Summer story from the Balkans: In the Quest for Ecofutura

The lonely garden in front of Ecofutura's vegetarian restaurant on a cloudy summer day.
The lonely garden in front of Ecofutura’s vegetarian restaurant on a cloudy summer day.

The image of my home country, Bosnia and Herzegovina––as the “land of adventures”(read here misadventures) in the eyes of many Westerners––has always puzzled me before this summer. Darn…we have come such a long way in terms of infrastructure since the 1990s war, and yet, even the National Geographic placed us on its “Best Adventure Destinations” list in 2012! Sure, we have our bumpy roads and curvy mountains – but, despite the popular beliefs, we also do have decent roads, electricity, (supposed) pyramids in the town of Visoko and (a couple of) Western-looking cities. Oh the stereotypes… always so insincerely insightful.

In any case, there is a reason why this stream of consciousness on the often misinformed, premature, and even judgmental representation of my country precedes the tale of my summer adventures. Experiences surely can change perceptions – and that is precisely what happened to me on my trip to the Ecofutura eco-village in the proximity of my hometown and the capital of Bosnia, Sarajevo. In case you ever wander off to Sarajevo, see a poster for Ecofutura (which is by the way in the ownership of the Bosnian Hare Krishna community, of which I learned quite a few things during my trip), and decide to go there to enjoy a relaxing day with fresh air and organic, vegetarian food, here is some advice for you: gear up with mountain hike tires, multiple layers of clothing and lots of patience.

Without further delay, here is my story as recorded in my journal at the end of that very day, for the sake of the most faithful recollections of the experience:

(July 29, 2013)
Another summer day at home has gone by. I know my country has its drawbacks, but it is not until you get out of the city-box that you can in fact acknowledge the full reality of your surroundings. Today my brother, his fiancé and I ‘eloped’ from‘civilization’ into the wilderness. Not that we knew this at the beginning of our journey…”Ecofutura”, the eco-village I’ve been meaning to visit for quite a while now, turned out to be slightly more complicated to reach than we expected…

The village was founded by the Hare Krishna community of Sarajevo, which also owns the only vegetarian restaurant in the city called “Vegehana” – one of my favorite snack places in the city, where I take my friends and family for some serious conversion from an anti– to a pro–vegetarian view (side note: so far I’ve had 100% success). Knowing they have the same restaurant in the village, it was of course I who wanted to try out something new with my family in those three weeks at home – so I convinced my two brave companions to come along and drive there….

Sarajevo is a city in a valley surrounded by mountains. To get to “Ecofutura,” we had to first ascend a long way on one of the mountains, following our inner compass rather than the printed map, which did not help much with real-space orientation (I am now convinced that Bosnian roads need some serious re-mapping). At some four kilometers from the village we finally saw a road sign for “Ecofutura” that probably made us the most overjoyed people in the world in that moment – ‘Thank God, we were not lost’!  We took another turn up the curvy road….drove for a kilometer or so… and there it was: the end of the road. And no “Ecofutura.”

We did end up in a village though. As the paved path ceased to exist, the remaining road was a collection of white-colored stones, enclosed in the tracks of truck tires. We wanted to go back at that point. On one hand, my brother was complaining about his tires being unapt for a mountain car ride; on the other, his fiancé was sayinghow we’ve come too long of a way to go back now; meanwhile cows and sheep were crossing the “road” led by a German shepherd of affirmed WOOFing authority. “Hey, at least it can’t get any worse,” I told them. Or could it?

Well, it took us another half hour and three kilometers of driving on the “path less travelled by,” multiple obstructions of traffic due to the passing herd of domestic animals, and lots of patience. It was a silent ride. Finally, after those thirty minutes – there it was: the last road sign showing the final arrow to “Ecofutura”. We had reached our destination. On a cloudy day, with drained energy and extremely hungry and thirsty, we found ourselves in an eco-village that seemed abandoned by every living thing. We saw couple of houses painted in green, red and yellow with flowery patterns – and in our overall confusion, we decided to knock on one of them – one that looked most like the restaurant we were looking for. No answer whatsoever. We pulled the handle and went inside. It was in fact a beautiful house, with a huge living room. Only seconds after our entrance, a middle-aged man with a steady, confident voice came down the stairs. We felt so embarrassed for accidentally breaking into his house and apologized, but he greeted us with a friendly smile and welcomed us to the village (it turned out he was one of the occasional inhabitants of the place). Moreover, he directed us to the restaurant. There – at last – we found life.

That last stop of our journey was met with a more promising atmosphere, I must say. After some good food, one of the waiters patiently sat with us and told us the story of the village in short. It is still a place in progress, with a lot more work to be done. They already have an adventure park and a hostel for a weekend getaway, and plan to expand both in the future. It is a quiet place for all those who wish to escape the city atmosphere for a while.
Unfortunately, they cannot do much about the road condition. It is up to the city municipality to expand the paved path to “Ecofutura.” Sadly, even the lack of road signs is not the fault of the village. They apparently posted many in the past, but a number of them were taken off for this or that reason – who can ever guess why people derive pleasure from being mischievous at times? My brother’s fiancé even got a present – a beautiful candle-holder with a sun motif she complimented the restaurant for. Not all was that grim.

With the present, full stomachs and a resolution to go back there one day – on better tires and with a more knowledgeable sense of direction – we went back to Sarajevo, loud and busy as usual during the evenings of the fasting month of Ramadan; when everyone is in the rush of making wondrous feasts to break the fast.

I want to spend a weekend at the village next time I’m in Sarajevo, indulge in quietude and meditation – as well as meet some more Hare Krishna members. Such a small, closed community they are – yet so friendly, hospitable and open to any sort of curious questions one might have about their way of life. But, that is a story for another visit – and another summer.

I guess life sometimes challenges us only to sneeringly test our perseverance. That is how I felt and still feel about this trip. It was a small, yet enriching journey that taught me a couple of things: (1) I should start promoting the mountain adventure tourism of my country more, (2) sometimes you have to overcome obstacles in order to fully appreciate the reward that (literally) awaits at the end of the road and (3) no matter what people say, curiosity has always been my lucky charm.

In case you wish to know more about Ecofutura, feel free to visit their Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/Ecofutura. If you ever find yourself in Bosnia, this is a place you do not want to miss. It is an additional layer to my city, and yet another brushstroke to the multiculturalism and open-mindedness of its people – in an otherwise politically and ethnically divided country.

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