Gaby becomes a 10 speed, Jabukovaca and homemade marmalade
October 24, 2013
Before leaving Belgrade I stopped at the local bike shop to get a new chain and maybe find a new left crank arm. When my homedog mechanic, Marco, looked at the bike he was shocked at the condition of the drive chain. My chain, a cheap kmc chain, installed in CA, had stretched over 2 inches and had completely wore out the middle chain ring on the crank, and all the sprockets on the cassette. A new chain and cassette are easy replacements in Serbia but my Sugino, 5 bolt middle chain ring, is impossible to find. Rather then deal with mail order parts from the UK I abandoned the idea of changing the middle chain ring and now have to double shift when climbing. I also installed a left crank arm but the size is a few mm shorter than the right one, pedaling was a bit awkward at first but all in all gaby runs smoothly, and when I arrive in Istanbul I hope to find better parts.
The Serbian diet is very similar to that of Hispanics. In the villages the locals eat beans, with le pinna (a thin bread similar to a tortilla), crushed tomatoes with bell peppers and onions. Many Serbs also have an appearance very similar to Mexicans and celebrate their own version of “day of the dead”.
I am heading east on the Danube river to see the largest canyon in Europe, second in the world only to the Grand Canyon. Leaving Belgrade I cycled through the most polluted city in the country, Pancevo. Factory after factory spewing smoke into the blue sky, (the city also makes its own yogurt which is quite good). The roads are relatively quiet and small villages line the banks of the Danube.
While looking for a place to camp, the village of Ivanovo, I befriended some locals drinking beer outside a grocery store. An older man named Zoran spoke English and after a few beers, 2L size, invited me to stay at his country home. We talked mostly about traveling, and he told me that his only regret in life was that he waited until he was 50 to start. A Belgrade native, Zoran had traveled all over the world and used to be a chauffeur for the Serbian Embassy. I invited him to dinner and we ate Cata Georjva (fried beef wrapped around pork), and Oustipsy (mixed fried meat with cheese) at a local restaurant. I slept on his floor, and breathed heavily in his smoky house.
Zoran starts his day with beer, so being a good guest we toasted off the morning with a “Ziveli”(Serbian Cheers)! He made me fresh caught, roasted fish and then we headed to a friends house on the river. Ivanovo, is a very small community of mixed races, Serbians, Muslims, and Hungarians make up the majority although there are few Croatian and Bosnia households. Constantine, Bosnian a retired, electrical engineer, has a house right on the Danube river. He spends his time distilling his own plum brandy, and makes very tasty apple marmalade.
Upon arrival Constantine (Kole) pulled out a large glass gallon container of “Jabukovaca” (His very own plum brandy), and we toasted off the afternoon listening to Serbian folk songs. After a few hours, of partying I made an attempt to leave but notice that I could no longer stand up, I also could feel the familiar salvia lubrication in my throat. I unsteadily paced to the river and spent about an hour puking and enjoying the grass by the river. Kole found me passed out on the grass and walked with me back to his house. He offered me his room and I slept for rest of the evening.
I woke up hangover free, and drank homemade tomato juice in the garden. My Ipod is now full of Serbian folk music, and Kole is now a big fan of African folk. International music exchange! Kole cooked me a breakfast of eggs and homemade jam and wished me luck on the journey.
I am now in a small village about 30 km away called “Kovin”. The countryside is full of sheep and most of the villagers are either fishing or managing sheep. The weather is fantastic! During the day it is very close to 30 C, and other than a constant head wind conditions are ideal for sandals. I find the Serbia/Yugoslavian culture very interesting and I am finally getting the feeling that I am far away from home. With a huge Turkish influence on food, music and religion I thoroughly look forward to seeing the rest of Yugoslavia; Bosnia, Croatia, Montenegro and Macedonia.
Serbia’s Tiger leaping gorge
October 28, 2013
These last few days have been really pleasant. Without a schedule and no restrictions on how long I can stay in one place, I have adopted a very relaxed pace. Each day riding no more than 60 km, and sometimes spending several hours exploring the rural villages. I can carry enough water and food for several days, if I want to be out in the wild, or each day I can cycle to the next village or town and get hot food from the bakery. There is so much freedom on a bicycle, no need to rush to connect with a train or plane, when I am ready I can ride and when I am tired I can stop and sleep in a quiet field.
The water level on the Danube changes drastically over night. While crossing several sections of the road, I would often have to get off the bike and push or ride as fast as I can to get through some of the large streams. At one crossing the mud was misleading and Gaby got stuck. After losing both my sandals and pushing ankle-deep in warm mud I pushed Gaby to safe ground. There was so much mud however that I could barely get the wheels to spin, let alone use my brakes. After a few km of gummed up tires rand very little braking I arrived at a small fishing village, Dubovac, located on a peninsula.
After thoroughly hosing Gaby down, I was invited to wine and Rakia with some construction guys working in the village. They barely spoke English but knew a lot of construction terms in English, they also knew a lot of bad words, we became friends instantly! After drinking a few shots of Rakia and a glass or two of homemade wine cut with Coca-Cola, they pulled out a large metal wok, and fried fresh caught fish in a few cups of bacon fat.
After dinner, they offered me a camping spot on the lawn and when they learned that I would be cycling back through the area, invited me to “sarma” (mixed meat cooked in cabbage, supposedly the best Serbian food) and more drinks in their home village Kovin. I said good night to my new friends and set a date for my return party. The peninsula had a very tropical feel, and all night a warm breeze rustled the leaves, and in the distance I could hear the sounds of boats bumping with the tide.
After a breakfast of flat cola and bread, I left the Louisiana like village of Dubovac. The bike path quickly changed from single track, to a full two lane road. The road eventually departed from the Danube, and crossed several orchards and vineyards finally coming to a halt at a small ferry terminal, where I boarded and crossed to the southern side of the river. Departing the ferry I cycled through the small town of Ram, and up a steep hill past an ancient castle. Rolling hills and Orthodox monasteries, I found a nice camping spot under some plum trees and cooked dinner.
The next day, I entered the city of Golubac, the official beginning of Djerdep National Park. I stopped in several stores and eventually found a good market where I packed my panniers full of bread, cabbage (a whole head of cabbage costs less than 10 cents), garlic and water. Not sure when I would see a food store again I carried a few days worth of supplies.
Leaving Golubac, the road went straight through a huge castle built by the Serbs in the early 11 century.
The Turks occupied the castle in the 1300s and during the communist regime the government decided to put a road right through the center of the castle. A great way to mark the entrance to the national park, the river was slowly becoming wedged in a canyon. The road now passed through several tunnels, and in some ways mimicked my epic 2009 ride in Hana, HI.
After another day of riding step cliffs overlooking the river, I approached a side road heading to the highest peak in the park. A steep, rough 6 km, (most of which I had push) the top had a spectacular view of the river and where I sat for a few hours eventually watching the sunset.
I camped just below the summit, and was awoken several times by a lynx. At first the lynx came to my tent and tried to steal my muesli, when that attempt failed, it started to screech (probably thinking I would run from my tent in fear). My first attempt at confrontation the lynx it ran away, however later it got more bold. Around 3 am I was awoken again by the “beautiful” screech, I unzipped my tent and turned on my head light, and there, with eyes glaring back at me was a beautiful lynx about the size of a large dog. I picked up a rock, but before I could do anything it ran into the forest.
Today I cycled out of the national park, and crossed the river to Romania. Compared to the Serbian side of the Danube, an undeveloped national park, the Romania side is very rural with villages and villas built along the water. In the late afternoon I passed Romania’s equivalent of Mt Rushmore, the Statue of Decebalus, a huge face carved into the rocky cliffs.
Vacation is over! There is a meditation retreat in southern Croatia on November 9th, and after reunited with my friends and eating “Sarma” in Kovin, I will be heading west through Bosnia and into Croatia.
A collection of Serbian Recipes
November 2, 2013
The northern, Romanian side of the Danube was far more interesting than the Serbian side. Other than the wild, ruthless packs of dogs waiting around every corner my trip back to Serbia was perfect.
The road was is in very poor condition which kept traffic and commercial transport to a minimum, And rather than riding through a thick forests, the Romanian road was built directly on the rocky shores of river, and passed through several small villages. Locals fished and basked in the afternoon sun, and I pedaled west constantly in fear of being confronted by wild dogs. Most encounters resulted in a chase and on several occasions the dogs would grab hold of my panniers with their teeth and try to shake me from my bike,(Kevlar panniers anyone?). Completely defenseless, my only hope was to pedal as fast as possible, and wait until they give up their prey. Few dogs could keep up with me for more than a few meters but every once in a while a fast dog would bite at my feet and chase me far down the road.
From Romania I cycled back across the Serbian border to the city of Kovin, where I re-visited my friends from the fishing village of Dubavac. The night of my arrival, my host Dragan, prepared Sarma (mixed meat rolled in fermented cabbage) and we spent the evening sipping from his Serbian Rakia collection. Rakia is most commonly made from plum, but while at Dragan’s I tried Rakia made from Dunia, Apple, and Mulberry.
Dragan invited me to stay in his guest house, and I slept peacefully away from the dogs in a cozy bed. The next day, I woke up early for a Serbian breakfast of Coffee and a double shot of Rakia. We then went to the local fisherman to and purchased close to 10 kilograms of fresh fish for the evening festivities. Dragan offers to cook his famous soup on his outdoor stove converted from an old oil barrel.
Later on I joined Pesco, my other friend from Dubovac, for a late lunch with his family. We drank Rakia and I played around with his small collection of Serbian war toys. The sun went down, a small party was brewing in the backyard. A fish feast! Dragan’s famous soup and thin sliced fish fried in bacon fat. Rakia, wine, beer, and plenty of spongy Muslim bread, a fabulous night in the small village of Kovin!
Although communication is limited to broken English and my extremely poor Serbian, Dragan, Pesko and I had a great time hanging out and I felt very connected with both of them. My friends from another life.
After another great breakfast of Rakia, black coffee and leftovers, Dragan gave me a spare Schwalbe tire and I said good-bye to my friends. I then cycled back to Zabalj where I am now staying with my other Serbian friends Jovan and his family.
The weekend is prepped for more festivities, Sarma, Serbian doughnuts and more Rakia. Things are good in Serbia, but tomorrow I will continue west to the Monastery in Croatia.