“You can tell a man’s heart by his smile”

Through my adventures with my internship, I have been able to take multiple hikes in the mountains surrounding Sarajevo. Each hike or backpacking trip is led by a head guide who knows the mountains and the terrain well. A few of the hikes I’ve on, including a backpacking trip, have been led by one of the most interesting men I have ever met.

Faruk is a 56 year old Sarajevo native that can continuously surprise his touring guests with story after story after story, usually during the hike, just rambling on in the front of the pack. He is about six feet tall, unbelievably tan, with a slight beer belly, even though I’m not even sure that he drinks at all. His long, mullet-esque hairdo is a dark brown/black color and is usually accompanied (at least while hiking) by a folded up, red bandana that he uses for a headband. He has been hiking and doing outdoorsy things since he was a young boy, and has acquired a plethora of outdoor gear over the years. He is usually sporting North Face jackets and other brand name outdoor gear like backpacks, hiking poles, boots, etc. One of his more defining features is his tight hiking pants/yoga pants that he loves to wear at all times, often paired with his yellow and orange cutoff t-shirt. His style and figure clearly reflect his unique interests and love for the outdoors.

One of our blog topics allows us to write about someone interesting we have met here in Bosnia. Here is a mash-up/attempt at an organization of all of the little stories that I have heard from Faruk after spending a couple days with him in the mountains. I will do my best to get the dates and ages correct.

Faruk grew up in the outskirts of Sarajevo with his family and since he was seven, started spending every day out in the fields and woods, exploring and learning his way around the mountains. As he grew older, he started to get into more extreme sports such as backcountry skiing (woo hoo!), mountain biking, hiking, rafting, paragliding, etc. You name it, Faruk was interested in it and trying to do it at the highest and most dangerous level he could. He wasn’t only interested in mountain sports, but also had an affinity for flatland sports such as road biking, cross country skiing, and running.

When he was 40 years old, his love for extreme sports was still full swing as he went on a paragliding trip with some of his buddies. Everyday they climbed up to their “take off spots” and then decided that the weather was too dangerous. On their seventh and last day, they climbed up to their spot and, one again, decided that the weather wasn’t going to allow them to fly once again. Faruk decided otherwise and followed through with his plan to paraglide that day. I’m not sure how the majority of the ride went, or if he even got going the way he was supposed to, but he was 10-15 meters above ground before losing full control of the kite(?? I don’t know my paragliding terms). He fell with his kite to the ground and ended up fully breaking his radius and ulna, as well as some bones in his wrist, and seriously bruising his tailbone. He now has scars running from close to his elbow all the way down his forearm because of the pins and plates that were inserted.

During his time as a young adult in Sarajevo, he had learned to play the flute. In fact, he had learned to play very well. By the time he was twenty-five(?), he was playing as a professional flutist with many different bands and orchestras throughout former Yugoslavia.

When the war began, he and his orchestra were taken out of the Sarajevo (quite the privilege) and led on a tour around greater Europe to many major cities such as Paris, Amsterdam, Copenhagen, etc. to put on concerts and play their music. They ended up in Holland and were granted refugee status. Faruk ended up staying in Holland for a total of thirteen years before moving back to Bosnia.
Before the war, when Faruk was playing mainly in Sarajevo. He and a couple other people were hired to play for Tito, yes, Josep Broz Tito, the former leader of Yugoslavia who was widely loved and is said to have saved former Yugoslavia from the Nazis. Faruk and fellow musicians would be asked to play for Tito when he was visiting his hunting house in the mountains that are now encompassed by Sutjeska National Park. We visited the remains of this house during one of our hikes. It was tore down during the war in the 1990’s. Playing for Tito must have been quite the honor. Like many other older Bosnians, Faruk has a serious love and appreciation for Tito despite his reputation as a very authoritative ruler.

Immediately after arriving in Holland in 1996(?), Faruk purchased a bicycle to serve as his mode of transportation. During his first year there, he biked over 27,000 kilometers. That breaks down into an average of about 74 kilometers (or 46 miles) a day, every day. That’s a lot of biking to do seven days a week, rain or shine. He says that he “visited every corner of Holland and rode on every road.” I almost believe him. He became somewhat well known in Holland and was asked if someone could do a documentary on him. The documentary followed Faruk as he biked from his home in Holland to the house of Ludwig van Beethoven in Bonn, Germany. It was exactly 200km, one direction. He biked there and back in one day. Faruk had a good understanding of Beethoven’s music as well, as it was often played by the orchestras he participated in.

The other day, I saw him at the office as he was heading out on his bike around noon. He was heading into the mountains to get some wild herbs for his favorite tea (that he makes himself and only drinks with water from springs in the mountains). I talked to him the next day and he told me that he biked a total of 180km to get to his herbs and home. That’s quite the ride for some herbs.

Faruk mentioned to me once that he believes that the bicycle was the best thing ever created by man. His english struggles sometimes, but he said, essentially, that “there is nothing better than just being with your bike on the road creating a rhythm that you can keep for hours and hours and never get sick of it.” It sounds even more profound when you hear him say it in his broken english.  He has said a lot of things that I will never forget. One of the greatest things I think he said to me was on our van ride home from Sutjeska National Park to Sarajevo, when everybody else was asleep. He said, “I can always tell a man’s heart by his smile.” He believes that if someone smiles wide and laughs loud, you can be pretty sure that their heart and love is just and wide and loud for those around them.

Faruk has also invited me to come back to Bosnia during the winter months and he’ll bring me backcountry skiing in the mountains in this area. He claims that there isn’t anyone in the world who knows them as well as he does. That would be quite the experience and I hope I can make it back. He has a lot to say and is a very interesting man. I hope that I have a few more chances to converse with him in my next couple of weeks with Green Visions.

Below is a picture of the two of us on the top of Uglješin peak in Sutjeska National Park. Unfortunately, he isn’t sporting his favorite hiking pantalones or cutoff t-shirt.

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