We took up the adventure to bike as a family from Osijek (Croatia,) to Harkany (in Hungary) It is a 65 km journey that starts at the edge of Osijek, where you enter the 22 km bike path to the border. It goes through the minefields. There is no shelter, just perseverance till the very end.
I never imagined that I would do this, but it was safe to do so as long as we stayed on the bicycle path, which had on either side another 10 meters of cleared grass.
Our danger came from a very different direction.
We all stopped suddenly when the wild pigs crossed our path. First came two babies, then the mom, long and vast, and then one more babye. We saw the stripes and nearly shouted in amazement, but we all stopped immediately, kept quiet, held our breath, and waited till they passed. When they had reached the woods, we still could hear the mom’s grunting. She sounded upset and kept an eye on us.
But, we did not have any desire for a closer encounter than this and drove on.
The way from Osijek to the border with Hungary is just one long bike path, a dike on two sides surrounded by minefields. Every fifty meters, there was a sign with the reminder: Do not enter!
We found a grave from a young Belgian soldier. He was married on the day that I turned 15 and lost his life here in ‘92 because he drove with his army truck on a mine. That is the seriousness of the sign: “Do not enter.” What madness, these mines. How cruel!
Being surrounded by minefields is for me a heavy experience and put my heart down. On the other hand, the nature is astonishingly beautiful and unharmed. It is so quiet except for the many birds, and we went through endless green pastures. We met flocks of sheep, shepherds, and sheepdogs. And so, the green pastures and the valley of death go hand in hand.
Later on, we came along yellow rapeseed fields as far as the eye could see, the smell and the fresh breeze in our hair. How we like biking! The fields are filled with flowers. I could hear one of the girls saying: “Oh, smell the rapeseed!” and another in reply: “I know, eh?” We took a lunch break at a little village close to Beremend with a church especially built for Laurens over a hundred years ago 😉
It was a strange experience for me that I felt much lighter as soon as we entered Hungary, as if the impact of the war in Croatia and the heaviness of it stays for decades. Maybe it does.
On the way to Harkany, we faced another adventure. To avoid the dangerous main roads with trucks and fast-driving cars, Jelle found a different route, but this was quite a wild adventure. There had been very heavy rain on the previous days, and the paths were muddy. It was no problem; we just kept going right and left to avoid the enormous puddles. The mud became worse, though. Laurens was still happy, but my feet were covered in mud up to my ankles. We had to use sticks each time to clear our wheels. At a certain point, after ten kilometers on this rough path, we could not go any further. We got really stuck in the mud with no way forward and no way back. It is very easy to get cross at each other and blame the other: “Who wanted this trip anyway?” And so, you enter the heart of the training: Stay calm, whatever happens.
Jelle guided us through side paths on farmers’ land. Just to make our way here took half an hour of plowing our way through thick bushes. But, after that, the sun was gracefully shining upon us. We really felt like survivors by now, but when we came to a normal road, Femke said solemnly: “It is not that I hate adventure, but this is just a bit too much.¨
For the last hour, we travelled a mere 5 km just to discover that another 20 were still waiting. That is not nice news when you had already gone 55 km that day! But, the road got very good, and we made a record speed of 20 km in the next hour! We arrived safely at our destination, tired but satisfied.
We visited the castle in Siklos, dived in Hungerian history: Ottoman Empire, Habsburg Empire. And the first and second World War. A lot to learn!
The way back is always easier than the way into the unknown. Luckily, on the way home, none of this was repeated. Jelle found yet another route, and we biked through lovely rural villages with friendly people looking a bit surprised to see this crowd of jolly foreigners biking through the rain.
We found some Roma villages in the far south of Hungary close to the border with Croatia.
What a long 22 km it is again from the border to Osijek! But, it was good at that time. Everyone biked in silence, lost in her or his own thoughts.
Finally, we saw Osijek again. It had been a wonderful experience to discover the Baranja area by bike. Judith said, “Let’s do this every spring!”
I found it amazing that this singular journey is a part of, but also symbol for, the larger journey of life. This journey showed us the shadow of death and the green pastures all at once. Biking along, we knew that the Good Shepherd was with us in all of it. That in itself was more than enough to ponder.