Going on an unexpected photography tour of southern Serbia
The one thing all the locals told me in Belgrade was “go to Bajina Basta. Go to Tara National Park.” In a country as beautiful as Serbia, when everyone tells you Tara National Park is the place to go for natural beauty, you listen to them.
The town nearest Tara National Park is Bajina Basta. Located five hours south west of Belgrade, it is a little town found right on the border with Bosnia. And when I say it is a little town, it has one hotel, one main restaurant (which is surprisingly hard to find) and just a few streets at an absolute push.
When I got there, the hotel was seemingly full, so the girl at the Tourist Information Centre made a couple of phone calls and 15 minutes later I was staying with a nice Serbian family.
Without English to communicate with, we sat around the table sipping thick sweet Turkish coffee avoiding eye contact and smiling when we did. Eventually I reverted to picking up their young girl and spinning her around the room, and this made everyone laugh. I felt accepted, albeit only for a few days, and sipping thick sweet Turkish coffee sent from a polite welcoming to a comfortable routine.
The reason I was in Bajina Basta was to go hiking in Tara National Park.
One of the things I have learnt about the Balkans is buses take forever, and with the remoteness of Bajina Basta I set aside the day to hiking and hitchhiking.
One of the greatest things about hitchhiking is its fun even when you’re trying to catch a ride.
Picture the scene if you can – I was walking along a small winding road with the mountains of Serbia on one side of me and the green rolling hills of Bosnia on the other. All of this was dissected by the River Drina running alongside me. The faint sound of rushing water was the only sound that could be heard.
After about 45 minutes, eventually a guy picked me up.
“You speak English?” he asked in a thick Serbian accent.
We spoke for a short while about this and that – why I was in Serbia, what I was doing hitchhiking, those sorts of things – and then he asked me one of my favourite questions.
“You like photography?”
Chance would have it that this guy not only spoke perfect English but he was an avid photographer.
“I take you to the best views in all of Serbia. We take photos together.”
I then embarked on a photography tour of southern Serbia, stopping at One Year River (named because it is 365 metres long), a small town just shy of Visegrad in Bosnia, and a few other viewpoints too.
Nenad, my fellow photography, asked me if I wanted to go back to his village to sit around, eat meat and drink beer with his friends; I truly wanted to, but there was no way I would have been able to get back to Bajina Basta that night, and I knew my Serbian family would have been worried, so I had to politely decline.
Luckily enough, I still had hiking in Tara National Park to look forward to.
Nenad took me all the way to the start of the trail and told me to head for Banska Rock for the best views in the national park.
The hike was about 10km, and even though I saw three other cars (yes, I counted) pass me by, I didn’t see anyone else; I certainly didn’t see anyone hiking.
Once I made it to Banska Rock, I was treated to the most spectacular views of Serbia and Bosnia. You could clearly see the River Drina cutting through the valley, and the views were simply stunning, well worth the hike.
Luck was once again on my side, and I met a young Serbian couple at the viewpoint. They drove me back to the small town Mitrovac, and I was off again on another hike, this one through the trees to a place called Green Carpet Forest.
The floor of the forest was made up of a light peat making it soft and spongy under foot, apparently something quite unique.
That hike only took a couple of hours, and once I made my way back to Mitrovac it was time to tramp the road again.
Hitchhiking back to Bajina Basta was easy enough; some old guy picked me up and he did not speak a word of English, so we drove in a comfortable silence.
Once I got back to my Serbian family I tried to explain what I had been up to that day, but they didn’t really understand the concept of hitchhiking.
Instead, I sat back, once again sipping thick sweet Turkish coffee, happy and content with my day hiking around Bajina Basta.