Being in Bosnia

I really don’t know what to say about Mostar.  Possibly not the best line to commence a blog post with, but there it is.  So I’ll tell you what I learned, which is not a great deal as we only had two days here, and I suspect it would take decades to decode the layers.

In 1992, 1993/4 Mostar was divided by ethnic, religious and geographic lines.  Croat and Bosniak (bosnian muslims); Christian and Muslim; East and West….   The city is divided by the Neretva River, and a million other things.     I saw the city parks which turned into cemeteries, where the only way to bury the dead was by night, dressed in black so as to not be visible by snipers.    Swathes of white tombstones bear the name of the deceased and the numbers “1993”.  Where the beautiful Ottoman bridge was destroyed out of spite.  There is a plaque on the bridge showing the contributors toward the rebuilding costs….I bet you can’t guess which country contributed the most…Italy!    Where a Christian Cross sits atop the surrounding mountains, in the same spot as the launching place for the mortars that destroyed the Muslim side of the river.    Some locals see this as disrespectful.      I have very little understanding of what drove this conflict, and only remember footage from Sarajevo, nothing at all from Mostar.

If anyone has some reading recommendations I would appreciate it, as I would like to learn more about the conflict.

I saw hoards of oblivious tourists posing for insta-shots and  wondered what survivors felt about that.  I cringed when fireworks exploded.      Our accommodation was in a newish building (I think) but the neighbouring building was mortar pocked, with at least one balcony just hanging off the building.    So many buildings still are gutted without the charm of “ruin bars”, these are just plain ruins.    Backpackers with their bum cheeks showing, walk on streets with Muslim ladies.  Delicious food and cheap beers.

We visited the Blagaj Dervish Monastery at the head of the Buna River, where the water flows directly from the cliffs.  We both marveled at the clarity of the water and wanted to immerse.  We actually dunked our feet in and they were numb in about 1 minute it was so cold.     Restaurants were setting up for an influx of busses later in the day, and waiters were busily setting tables….until a cloud bank came through and the heavens opened, hail, and torrential rain.  The waiters, with murderous looks at their supervisor, were madly retrieving tablecloths, oil/vinegar sets and silverware, while we waited under a canvas awning and bought raspberries to eat.   Further down the river a weird mist hung over the water.  The road followed the course of the river and we eventually spied a restaurant where we stopped for a beverage.   A meeting of the “German Co-operation Society” was in progress, the purpose of which we can only guess at, but they had their own sign written cars, so I guess it is a thing.   We eventually returned for lunch here, as Ramadan was still on, not much in the way of food was open.  Turns out the restaurant is attached to a motel, and I would definitely stay there in preference to Mostar itself.  Its only about 9 k away, so still easy to commute without the parking issues.

We pushed on to visit Radimilja Necropolis, where carved medieval tombstones carry strangely celtic motifs, then on to Pocitelj, a village built on what seemed like a cliff.  I asked the ladies selling fruit and souvenirs how they managed to get their shopping up the hill to their homes, but they didn’t seem to think it was a big deal.

We went further afield in Bosnia, and I am so glad we did, as the Bosnian folk we encountered were very much like Australians, they didn’t fall over themselves to help you, but were quietly helpful and once you persevered, they had a dry sense of humour and liked to interact.

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Is it too late to have a gap year in your late 50s? To take back some time from our day to day working life to travel - unplanned, unescorted, unfettered? To take that leap? It was a defining year - liberating, challenging, humbling, scary. It was many things, but it wasn't a holiday.

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