The path twists and snakes its mountain route, a serpent slithering its body with no duress for a straight line. Light from the morning sun sheens off the asphalt, now so worn its barely tractable. Pine trees and twisted guardrail salute to our descent deep into the centre of Eastern Europe. The sense of isolation overwhelms my thoughts and the skin around my neck and hair tingles. Soviet era trucks and jeeps fly blindly past our solemn tour bus, a drastic jolt and the bus slides, an unmistakable feeling of fear unwakenss all the passengers to awareness.
Matej, our guide tisks the driver, luckily they are both locals of such, because out here you'd have no chance by yourself. As I write this the road continues its slow and windy journey, impatient Bosnians overtake on barely two lanes. Gemma's eyes look desperate the same way they look when an aeroplane suddenly loses attitude.
"Now you know your living!" I think to myself, though I assume the other travellers will probably consider otherwise. Each tight turn we take sends out small screeches from the tyres overburdened.
I remember a sentence of speech Matej told as concerning the conflict in Bosnia in the early 90's.
"Ah this is nothing, I should have already died . . . . . how can there be any worse?"
His super cool demeanour and pose, his likeable accent and calming tone ignite a phrase I've been long thinking about since we entered Berlin, which has continued on through Prague and now into eastern Europe, former Yugoslavia .
To truly know freedom, we must truly know repression.
I troubled over this sentence while reading Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, it seems the perfect backdrop to my current international travels. A fiction yet with an underlying reality of repression, so easily seen in this area, even with my untainted eyes.
If you're interested google the Bosnian/Serbian war and you'll get a small idea of the tension. But for the people we talk to; our guide, our bus driver and our hostel staff their reality is much more tangible, they were there!
In need of comical relief?
"Ok people, let's think about this?" our overzealous and loud pub crawl operator bellows at us
"You're not at home with your teddy bear, this is the Czech Republic" he condescends
"This is a river rafting pub crawl, you're going to get wet, you're getting to get drunk and hopefully you're not going to get hurt. Because trust me the doctors in Cesky Krumlov don't give two s***s about little Aussie tourists that can't hold their booze" We exchange looks
"The water is only knee deep, don't go diving in!" this resonates with me
To summarise you get a blow up raft for approx. 8 people, a couple of ores and a 7 hour time limit to return to the hostel.
Stop at as many pubs as you wish!
Fast forward to almost an hour before the finish, everyone convincingly liquored up which is easy to believe seeing freshly draughted beers of half a litre merely 1 euro exactly. After navigating a say tricky rapid our boat docks to a resident's backyard where he has effectively set up a beer tap.
We notice a stray paddle drifting along, a pursuer slowly behind. Our pommy boat companion, maybe not to be shown up by bloody beach going aussies speaks out in heroism.
"Never fear my comrades, my pasty skin and inability to hold beer will save the day" well . . . he never said that, but that's what I imagined anyways.
He then proceeds to very unceremoniously
And slightly over rotate into the water.
"Oh blooming hell!" I think at his stupidity. Though I think I said something more linguistically derogatory.
He surfaces and continues to the stray paddle. Maybe he pulled of the dive 10 outta 10. Upon reaching the paddle he turns to reveal the true nature of his Olympic effort.
"Bah ha ha what an idiot" I laugh in chorus with the rest of our crew including his pommy mate.
"Don't dive into the water, it's only knee deep" the guide's advice resonating again.
Ah he was too drunk to care for the pain from a nice gash in his forehead and large scrap on his chest and hands. I think his pride hurt more, everyone arriving pointing and snickering.
That situation draws me to my next conclusion however quickly when reading but seemingly long when I think on it, OH&S excluding the survival of the fittest (or smartest) in short Australia's nanny state.
"Through combined struggle grows a sense of unity." Another of my long pondered statements
Maybe Australia needs a bit of repression to really appreciate what we have, to be proud. Maybe compulsory military service, maybe not. But a very open and free thinking mind, I think, would be a good start.