After a recommendation from a friend (Thanks Emily!) we decided to take a side trip to Bosnia and Herzegovina. What we thought was a 3 hour bus trip turned into a 6 hour bus trip after a delay at the border, and of course the obligatory stop so that the bus driver could buy 3 giant bags of oranges and not share.
Arriving in Mostar was a definite change from Croatia. Mostar was severely damaged in the Bosnian war and, though they have re-built much of the town, you can still see evidence of warfare. Some buildings are still left half-standing, damaged by bombings, and covered with bullet holes.
Despite the troubling history of the town, it had a magical feel with amazing views of the famous Stari Most bridge and Neretva River below. The bridge was built by the Ottomans in 1566, then bombed to pieces in 1993 during the Bosnian War. It was rebuilt (using many of the original pieces salved from the depths of the river) in 2004 and is once again the central landmark to the town of Mostar.
Mostar residents belong to an interesting mix of religions (effects of the Ottoman Empire, followed by the Austro-Hungarian Empire) which can be seen in the variety of churches and Mosques in town. We could hear the call to prayer throughout the day and early evening – a more melodic version than those we heard in Morocco and Ghana.
As we sat for coffee one morning with a view of the bridge, we noticed someone standing up on the edge. Apparently after collecting enough money from tourists, the Mostar divers bridge-jump in the summertime. What that means is they jump from over 20 meters high, which is extremely dangerous. Their preparation before a jump is very calculated. Two or three deep breaths, then they raise their arms up, and carefully fall straight, with their knees bent. They unfold their knees right as they hit the water. It’s so high that the impact could kill you, so they have to be very careful. We talked to one of the guys in town who said that for the men growing up in Mostar it’s kind of a rite of passage. He jumped once when he was 16… and never again. The women aren’t expected to do it to prove their womanhood though.
There are injuries and deaths every year, mostly because tourists try to jump. So, after mulling it over, we decided not to try it. No, just kidding we didn’t consider it at all :).
While in Mostar we also took a side trip to Kravice Falls, about a 45 minute drive away. For those visiting in the future, I’d say skip it if you’ve got Plitvice Lakes on your itinerary. But go otherwise, it’s really quite beautiful and a good side trip.
We hired a guide through a tourist travel agency to drive us there – he must have been in his mid 20s and was at some sort of a safe camp in Croatia during the war so doesn’t have any bad memories of it. Not everyone got out of Mostar during the war though, and many people a bit older than he still have memories of the war from when they were very young kids. While in Mostar we saw a photo exhibit of life there during the war and it was heart-wrenching, and a brutal reminder that this is in no way a distant memory, as people are still suffering through warfare today.
Our guide was saying that he is really frustrated with politics- they have three presidents (it’s a really complicated system with presidents from the Croatia, Bosnia & Herzegovina, and Serbian sides- really a division of Roman Catholic, Muslim, and Orthodox Christian religions) but in his opinion there is too much propaganda, and too many politicians still holding grudges and arguing about the war and bringing up bad memories. He said the younger generations just want to move on from it.
We spent our time in Mostar wandering the town, eating some really great meals, and googling a bunch of history about the area and the war. In the end we extended our stay from one to three nights in Mostar before returning to Croatia.