During the two years that we’ve been running Vukov konak, we’ve had a steady, but growing flow of some serious globetrotters. Naturally there are many international tourists visiting, but quite a bit of people hitchhiking, backpacking or driving the whole of the Balkans, or even the world.
We saw Pekka from Finland, who stayed with us for a while before continuing to Montenegro. He helped us build a paddock fence for the donkeys in the summer of 2013. Later that season we enjoyed the company of Astrid and Loyal. They were on their way back home to Germany after travelling throughout Africa for the past 12 months by car. We’ve met Maddy from Australia, Johan from Canada, and Sally from Switzerland – and many others – all travelling far and wide.
Last December we received a message from Albert “the Catalan”. He had just arrived in Sarajevo and was looking for a place to stay for the winter. He’d been hitchhiking from Spain via Italy, Slovenia, and Croatia to Bosnia. He usually stays in his tent during the travels, and by the December snowfalls it was getting a bit chilly.
“I didn’t exactly plan to stay in Bosnia, but arriving in Sarajevo I really liked the city”, Albert told us.
He heard about Vukov konak from a friend he’d met on the island of Hvar in Croatia. He says our Facebook page and photos were interesting enough for him to take contact. And now, two months later, Albert is still with us! So, by far, he’s the longest-standing “guest” we’ve ever had.
On his extensive travels across Africa, South America, and Europe he’s often stayed with families and worked on numerous jobs, such as hostels and farms.
“It can be pretty lonely, travelling alone. So working and staying with a family gives me a sense of home, and allowes me to save some money.”
He also said it wasn’t just the idea of staying somewhere warm, but a long-time dream of experiencing a winter in the middle of nowhere – away from civilisation. And here’s where Albert and Vukov konak meet up! We offer room and board, Albert helps us with the chores in the house – thus he’s a part of the crew now.
Keeping the house warm, feeding the animals, chopping wood, seeing that our guests are looked after, that’s what Albert has been doing on the mountain for weeks. We’ve gone hiking together, he’s gotten to know the neighbours, we’ve been to Jahorina ski center and Sarajevo, of course.
Yet the locals ask us, how is it that someone from far away would want to chip in, especially when not getting paid money for it.
Albert’s answer is simple: He just enjoys the place. “It’s the whole concept at Vukov konak, the fact that it’s natural – and not actually a concept or a forced state.”
“You can sense the old way of life. Some people come here expecting something fancy, but this is a traditional mountain house with a traditional lifestyle. It’s a quiet life, simple and natural. And it feels like home. Not just to me, but to many tourists”, Albert says.
True, there’s no TV, internet, or microwave. The house is heated by wood alone, and food is prepared from natural ingredients, from scratch. When it’s dark and quiet, it really is dark and quiet.
In due time Albert will continue his travels. The sun is already warming, the snow is melting. Soon enough it’s time to hit the road and head towards Serbia, Greece, Turkey, and eventually India – if all goes well. We don’t want to see him go, but we know what’s coming.
Will you ever stop travelling, are you planning to stay put longer? we ask him. “Sometimes I want to stop. Sometimes I question myself, why am I doing this. But this – being on the road, being the outsider and seeing new places and faces all the time – has become normal to me, so much that it’s not even exciting anymore, it’s just one way of life.
“I like to think I’m not travelling. I don’t live on the road or in my backpack, I live in the present. I live here and now.”
And when Albert goes, he leaves as our dear friend. He will be sorely missed, and there will be a huge void in the house.
If you are (or you have a friend who is) travelling in the Balkans, perhaps wishing to take a few month’s break from the road – especially if you like animals, the mountains, rural scenery, don’t mind a bit of company, but get along fine alone, too – do contact us.
Vukov konak is both sweet and inviting as well as demanding and remote. It’s definitely not for everyone, one must be rather open-minded, independent, and adventurous, fearless even, to enjoy it. But living here can be pretty rewarding!
And for all you with a wanderlust, take a look: Albert writes his own blog, read more about the journey in Spanish here and check out the “Bosnian edition” on his blog’s Facebook page, Viaja en primera clase.