The Signs Of War

By Stephen Ewashkiw | April 29, 2013

1050 km so far.

We rose in our shepherd’s field camping spot this morning bright and early, not wanting to be trod upon by unsuspecting sheep as they returned to graze.

Free camp at dawn.

Free camp at dawn.

We stopped a few kilometres down the road for pancakes at the American Squirrel Restaurant (or something like that). They also had goat, but it wasn’t quite ready at 7am.

The ride today was 60 km towards Plitvice National Park, through beautiful landscape with unusual features: large monolithic stones jutting out of fields, chocolate brown rocks like we have never seen, buildings ravaged by gun and mortar fire, and large graveyards outside every village.

The countryside we are now in is beautiful, and heart-wrenching. It was the center of some of the fiercest battles of the Croatian War of Independence, and also home to many ethnic Serbs before the war.

We cycled past the Udbina airstrip, now proudly displaying Croatian tanks at its entrance. Where once the Serb army stationed its troops to bomb this area, today a man patrolling the perimeter gave me a big wave as I cycled past.

Serbs and Croats aren’t defined by nationality, but are actually different ethnic groups. Prior to the war they cohabited peacefully. This all changed when Yugoslavia started to implode with the fall of the Soviet Union and the death of Yugoslavia’s dictator, Tito. The war was not primarily a religious war, as much as it was a war for ethnic autonomy, and at least on the Serb part, a desire for Croatia’s coastline.

The Youth Shall Inherit The Earth

Jane and I were discussing today how the countryside is filled with older women and young people. Many men, but not only men, were killed in the war, and almost all the women we see over a certain age wear nothing but black, a symbol of mourning and of their status as widows.

farmland in croatia

Farms are still a manual labor of love.

Their children, in their late teens and early twenties (meaning they were in the womb or small children during the war), seem to have stayed home to help on the farm or in the family business. It is in stark contrast to Italy, where the countryside was filled with older people, but we rarely saw anyone under 50 on a farm.

This region, from Gračac which we rode into last night, through Plitvice where we are headed tomorrow, was a Serb-dominated area of what was the Croatian homeland. During the war, part of this area was claimed by the Serb army as part of Serbia, with the local Serb population rising up to support the distant leaders. This led to a four year occupation, and the death of many Croats who lived in the area. Now, however, the area is dominated by Croats, with many Serbs having been killed as the war came to an end (see Operation Storm), and others choosing to leave and head east to what is now Serbia.

Plitvice, a National Park since 1949, was the location of the first casualties of the war, and an important front in the fight for independence. It will be very interesting to head into the park tomorrow.

Going The Distance

On a lighter note, we passed the 1000 km mark today and got to our campsite on the edge of the park before 1pm. This made it feel like a day off. Maybe we should get up at dawn every day.

The campsite, Borje, is comfortable and has as many campers as we have seen on this trip. We are staying next to an Italian couple from Como.

I was excited to see the woman roll out her mat for a Power Vinyasa practice before dinner. She is the first yogi we’ve met since leaving Roma, other than our friends Alex and Kasia, of course. We discussed how difficult it is to practice on holiday, even though it sounds like it should be easy. I was able to tell her about being a fellow student with Baron Baptiste, the creator of Power Vinyasa, at a Martin Kirk workshop, before I knew who Baron was.

A thought provoking day.

Looking forward to the waterfalls and walking tomorrow promises.

Note: I have amended the text very slightly after receiving an email from a friend with a bit more information. For the record, I intentionally did not write about what happened in other parts of Croatia during the war, not because they are unimportant, but because this piece is about our ride through one particular area.  

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  1. Comment by Viola

    Viola May 2, 2013 at 2:40 pm

    Hi there! It’s Viola, the girl from Como :)
    We got home yesterday night… we’re missing so much getting up in the caravan, having breakfast smoothly with the sea in front of us, or the beautiful nature in the Croatian hinterland… however we’re already thinking about our next trip :)
    I saw the pictures you took at the Plitvice Lakes, that was really a wonderful place! Also, how weird was it to meet again up there! I’m so glad we did, otherwise I wouldn’t have found out about your website :) which is really great, and I’m definitely gonna follow your journey as you go on :)
    So for now, have fun in Slovenia!

    p.s. if you want to take a look, the website of my yoga school is

    • Comment by Stephen

      Stephen May 5, 2013 at 10:28 am

      Hi Viola! So good to hear from you. I too am very glad we ran into you in the park. The ypga tells us it was bound to happen. If not there, somewhere. My yoga page is if you want to read more about the yoga side of my life. See you in Como, Torino or somewhere. Namaste!

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