During a quick stroll through Mostar’s old town district on my second evening there, I encountered The Friendly Tout who I’d met at the bus station several days earlier – the tout who was solely responsible for my getting off and visiting the city in the first place. I didn’t recognize him at first, but luckily he called out and invited me to join him and his friends at a little streetside cafe as I walked by. We spent half an hour or so chatting about my onward travel plans; although I was clearly taken by his little city, I’d decided a few hours earlier that the time had come to continue making my way North towards Serbia. He recommended that before doing so, I should squeeze in a quick hike to Kravice Falls – a “Mini Niagara” with a pleasant swimming hole at its base. It sounded like a great idea…until I awoke on my final morning to a sky that had once again turned cold and rainy. So I decided to plow straight through to the capital city of Sarajevo instead.
The bus ride to Sarajevo was – like every ride in the region, it seems – quite outstanding. The route followed the Neretva River northwards as it twisted and turned along a valley cut between two towering green mountains. The valley, also home to Mostar, housed countless small towns and villages along the way. It was a completely different type of landscape than the Adriatic Coast, just across the Western mountains, but equally beautiful in its own unique way.
Somehow the Bosnian music the bus driver was playing perfectly completed the scene, as if to say “Yep, you’re here alright – busing through the Bosnian countryside.”
The ride continued through dozens of tunnels and over arching stone bridges until just before we reached the capital.
Although Sarajevo was clearly more modern and well-restored than Mostar, I was a bit surprised at how much evidence of war still remained – many of the same bullet-ridden, dilapidated buildings lined even the largest downtown throughfares. They were just slightly fewer and farther between.
By the time the bus pulled into central station it was absolutely pouring, so I couldn’t see a thing from the fogged-up tram that carried me 15 minutes into the city center. Just like Budapest, the rain was so miserable that even with an umbrella, thirty seconds outside was enough to make you feel like you just got out of the shower.
Once again, thanks Mother Nature – for the wettest May in over 20 years 😡
When the tram arrived at my stop I stepped off and into the rain. I reached into my pocket for my phone. It was gone.
My heart stopped.
Without that phone, I was utterly lost. It was my lifeline: my GPS, my communication, my notepad, my link to the outside world. On it was the address of the hostel to which I was headed, and the last week’s worth of fully written blog posts. And now that my laptop battery was on the fritz, it was even more important for keeping up-to-date on those long cross-country bus rides. I guarded that thing more carefully than my wallet; it was the single most important possession I had with me, save maybe for my passport. I’m usually so careful; how in the world could this’ve happened?
“That gypsy over there! She took your phone while you were getting off the tram!” said a woman next to me.
Great. A gypsy.
Since before I even left the states, friends had been warning me to watch my pockets like a hawk, walking away the instant I see someone I suspect of being a gypsy. Warnings ranged from “a nuisance” to “downright dangerous,” but the theme was always the same: countless scams, run from Paris to Romania, aim to separate travelers young and old from their valuables. There is no sense of dignity or honor; simply “You have something, and I want it. I’ll do what I have to to get it.”
Yet, because the notion of “gypsies” doesn’t exist in America or Asia, I really didn’t know what to look for. Until today.
Some of you already know the result of the following encounter, which though brief, ended up as one of the most unique memories of the trip. The rest of you I’ll keep in suspense, just until I finish writing up the next post 🙂