18th AUGUST 2018
I leave the guesthouse in Beli Manastir at my own leisurely pace as I’m the final customer to depart and don’t have any check-out time to worry about. I post my keys back through the letterbox as I go, then coast downhill to join the flat, straight road that will take me out of town. This road is so gunbarrel straight for the first 10km that I’m quite excited by the prospect of an upcoming bend, only to get round it and find another 10km of dead straight asphalt stretching off into the distance. Heat slowly builds on this flat plain and the road continues without deviating until I cross the Drava River and by-pass the city of Osijek.
A sign tells me that it’s now only 25km to my destination of Đakovo, but at this point I start to feel a little woozy and lethargic. I struggle badly with this remaining distance and stop a number of times to shelter in the shade or to take on water. I’ve got a headache and my eyes are feeling over-sensitive to the bright sunshine, which I know is not a good sign. I crawl into Đakovo, feeling drained and shitty, about 3.00pm.
I check in to the Laguna Restaurant, which has rooms upstairs and a wedding reception in full flow downstairs. My bike goes into a second reception room, which I am assured will be locked overnight, but at this precise moment I really couldn’t care less. I just need to lie down. I go upstairs, have a shower and then crash out on top of the bed for nearly two hours. I barely move for the rest of the evening and am left wondering why I feel so rubbish. I’m hoping that I’m simply over-tired from all the days spent cycling in mid-thirties heat. However, it could just as easily be some form of illness, heat-stroke or something that I’ve eaten. It may even be a legacy of all that home-made Hungarian palinka. Tomorrow will need to be a Rest Day.
When I wake the following morning I still don’t feel great but, predictably, I still manage to make it downstairs for breakfast. The buffet on offer involves a pretty standard fare of eggs, bread, ham, cheese, yoghurt and pate. There’s no tea or juice, but an unlimited supply of watery coffee. With a full belly, I plod back upstairs and promptly fall asleep under the air-conditioning. I really don’t move much all day except to keep myself hydrated and to nibble on road-food leftovers. Spending a lazy day indoors, away from the heat and sunshine is just what I needed, and by late afternoon I’m starting to feel much better.
In fact I’m feeling so much better that I don’t mind suffering a humid thirty-three degrees and a walk to the large Spar supermarket in town. When I step out of the accommodation I’m a little bewildered to find one of my cycling gloves lying on the road outside. It must have fallen when I took it off at check-in yesterday, and then lain there in the same spot for over twenty-four hours. As I walk past I simply pick it up and put it back in my pocket. At first I think my find is an incredible stroke of good luck, but in reality no-one was ever going to claim such a disgusting looking single glove. I’ve actually taken to not wearing my gloves for the first hour of every cycle in an attempt to even up my ridiculous tan lines. At the moment my forearms are coloured an outdoorsy brown, whereas the back of my hands are still office-worker white. It looks as though my hands and arms belong to two different people and have been fused together à la Dr Frankenstein.
The following morning I feel like I’m just about back to normal, and head downstairs to stuff myself with enough breakfast to keep my legs spinning all day. As I leave town I make for the main square to get a look at the impressive Đakovo Cathedral. It’s quite a sight with red brick double spires contrasting against a deep blue sky. Apparently it took only four years to build, but a further eight years to decorate the insides. I stop three different locals to ask if they can take my photo in front of it, and all three manage to chop the top of the spires out of their pictures. With the next person I resort to some furious miming to make sure they keep the spires in shot. Thankfully they do.
I’m heading into Bosnia today, and want to cross the border at a town called Šamac. I get to within a few kilometres, only to find a roadsign telling me that the road ahead is closed. There is a diversion in place, but that is sending traffic off towards a motorway which, of course, is out of bounds for cyclists. Bollocks. I spend a while on Google Maps and find a route through the countryside that looks like it will bring me back out at Šamac. A handful of quiet villages line these roads, where many houses have wooden shutters over their windows, closed to block out the fierce afternoon heat. I end up travelling an extra 20km, and all the while I’m hoping that the closed road is not at the border crossing bridge.
The Sava River forms a natural border between Croatia and Bosnia and there’s only a limited number of crossing points. That means if the Šamac crossing is closed, I’ll be facing a lengthy detour just to reach the next bridge crossing. Luckily though, my detour has taken me past the road closure and brings me in to Šamac through the back of town. I find the Croatian border post on the north side of the river, while the Bosnian border post is on the south. The bridge is a kind of No Man’s Land in between. Once again I have to queue with cars to get through but, once again, both exit and entry are a formality. The Bosnian border guard stamps my passport to say that I arrived via Šamac, but a little logo on the stamp also says that I arrived by car. I’m guessing they don’t have a logo for arrival by bike.
I’m able to visit an ATM just after the border and withdraw some local currency, in the form of Bosnian Convertible Marks. This currency was pegged to the German Mark in 1995, but now that Germany uses the Euro I’m not quite sure how it works. I’m just grateful to get some money so soon after crossing the border.
My accommodation for tonight is past the town of Gradačac, in a distillery that is supposedly owned by one of the richest families in Bosnia. I’d already planned a route that would take me there on quiet country roads, thus allowing me to avoid the town. However, the first road turns out to be nothing more than a dirt track, so I stick to the main road, follow tourist signs for the distillery and have to cycle through the bustling Gradačac anyway. About ten minutes later I’m in the middle of nowhere and find the distillery in a peaceful rural setting, fronted by pear and apple trees upon manicured lawns. The reception has closed and there doesn’t seem to be anyone around, until I’m approached by a bloke on an old battered bike. It turns out he’s the owner, and it warms my heart to see him gadding about on such an ancient piece of junk despite his obvious wealth.
I get the impression that the accommodation is almost a sideline for their business, with the distillery, restaurant and conference venue being the main focus. It’s maybe due to this that it’s so reasonably priced, but for me it’s still a luxury. I lie under air-conditioning on my comfiest bed of the trip so far and reflect on the strange nature of the last few days. I’m glad I was able to complete today’s cycle without any problems, which is a huge relief after feeling so crappy two days ago. I still have no idea why I felt so bad, but I’m getting back to full strength just in time. I know that things are going to get hotter and hillier from this point onwards.