What's so great about the outdoors, anyway?

Now that the weather here has hotted up, I have decided to take more to the beautiful Bosnian outdoors. It is actually a combination of an improvement in the weather and the fact that watching tv here has started to drive me insane.

We get only two English channels, one of which is the BBC and the other of which is a travel channel that constantly extholls the beauty of Canada. Combine in there that the travel channel runs the same 2 ads in eery ad break all day long and that one of the ads is for the channel itself and I had no choice but to decide that I would rather take my chances against hidden Bosnian minefields that spend another minute in front of the tube.

As an aside, I have yet to get a grasp on subtitling and dubbing on tv here: First of all, we get one channel that shows only french programming but is subtitled. The subtitles, however, are also in french. And when overdubbing English movies, not only do they just leave the English voice on and just speak louder in Bosnian over top of it, they get the same person to dub every single character in the film. Man, woman, child, dog, it is just one guy speaking for absolutely everyone. He doesn't even make an effort to make the voices sound different or to sound even remotely similar to the people he is speaking for; it is like watching an entire network of Rich Little.

But I digress. Back to the wilderness. Two weekends ago, with the sun beating down at a skin-scalding 35 degrees, Eric, Karima, Maxime and I found ourselves in search of refreshment which led to us walking an hour to a nearby river to go for a swim. A number of friendly locals were there as well and the four of us were instantly indoctrinated into the ever-popular Bosnian water sport of you-throw-an-empty-bottle-and-I-try-and-catch it. Yes, this is a real game here though I presume there might be a slightly flashier name for it in Bosnian. At least when we played they used a plastic bottle. (We are amateurs)

On the wander back to the city we passed by twin 17-year old Bosnian girls who were rock-climbing on a nearby face. When Eric expressed curiosity at climbing the girls offered to let us use their equipment. They also offered to teach us as it was all of our first times.

Now, if the prospect of having twin girls tie me up sounds enticing, one must first consider two things:

1. My gonad-wrenching fear of heights,


2. The fact that the girls, our only aid with our lives dangling stupidly in the balance, spoke no English.

I went for it, of course, scrambling about like an epilleptic mountain goat, clutching frantically at anything I could get my fingers into. I far too quickly realized that I was at around 60 feet and was feeling very sweaty and very stuck.

"SLOW... DOWN...!" Maxime barked at me from below.

"FUCK... YOU...!" I hurled back cleverly, with not even a pretense of being able to look down at him.

I got to about 70 feet before my body punched me in the brain and said that it needed to come down. For those who haven't climbed with the aid of others before, coming down first requires that you lean way back off the rock, like you are sitting down - you know, just lounging back, easy, relaxing all gentile-like, floating in the air really, like you are just walking along, singing your song, drinking some cool Georgia lemonade, and the fact that you are doing it 7 storeys off the ground is of no concern. Plus, you are not allowed to hold onto the rope. The person down below holds you steady as you launch yourself back and down off the cliff-face, all U.S. Marine style. Again, this is all well and good except that the person down below for me weighed 93 pounds. And I, after eating far too many testicles, do not.

I tried to explain to them that I was quite content to sleep on the mountain face for the night but the girls yelled back something discouraging in Bosnian - perhaps it was already rented? - so I put my faith in tow ropes and mechanical advantage and careened my way down to safety below.

Thinking it might be wiser to take it a little easier this last weekend, Karima and I found a local hiking group to take us up for an overnight trip into the mountains. The weather had continued to be blistering all week and I relished the opportunity to improve on my tan and go for a lake swim. Camping required and early wake-up on Saturday which was no problem as I had already wrested from sleep by numerous, frequent cracks of thunder. We drove into the mountains assaulted by the first rain in weeks, the kind that nature stores up like a pitcher's fastball, suckering you in with comfy chage-ups, only to unleash it all its fury at once. It was torrential.

We arrived at the campground with our Australian co-hiker Jos and our two Bosnian guides.

"THAT is the tallest mountain in Bosnia," one guide told us, proudly pointing to a fat lump of fog.

The name of this mountain is Maglic, which translated literally to mean "Mountain that is frequently foggy" and which also seems like kind of an odd place to go sightseeing. We ventured out of the car and into the rain and made a two hour hike to base camp, weaving through thick forests and rolling green fields. As we arrived at camp it turned out that we had crossed the border into Montenegro, a still suspect part of Yugoslavia and presumably one where some Bosnians are not particularly welcome. We arrived at the camp cautious and drenched and the fog had grown thicker, damper, lower.

Feeling obligated to show us a good time, our guides insisted on leading us to the top of a nearby peak. The hillsides and valleys were phenomenal, lush and emerald, wild horses wandering in their midst, but with every second we soldiered on we were getting soggier and seeing less.

We were passing through a steep ravine when we heard two quick, sharp bangs.

"Gunfire," one guide said, thinking aloud, then realizing what that meant and where he had taken us, he quickly smiled and said, "Maybe it's just falling rocks."

As I stood at the bottom of a deep ravine, I wasn't sure that was better.

We came back to base camp, settled in for the night and, seeing that the weather wasn't about to change, just drove back to town the next morning.

The drive back was eventless save for one of the more truly bizarre moments in recent memory. My standards for oddity are quite high, so this was no mean feat. The road to Sarajevo took us back through infrequent and lazy villages in the Republika Srpska and as we cruised through one I looked out my window and what I did I see but a young point in his car, pointing and looking through the scope of a sniper rifle. A sniper rifle that had been pointed on us for a split-second as we passed.

Stunned, to much so to speak, I looked frantically around our car, searching for any sign of mutual recognition, much like in grade 10 when I saw our Spanish teacher's boyfriend's penis in the corner of a photo of her ill-advised slide show on Costa Rica and glanced about furiously, looking for other who had seen it, and feeling much relieved to see that one other student, Kary Maggiora, had also noticed the offending member.

Thankfully Jos had also seen it (the rifle, not the scrotum) and we both just giggled in shocked disbelief.

I think it is back to city life and brain-boggling television for this caballero from here on in.

My vacation starts Friday and the plan is to meet up with my friend Stephanie for two weeks in Slovenia and Croatia. Media Centar, happy with my work, bought my plane ticket to Slovenia as a gift. Come to think of it, it is only a one-way ticket...