Friday 09 August

OK so once again it’s been a while dear readers.  Basically I’m not usually in a position to upload stuff due to some kind of internet restriction thing.  I will try not to be so tardy in future.  I think I’ve said this before.  Anyway, let me take you on a journey.  Back.  Way back to when men where men and women wore bikini’s.  Back to the good times.  Back to the height of summer.  Back to Mike Wallace in mid August…

…dooodleoop doodleoop dooodleoop doodleooooop…


Mike is a nutter.  There’s a reason his facebook is Wildman Wallace.  There’s a reason he gets called “naked Mike” at The Pink Palace.  Today he’s going to attempt to extend his craziness credentials by jumping 25 feet off a bridge in Mostar, Bosnia.  Apparently it’s the done thing and has been for centuries.  Mike throws his loopy hat into the ring.

Mostar is a beautiful little medieval sort of town, world famous for the ‘stari most’.  That’s ‘old bridge’ to you and me.  Destroyed in the recent civil wars and rebuilt in 2004,  young men raised in the area have been flocking to this bridge to throw themselves off it as some kind of rite of passage.  Or to prove who’s got the biggest balls.  Future girlfriends and or wives would be waiting as this test of manhood was displayed.  It began some time around 1664.  Mmmm.  About the same time Kronenbourg started plying their wares isn’t it?  Coincidence?

Mike, ever one to enjoy throwing himself off things, has been dreaming about this feat since he was twelve.  It’s definitely one for the scrap books if he pulls it off, and in spite of 30 odd years of jumping, he opts to get a little training in first.

“You can’t make mistakes at that height” he enthuses.

You wouldn’t make any mistakes if you don’t do it I ponder, while his wife Kathi is quietly wondering if Mike’s recklessness is going to put him out of commission sperm wise.  Regardless we heartily back him as he hands over his 25 euro fee.

Now the fee isn’t just to jump; it’s tradition.  You’re part of the Mostar dive club if you pull it off, and boys can jump anytime they like so long as they raise the fee for the club house.  This they do by standing on the precipice of the bridge, cap in hand, asking for donations from tourists.  Of course in high season they’re not waiting long, and before you know it we’re watching some foolhardy local kid drop off into the chilly depths below.  A perfect swallow dive.  Or drop really.  A swallow drop.  Mike is practicing on the ten metre board a short way down the river.

In the meantime I’ve been stung by a bee on my big toe and it hurts.  I’m walking around barefoot as my shite fake brand flip-flops (the last remnants of that hell-hole Kavos) are threatening to chew my feet skin to the bone.  I’ve never been stung by a bee before.  I look down and expect to see my foot gushing blood for fear of stepping on glass, but I only find a little stinger lodged into my throbbing toe.  It hurt I tell you!  Honest!  I’m whining about a bee sting as Mike is standing at the top of a 25 metre bridge.

Kathi and I wait with baited breath.  The crowds are gathered.  Not many tourists do this, and I believe at one time they weren’t allowed.  Woe betide you if you jump without paying the fee either.  Mike cuts a lonely figure towering above everyone on the ledge, curly locks flowing with a welcome breeze like a ginger Christ.  A hush decends.  My camera runs out of battery.  Fuck he’s going to murder me.

Luckily Kathi’s on hand with her iphone as Mike steps off the bridge.

“Luckily Kathi’s on hand with her iphone as Mike steps off the bridge.”  Now there’s a sentence I never thought I’d write.

It’s over in three seconds.  Mike expertly slips into the water to a chorus of cheers from the masses.  Surfacing with a huge grin and fist pumping the air to show he’s survived, I can feel our collective relief as Mike swims for the shore.  One off the bucket list.  He’s the 687th person to do it since the bridge was built and signs his name into the books with pride.  I can’t help but feel admiration for his antics.  I’ve often wished I had the bottle to do the things that Mike thinks nothing of.  Apart from getting my junk out in public.

Later I’m standing at the spot where he stepped off and looking down.  It’s a long way.  It was actually 28 metres due to the water level, a fact that Mike takes understandable pleasure in knowing.  I’m contemplating if I could pull it off.  Could I do it?  Shall I give it a shot?

Fuck no I get scared stepping off a curb.

Well done Mike you crazy bastard.  Long may you put my timidness to shame.




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Carnivals, water polo and broken noses.

Saturday 03 August

After an uneventful night in Tirana, Albania’s capital, we decide to move on to Kotor, Montenegro.  Upon arriving we’re met with some wonderful news.  Today there will be a street carnival that only happens once a year, followed by large screen showings of the water polo world cup final, featuring Hungary and Montenegro.  After this, we can only imagine, will be some serious all night partying.

“This is going to be an awesome night, I’m really excited” exclaims Mike.  The two of us are in a jovial mood.  Masks are being bought, people are dressing up and getting into the spirit of things.  I’ve always wanted to time my travel with local festivals, but it’s not always easy to do.  I was super stoked for an epic night of new experiences and cultural immersion.

Apart from a couple of ridiculously hot women in ridiculously hot outfits, the parade is something of a damp squib.  Unperturbed, we’ve made new friends and wander the streets in numbers.  The town is alive.  It’s like Glasgow on Halloween.  Without the heroin.  Drums can be heard down every tiny ally.  Beer is flowing freely.  I’ve a confident kilt swish in my step.  Everyone is interested in what I’m doing and where I’m going.  Cheering on Montenegro in the water polo final is a blast.  Being the only dancer on the big stage for the closing band was outstanding.

Everyone disappears.  The girl I like is kissing some German dude, and another option tells me she’s old enough to be my mother.  She’s three years younger than me.  Off she dances into the crowd, and I decide to wander the streets alone.

I’m enjoying my own company, singing away to myself and sobering up.  I turn a random corner to see Mike’s curly hair, and I decide to join him for a beer.  I count myself lucky I managed to bump into him.

“Everyone in here is a cunt” he says.

“Why what’s going on?”  I respond.

Next thing I know some huge Montenegran has bullied his way over and is shoving and attempting to punch Mike into a corner.  I don’t think twice, and leap for him to haul him off.  One punch slams into the back of my head and I’m grounded.  The second connects perfectly with my nose.  You have to give him props for accuracy.  Then the blows stop and the bleeding starts.  It’s literally gushing out of a nostril.  My hands and arms look like I’ve cut my wrists.  My glasses are broken and missing.  The pavement is covered in my blood.

The remainder of the night is spent sitting on a step with a kind girl trying to help me stem the flow.  As dawn approaches, I walk back to the enticing prospect of sleeping in the van.  I discover Mike sitting on a step.  We grab a beer.  Mike leans in:

“The guy behind the bar overcharged me nine euros”.  He was being an arse about it, so I poured my drink over him.  Then when his mates approached, I poured my drink over them too.”

It’s the second time I’ve needed to replace my glasses on this trip, but I’ve never broken my nose before; so that’s new.  New experiences and cultural immersion remember?  Tonight certainly didn’t go according to plan.

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Albanian death road

Friday 02 August

I’ve been woken up by an Albanian man mumbling something as he taps the side of the van.  The rattle of cow bells cements the fact that I’m not getting back to sleep.  I throw open the sliding door to be greeted by some strange sights.  An old man flicks away flies from his face with a tree branch and a toothless grin, while several skinny pack horses laden with goods descend a rocky path.  The view is breathtaking.  We’re finally off Corfu, and we’ve made it to Gjirokaster.  It’s a beautiful sight for sore eyes.

It’s a lazy sort of day as we contemplate a new feeling.  Sobriety.  In spite of being in the back of a van, the shut-eye was satisfactory and we’re in for a productive day.  Gjirokaster castle is pretty spectacular, and the steep, cobbled streets have real charm.  It’s well worth a visit should you ever venture out this way.

We push on.  The journey starts on relatively decent roads, which means Mike can practice his favourite past-time of speeding.  We’re making good with the clock en route to Berat; another medieval town a few hours North; when it all goes downhill.  And uphill.  60 kilometeres of off-road, dirt track with massive rocks, sheer cliff drops and no safety barriers. Mike’s van is a UK right hand drive, so I’m literally looking out the passenger side window to certain death.  One particularly hair-raising moment has me screaming “RIGHT! RIGHT! RIGHT!”  As the tyres slipped on the rough shingle.  It’s not too dissimilar the death road in Bolivia.  Small towns we scrape through periodically have junk yards rammed with car shells and wreckage.  I wonder what that could be from?  Somebody change my shorts.

All credit to Mike though as his experience pays off and we make it to tarmac after a grueling  three hours.  Three hours to travel 60KM.  We treat ourselves to a slap up meal at a top hotel, and read the following review:

“Berat backpacks is a nice hostel, but you couldn’t get much sense out of the owner as he’s drunk most of the time.”

We booked it straight away.  In such as small and beautiful little town, you would never have expected the kind of night we had.  But after several near-death experiences; we deserved it didn’t we?  I’ve never eaten cheesy onion-rings out of a girls cleavage either.

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