Our friend Keith came to see us in Montenegro. After spending a few days on the beach we decided to road trip our way to Belgrade where Keith would be catching a flight to California at the end of the week.. To get there, I decided to take a daylong detour along the Drina River. There are three things about the Drina that peaked my interest and led me to convince Keith and Molly to go a day out of our way and through the Republic of Srpska in order to see it:
- I’d recently read a novel by Nobel Prize winner Ivo Andric called The Bridge of the Drina.
- The Drina is a geographical rarity: though the Adriatic Sea is just 50km west from where the river starts, the water ends up flowing 1500km east into the Black Sea.
- The road along the river was reported to be one hell of a drive.
The Drina River starts at the base of Maglić Mountain on the Montenegro-Bosnia border. The first part of the drive is a series of tunnels high up on the banks of the river. Months of non-stop rain has left the earth saturated and at times there was more water falling inside the tunnels than out. They are barely wide enough for two cars and they are also unlit, even high beams couldn’t quite cut through the darkness. Thunderstorms added to the drama as we watched clouds weave in and out of the canyons alongside the river and Keith put on some music and we all sat silently amazing for an hour as I slowly drove in and out of one tunnel after another. A narrow bridge came out of nowhere and we were forced to cross the river canyon. I stopped the car in the middle so Molly and Keith could take pictures. It was surreal to have the car stopped in the middle of nowhere staring both ways down the canyon high above the Drina with no sign of life anywhere. Somewhere along the way the road pulled away from the river and we came to a one lane road that served as the border checkpoint. A few stamps later we wound our way back up to the road above the river and watched it widen as we made our way to the Hotel Bavaria, just outside of Foča. We spent the afternoon drinking beers and playing hearts as the thunderstorms raged on. The road along the Drina River from Foča to Višegrad the following day was dramatically different but equally as exciting a drive. Instead of steep rocky canyons the river weaved its way through lush hillsides and instead of complete isolation there we many towns dotted along the riverside. The road and the river weaves in between the borders of Bosnia proper and Republic of Srpska which was apparent as we went through alternating Muslim and Orthodox towns, each with a very prevalent religious building. These towns were actually part of the front line of the wars between 1991 – 1995 when Bosniaks fought against Serb settlers and the Chetnik army. The recent histories of almost every town contain gruesome examples of ethnic cleansing and mass murders committed against the Bosniaks. Višegrad is on the Republic of Srpska side and at the base of a beautiful canyon. The Old Ottoman Bridge was built to transverse the Drina which had been a barrier to Ottoman expansion in the 16th century. The construction of the bridge allowed the Ottoman empire to expand into what is now Bosnia and allow its armies to make several attacks on Austria. Later the bridge would be used by other foreign invaders including Austrians, Germans and French, all who wished to take a piece of the Balkans at some point. After reading Ivo Andric’s fantastic novel, The Bridge on the Drina (which he wrote in hiding during WWII) I just wanted to walk on the thing, which we did with great pleasure.