Published: October 8th 2010October 8th 2010
The reason we decided to head back to Europe and not straight home, was so that we could try and visit places that were otherwise off the usual backpacker radar, a little left of field. Another reason was to make sure we didn't miss out on anything that we might have regretted once back and settled in Australia. Not that this would ever be the last time either of us would travel (I don't think that is possible) but covering all bases was important to us.
Mostar Bosnia, was the next stop on from Dubrovnik Croatia where I last left you. We researched a little into how to get to Bosnia, where to stay whilst there and what there was to occupy our time whilst in Mostar. We decided to break up our Croatian leg and try it out for one night and one day - a length of time that was possibly a little too long to spend there in hindsight.
Bosnia was seemingly alluring when reading about it on various websites and hearing about other travelers experiences on travel blogs, we figured we were in for something pretty special...
We left Dubrovnik at
8am Thursday morning for what we thought was going to be around about a 3 hour bus journey. The scenes outside were amazing, green hills and rocky mountains all divided by the most aqua looking river i had ever seen, just stunning. We felt the bus start to slow down and realised it was the first of many passport checks that we would experience coming into Bosnia. The guard boarded the bus and everyone whipped out their passport ready for an interrogation (at least we were, I think we had become accustomed to being asked questions at the UK border). With a grunt the check was over and my passport shunned, I guess one passport covered the two of us at that particular Checkpoint Charlie. Blake assured me it was because I was a woman and where we were going women probably didn't count, cheers Blake!
Three more passport "checks" later we were in Bosnia. We drove through two small towns, I cannot remember the names of them as we didn't stop there. We did drive slowly enough for us to get our fist glimpse of damage caused by the war some years before. It appeared that most of
The new kitchen (that replaced the one that burned down)
the structures were never redeveloped after the fighting had ended - bullet holes dotted the walls, your eyes followed them mostly leading to a window or a balcony where clean washing now hung. So weird to think people live in these run down council blocks. But when you are left with nothing I guess you take what you can get.
As we drifted in and out of consciousness (the warm sun, turning us into lazing cats), we didn't realize just how much time had passed since we set off from Dubrovnik. A three hour bus journey had definitely turned into four maybe four and half. Finally reaching Mostar, there we were met by a guy from the hostel we were to stay at. I think it was the owners brother. Our first impressions of Mostar were pretty grim, more bullet holes and missing pieces of structures - this impression wasn't helped by the guy from the hostel who basically told us that he hated living in Bosnia and was just here waiting for his paperwork to come through so that he could move to the Netherlands. Apparently he had gone for a managerial job and claimed that he had
gotten that job but could only start work if he paid his boss 3,000 Euros cash. I began to paint myself a picture of what this place was going to be like.
Upon arriving at our hostel - just a few minutes walk from the bus terminal (handy for getting a bus the hell out of there if we needed to in a hurry), we were met by a woman who ran the hostel - Miran was the owner of our hostel and the woman was Mirans wife. She showed us the room, a pretty grim sight for sore eyes at that point. Four single beds two pushed together to make one awkwardly wide bed. Minimal blankets and strange books on a shelf "Is it just me or is everything shit" just happened to be one of the more ironic book titles on offer. Once settled we met Miran, who later told us that he had lived in Mostar during the war and had several bomb casings lying around the place to prove it. He also mentioned that he sometimes gets "a little stressed"...OK.
He had explicitly insisted that we turn off all electrical appliances after cooking as
a few years ago, three drunk Englishmen had left the gas on and actually burnt down the back half of the Hostel. Needless to say we double checked the gas that night, we didn't want Miran getting all stressed.
We packed all of our expensive things into a day pack, passports and wallets and set off for a wander around Mostar. Mostar is the biggest and the most important city in the Herzegovina region and is the fifth-largest city in the country - surprising to us as it appeared to be quite a compact little town upon first glance.
There are very little original aspects of the town, most of the architecture was destroyed during the war. We had to actually do a little research after leaving Bosnia as most of the museums there were about the old bridge - the only real tourist attraction there - a little info on that further on.
We have asked a few Croats and Bosnians that we have met, including our hostel owner in Dubrovnik, Ivan, about the war to try an understand what it must have been like. We later found out that Ivan himself had been in the
Croatian army for 3 years, fighting in the old town of Dubrovnik - when the town was first invaded there were only 34 Croats defending it, We assume that Ivan was one of these soldiers- interestingly enough. As mentioned before our Bosnian hostel owner, Miran also fought. We began to understand that the civil war was not a simple one to understand and had many different parties involved of all different creeds with all sorts of motives. We also realised that the subject was still a little raw, so decided to try and find a brief synopsis about the war ourselves, what we found is below:
The Bosnian War was an international armed conflict that took place in Bosnia and Herzegovina between March 1992 and November 1995 and was the culmination of the breakup of Yugoslavia. The war involved several sides. Bosnia and the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (later Serbia and Montenegro) as well as Croatia. Bosnian Serb guerrillas carried out deadly campaigns of "ethnic cleansing," massacring members of other ethnic groups or expelling them from their homes to create exclusively Serb areas. Attacks on civilians and international relief workers disrupted supplies of food and other necessities
just when such aid was most crucial: in what became the worst refugee crisis in Europe since World War II
...like I said its difficult to summarise, so I wont even try...
Between 1992 and 1993, the town of Mostar was subject to an 18 month siege. The Yugoslav People's Army (the JNA) first bombed Mostar on April 3, 1992 and over the following week gradually established control over a large part of the town. By June 12, 1992 the Croatian Defence Council (HVO) and Army of the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina (in a joined action) amassed enough strength to force the JNA out of Mostar. The JNA responded with shelling. Amongst the monuments destroyed were a Franciscan monastery, the Catholic cathedral and the bishop's palace (with a library of 50,000 books), a number of secular institutions as well as the Karadoz-bey mosque, and thirteen other mosques. The Old bridge was also completely destroyed...
We were told there would be various attractions in Mostar including the Old Bridge and the river. This in a nutshell turned out to be it. The town wouldn't be a town if they didn't have that bridge basically. It
was reconstructed after the war to its original state - but something about having a 500 year old bridge destroyed by some guy with a bazooka is just a little heartbreaking and you do really feel for the locals that now sold rubbish nick-nacks and fake Nazi paraphernalia to make a quick tourist buck! (Not that buying Nazi paraphernalia is exactly a nice nick-nack to bring home to nanna)The town relies on tourists.
There is an annual diving competition from the bridge which unfortunately we missed, after looking at some youtube footage sponsored by Red Bull no less, it looks pretty eventful.
The river that the town lies next to, is apparently (according to Miran our hostel owner) the cleanest in Europe. Funnily enough at every small rapid that we came across a bunch of plastic bottles and takeaway containers bubbled away in the white wash. It seemed pretty filthy if you ask me, but I guess it gets flushed out to sea and I'm sure some official organisation can back Miran up.
Drawing closer to the end of our trip to Bosnia, we became ever so aware of all the poverty that surrounded us, especially the amount of homeless gypsies that pestered the tourists for cash. In the end i gave in to a little girl that had obviously been sent as bate to blow me kisses and ask for money! She was about 4-5 years old, unwashed, rotting teeth and matted hair - her shoes were clearly adult size and she had a cough. I wanted to give her all the money in the world but you cant save them all and her father sitting nearby obviously was a 'Faggan' type and i don't think she would ever see the benefits of that money. Nonetheless i gave her what I had left in Bosnian coin, pointing at my bag of groceries she wanted a small bottle of coke I had just bought. I bargained with her, I said take the money leave the coke and have a banana for god sake. She didn't understand my language and nor I hers, but she knew I wasn't giving her rubbish food over a piece of fruit. So she snatched it wildly and ran off and hoed it down - she was starving and the banana went to a better home. Next thing i know we are surrounded - there just weren't enough bananas in that bag to go around though.
In short, Mostar Bosnia was strange, interesting a little scary and pretty smelly. It was a lot like a Borat film but nonetheless one I can tick off the list. Give it 10-15 years and I think it will be as appealing as places like Poland and Croatia.
Back in Dubrovnik now and we are preparing for an 8 hour boat ride to Bari, Italy. I can't wait to eat some...oh no wait, more pasta and pizza, pizza and pasta!