10,000 Miles

Today we reached 10,000 miles of travel mere minutes after we crossed the border in to our 14th country, Serbia. Luckily Travis snapped a photo of 9,999 miles because the darn counter reset itself when we hit the 10,000 mark (disappointing for photo moment)!

Looking back over those 10,000 miles it’s hard to believe what we’ve done over the past nearly five months. Mostly it’s hard to believe that we’ve actually survived this long! There have been plenty of moments when we’ve wanted to turn back, wanted to kill each other, wanted to kill the dogs (very occasionally Jäger as well for constantly escaping the caravan) or just plain wanted to give up on everything. But we haven’t. Even when things were really bad and not even the least bit fun, we’ve pushed through and kept going and here we are, 10,000 miles in. Sometimes it’s just about putting one foot in front of the other (or one miles at a time behind us) until you accomplish something, no matter how seemingly insignificant.

We don’t know what the next 10,000 miles has in store for us. We’re looking forward to making a new friend in Bulgaria and settling in again for a bit. I’ve got practical matters to deal with with the VA to try and reinstate my benefits, and in the meantime, we can’t spend too much time on the road. But Greece is still the plan for January, and from there, we can decide if we will be pushing to travel for the entire year or heading back home to England. Whatever we do, I know we’ve got a lot left to experience, and a lot more miles ahead of us.

TRAVEL POEM: Song of the Open Road

Song of the Open Road

by Walt Whitman
AFOOT and light-hearted, I take to the open road, 
Healthy, free, the world before me, 
The long brown path before me, leading wherever I choose.

Henceforth I ask not good-fortune—I myself am good fortune; 
Henceforth I whimper no more, postpone no more, need nothing,
Strong and content, I travel the open road.

The earth—that is sufficient; 
I do not want the constellations any nearer; 
I know they are very well where they are; 
I know they suffice for those who belong to them.

(Still here I carry my old delicious burdens; 
I carry them, men and women—I carry them with me wherever I go; 
I swear it is impossible for me to get rid of them; 
I am fill’d with them, and I will fill them in return.

Road Life

The last three days things have been pretty much back to “normal;” at least our version of normal on the road. They’ve consisted of a lot of driving, and a lot of time sitting around at truck stops sleeping and reading and watching the dogs get more and more restless since there’s no safe place for a proper walk. Oddly, it’s been comforting to be back to doing what we’re used to after having stopped in one place for so long. However, the lack of showers at Croatian truck stops is a real downer, and I’m starting to not be able to tell the difference between my own stench and that of the dogs (that’s when you know it’s been too long).

We haven’t had any huge excitements on the road, other than being pulled over, twice, for the first time on the entire trip. We’ve got a headlight out, which was supposed to get replaced when the Suby got its oil change and new battery, but apparently got lost in translation. In both cases, the cops spoke no English whatsoever, and eventually just gave up on trying to lecture us since we clearly had no idea what they were saying. They pointed repeatedly at the headlight, Travis nodded a lot and said he knew, and then they shrugged in disgust at these stupid American tourists and waved us on our way. Travis and I both had to laugh, because this is the first time on the entire trip that we’ve actually got all the paperwork we need for the car, and that Travis has a license in hand, and it’s just pure good luck we haven’t been pulled over before now. I was actually super disappointed when we crossed back in to Croatia and they didn’t ask to see the paperwork we worked so hard to get here!

Speaking of Croatia, we got absolutely nailed by one of their toll roads today! We spent two nights at the truck stop where we met to exchange Kova, as we generally try to avoid driving at night and she was picked up after dark. No biggie, we’ve spent plenty of multi-nights at truck stops, nobody minds. Apparently the toll roads mind though, because even though we were only on the A1 for a total of about 50 miles altogether, we had to pay a whopping €98 when we got off the road. That’s right, 98 EUROS for a road toll! The poor guy at the booth looked as shocked as we did, and I honestly thought it must be a mistake. The whole point of truck stops is so truckers (and other long distance travellers) don’t drive when they are tired; we’ve stayed overnight many times at stops on toll roads and never been hit by a fee like this before. All we can think is that two nights must be some sort of violation on a toll road, weird as that seems to us. Certainly an expensive way to find that out. In any case, we hope that’s it, because we don’t have much choice but to stay at another truck stop on another toll road tonight, and we really can’t afford to pay another €98 for the toll tomorrow when we roll out of here. So fingers crossed for us that one night is okay and that we can afford to leave here tomorrow!

Kova’s New Family

It’s a weekend of BiH goodbyes it seems; first to Kupres yesterday, and today to our Bosnian rescue dog, Kova. Goodbyes of all kinds are an unavoidable part of travelling, but that doesn’t make them any easier.

Kova’s new family are Jo and Austin and their cat Ruma. They’re a young American military family stationed in Italy, and they drove to Croatia today to pick up our little princess. I, of course, already really liked Jo after all of our chatting while waiting to hand her off, but I was pleased to like her and Austin just as much in person. They are going to give Kova the wonderful life she deserves, and you can’t hope for anything more then that when you rescue and rehome an animal.

I am going to miss Kova, very much even if she was sometimes a total pain in the bum. I’ll miss the way she curled up in the crook of my legs to sleep at night, and how she always greeted me with a whole body wag. I’ll miss her complete and utter sweetness, the shining goodness that some dogs have and is always more amazing when they have survived what she has survived. I’ll miss how she befriended Wasi and bossed him around even though he’s three times her size (probably more). I’ll really miss how cute and pleased with herself she got when she caught a sent and she alerted for me so I knew how good she’d done. I won’t miss her counter surfing or trash can diving, and I definitely won’t miss chasing her all over the streets of Sarajevo. But those were small prices to pay for getting to love and be loved by such an incredible animal for the last five weeks.

Once again, we picked up an animal who seemed to need rescuing, but who in reality, rescued us. Over the last five weeks she has been a welcome distraction from the emotional hardships I’ve been dealing with, and a constant reminder that life could certainly be worse. Like animals often do, she showed me that the only things that really matter in life are love and time… if she could still be our sweet Kova after nearly dying on the streets, then I can still be a decent person whatever life throws at me. That’s the beauty of animals, they force you took simplify life down to what really matters. Kova simplified everything down to love, because that’s all she wanted, to be loved (okay, and fed). I can’t wait to see her again someday, when she’s fully healthy and has embraced life with her new family. It’s the very best reward there is.

Goodbye Kupres

Today will be a short post because I’m so exhausted I can barely keep my eyes open. We said goodbye to Kupres today, a few days sooner then planned due to incoming weather and the need to clean up our cabin for guests. It was a bittersweet goodbye, as Mate and Marko and the girls were so good to us and we had such a wonderful time at the ranch and exploring BiH. They kept me safe and sane while Travis was gone, and for that I am so grateful.

Now I’m laying in my bed in the caravan, where I haven’t slept in five weeks. I missed it, more then I realised. I’ve got Nefsi at my feet, Wasi on my left side, Raj at my head. Syn is with Travis in the car, and Moomkin and Nibble are outside guarding the caravan (which they much prefer to being in either the car or the caravan). Lager is smooshed between me and Wasi and Moscato is laying on my stomach (which he has scratched to death with his happy kneading). The kittens are teasing Kova, who is having her first caravan experience and isn’t sure what to make of the fact that the cats are clearly in charge here. Mead is watching from his favourite spot, content to observe as usual.

I feel like I’ve come home. I know people think it’s crazy to have so many animals, but for me, each and every one of them is unique and important. When I’m not around them, I feel incomplete, like parts of me are missing. That’s how I’ve felt without the cats the last five weeks… it’s no wonder I haven’t been sleeping well despite the clean and comfy real bed. I’m probably a weirdo for preferring this hairy, dusty, cramped caravan to the beautiful cabin we’ve been staying in, but I do. It’s mine, it’s my home, these animals make it my home, and I’m happy to be back where I belong.

Adventures in Sarajevo

I woke up today to the most fabulous blue skies you could ask for when your plan is to spend the day sight seeing.  Travis missed his flight and won’t be back until tomorrow, so I had the whole day to myself. I admit that I languished around the hotel for a few hours, enjoying a long hot shower and the fact that I had a queen sized bed all to myself (usually I share a single bed with Wasi… its crowded).  But eventually those blue skies were too tempting to ignore.

My initial plan was to spend the day driving along the sights at the outskirts of the city and up in the surrounding mountains so that I could get the dogs out of the car and do some walking.  However, attempting to find my way through a city like Sarajevo without a GPS proved next to impossible.  Even with the GPS to get me to my first sight, I got lost three times when the road it told me to turn on turned out to be literally too small for my Subaru to fit down.  I had to reverse down two roads, which as anyone who knows me could tell you, is really very terrifying.  It took me over an hour to end up at the Yellow Bastion, which is less then five minutes walk from my hotel.  The views of the city from there were breathtaking.

Unfortunately, while I was attempting to get myself out of there, an old man insisted on coming down a one lane road when I was already half way down it.  I tried to get over enough for him to get by, and scraped my front bumper against a wall (don’t worry, plastic bumper, no damage)!  That freaked me out enough to decide that driving for the day wasn’t worth the hassle and stress it was causing me, not to mention the wasted time and missed photo opportunities.  The down side of this decision was that it meant leaving all the dogs except Wasi in the car for a few hours, which just breaks my heart.  Fortunately the temperatures are cool now.

Wasi and I wandered down to Pigeon Square, where there actually are what seem like a million pigeons landing on everyone and begging for bread.  I thought about trying to convince some to land on Wasi, but he was watching them with a look in his eye that said he was hungry so instead we headed off to enjoy the market.  The last time I was here it was raining and night time, so there weren’t many people around.  Today the market was bustling with life, and it was hard to decide where to look and which little alleyway to walk down next.

Somehow, I found myself standing in front of Gazi Husrev Beg’s Mosque, the most monumental mosque of the Ottoman period and one of the finest examples of Islamic architecture in BiH (so the tourist information sign outside it told me).  I stepped just a few feet in to the courtyard just to read that sign, and was promptly scolded by a guard to get my dog out.  A really lovely old man saw Wasi’s vest, and came forward and explained to the guard that he’s an Assistance Dog and the guard waved us on.  I actually hadn’t moved yet, as I was still immersed in the sign, when a second guard came over much more aggressively.  This time a young teenage boy stepped up to try and translate, but after a moment, I smiled and walked the few feet back out of the courtyard: I didn’t want to be disrespectful.  I never would have walked in the mosque with a dog, obviously, but I was disappointed I couldn’t wander around outside, as there was so much to see even there.

Instead, we headed towards “Sarajevo Meeting of Cultures,” where the East meets the west.  It was incredible to literally feel like you were walking from one culture in to the next as you stepped across the line.  Where as old town is narrow, cobblestone streets, beautiful market stands and such vibrancy in colour, the west side is far more modern, larger buildings, bigger streets, and with a certain coolness to it after the warmth of the east side.  Can you tell I prefer Old Town?  I didn’t stay on the west side long, preferring to go back towards the hotel and find myself something to eat.  Wasi and I shared a pizza and fries and the attention of pretty much every passerby for about an hour.

Pet dogs seem fairly common here in the city, but not of the size and impressiveness of Wasi.  Obviously, I’m biased and think Wasi is pretty much the most gorgeous dog in the world, but even without that bias, the Greater Swiss Mountain Dog is a striking and eye catching breed to be strolling around with.  Interestingly, despite the fact that everyone clearly wanted to approach, no one pet Wasi without me noticing and waving them over to give the okay, everyone was super respectful.  Wasi of course, was his usual adorable and snuggly self; that dog would go home with whoever gave him the best pets, he has no loyalty whatsoever.

After eating, I decided that I should take the dogs for a walk.  That’s right, all seven of them… together.  Its hard to pick and choose which dogs to leave behind, and with sunlight running out, I knew that I could either get them all out on one real beneficial walk, or only get little groups out on useless potty break walks that would leave them miserably full of energy and me feeling even guiltier then I already did for leaving them for a few hours.  I knew this was risky business, since I am no longer the young teenager that can handle countless dogs without even thinking about it.  But generally, I’ve always been able to handle all my dogs together, though I can’t actually remember the last time I walked them all on leash at the same time (usually at least some are loose).

I figured if I went uphill, away from the city centre, we probably wouldn’t run in to too many problems, and I was right.  Though we stopped every ten feet or so for me to make useless attempts at untangling the leashes, we managed a very unexciting hour of walking and I got some brilliant photos of the sunset over the city.  Even the stray cats were easy enough to handle, as my dogs all know the leave it command and seemed happy enough to listen as long as it meant we kept walking.  We also made the day of about a dozen taxi drivers, who probably have seen many unusual things during the course of their job, but seemed to find my pack particularly enthralling, and stopped to ask if they could take photos, which of course I obliged.  With seven dogs pulling me along, the fact that it was all very steeply uphill wasn’t nearly as bad as it could have been either.

We were almost back to the car and the hotel, when I heard a yell and a whistle behind us.  I glanced back and to my horror, saw an unleashed brindle pitbull type dog chasing us down, its owner running helplessly behind it.  I immediately broke in to a jog, encouraging my dogs to continue moving forward and uphill.  The car was in sight when Syn caught our stalker out of the corner of her eye.  As if they have some sort of Twilight werewolf type mental connection, they all turned as one mass, while I tried to grab for the fence post to hold them back, and yelled frantically to the owner “my dogs aren’t friendly!”.  But my dogs weigh a combined 515 pounds, and they had turned downhill.  The next thing I knew, I was skiing across the cobblestones, this time on my butt, with that poor, friendly pitbull’s eminent death flashing before my eyes.  My dogs are actually all dog friendly individually, but when that pack mentality kicks in, so can the bloodlust.  And even seven friendly dogs coming at one poor dog at once is enough to make anyone fear the worst.

Just as we would have reached the dog, it seemed to realise the danger it was in, and turned back towards its owner.  Simultaneously, Nibble and Moomkin, neither of whom is known for their gracefulness, stumbled and fell, tripping the rest of them up and bringing me to a painful and sudden stop in the middle of the road.  I heard brakes screeching and looked up to see a taxi skidding to a stop behind me.  I managed to scramble to my feet and tried to get the dogs off the road, except they had become a tangled mess of legs and leashes.  I can’t even imagine what a sight that must have been, one tiny woman standing amidst seven mostly huge dogs, none of whom could seem to regain their feet.  Many onlookers were laughing, and despite the road rash on my bum, I couldn’t help but join them.  It’ll probably be a while before I forget this episode and think I can handle them all at once again.  It was worth it though, as I now have seven very sleepy dogs who are all content to rest for the night.  Needless to say, today was definitely one for the memory book!