the sweetest. Small-time farmers — salt-of-the-earth couples as rustic as the dirty potatoes they pulled out of the ground that morning — lovingly displayed their produce on rickety card tables. A tourist here was so rare that there was nothing designed for me to buy. Coming from Croatia, I was primed to think of Serbs as the villains. Wandering through the market, I saw only a hardworking community of farmers offering a foreigner a warm if curious welcome.
About This Entry
You are reading "Buffalo-Nickel Charm on a Road that Does Not Exist", an entry posted on 26 June 2009 by Rick Steves.