Saturday, 6 December 2014

BOSNIA & HERZEGOVINA. TOGETHER BUT DIVIDED

Mostar, Ready to jump
The division was the result rather than the cause of the war. 

I have to admit I was very ignorant of what happened in the territory of our Western neighbor back in the 90s. Maybe I still am, 3 months are clearly not enough to understand something so complicated…
Country of 3 ethnics, 3 religions and rivers of blood during the war. 
Bosniaks, Croats and Serbs who were school friends could no longer be friends. Mixed ethnicity families were confused and displaced; where were they to go? Should they separate for their own safety? Where ethnicity and religion meant nothing in the former Yugoslavia, it now means everything. 


I am not going to discuss here what happened in Bosnia or what my understanding about is. There is enough written and everyone who is interested can read about it. Just to mention for those who didn´t know that Bosnia is the place where the war took most victims and where the ethnical mix and mixed marriages were something common and normal before the war. There is such a thing as a Bosnian Serb (someone of Bosnian nationality who is orthodox and an ethnic Serb) and Bosnian Croat. “Bosniak”, “Croat” and “Serb” are notions that assign ethnicity, and ethnicity is linked to religion – Islam for Bosniaks, Catholicism for Croats and Orthodoxy for Serbs. But in a secularized world, how religious are these conflicts? How much are religion and ethnicity an excuse to redefine power structures? I am not an expert in all of this, and I am still in the process of getting a hang of it. But it makes me sad. 

Ivo Andrić
Visegrad was my first stop in Bosnia after crossing the border.  Coming from Mokra Gora and Drvengrad (Wooden town) in Serbia, I had a quick stop at Andricgrad (Stone town), just inagurated 2 weeks earlier - another artificial town built by Emir Kosturica. It was all brand new, nice and shiny but there was a stange vibe around...
The project is controversial to say the least as about 3,000 Bosnian Muslims were killed in Visegrad on or near the 11-arched bridge. Before the war 63% of the town's 25,000 inhabitants were Bosnian Muslims and despite the Dayton Peace Agreement, only  5% have come back. The Bosniaks I spoke to, said that it was built with their blood. Kusturica himself, despite being born Bosniak is not a favourite figure among the Bosniaks as he renounced Islam, and aligned himself with the Serbs.
Andricgrad
Andricgrad
From the bridge over Drina river
Another 70 km with 4 young Bosnians
driving their fancy car way too fast and
it started raining  (as you see - no roof)
After Visegrad I went hitch hiking to Sarajevo (Me in Sarajevo ). I got a few rides and again, some interesting talks. Bosnia was pretty new to me and I wanted to talk to everyone and hear how their life was affected by the war. When people pick up a hitchhiker, they tend to be pretty frank and outright. I know they pick me up because they wanna help (it´s that kind of gratuitous help that is difficult to find in our busy world), they are bored and want someone to keep them company or they´ve done their fair share of hitch hiking in the past. They know I am a stranger and probably will never see me again. So no need to impress me or lie to me. That´s why I believe every word in their stories or at least I believe that they believe them...Especially in a country like Bosnia where the stories are never that happy...

While hitchiking to Zabljak in MonteNegro a guy from Srebrenica. He told me a bit of the horror that befell there in 95´, losing his brother in the massacre. Their house still stays there deserted and slowly decays in time. Despite of that he was very bubbly and happy with his life. I still remember what advice he gave me: you have to marry for love because that’s the most important in life, I had nothing when I married my wife and now we have everything. He was definitely not rich (a truck driver!!) but happy with his wife and 3 kids. It is so good to see that people who have lost everything can find their way to happiness and others who have everything are always miserable and even make those around them unhappy. Finding happiness should be much simpler.. we just like to complicate things in my opinion.
It is actually the border with Bosnia & Herzegovina but the Serbian entity
After Sarajevo I headed to the mountains in Montenegro, then Kosovo, Albania, Macedonia, Greece and a month later I was back in Bosnia&Herzegovina crossing the border with Montenegro (a different one).  Officially Bosnia and Herzegovina is a state with two entities - Republika Srpska and the Muslim-Croat Federation so signs like the one on the left are not unusual.

 
The typical death notes. Stolac, Bosnia
I got a ride with 7 construction workers from Kotor (Montenegro) to Mostar. I had to eat 3 ice creams, one doughnut, 1 nectarine, had one energy drink and one coffee. There was no way to convince them I didn´t want any of that...Great people!
HERZEGOVINA. MOSTAR
Old and new. Abandoned and rebuilt. Together but divided
Neretva river in Mostar
Until the Bosnian war, Mostar was probably the most ethnically integrated city in all of former Yugoslavia.
But the city became a laboratory for experiments in extreme ethnic engineering. The result is that Mostar mutated into the most divided town in Bosnia, a triumph for the Croatian nationalists who, with their Serbian counterparts, sought to destroy the city and to erase Bosnia-Herzegovina from the map of Europe.
The most vivid symbol of that Croatian triumph came, when a couple of well-aimed Croatian artillery shells brought the city's masterpiece of Ottoman Turk architecture erected in 1566 Old Bridge, tumbling into the fast green waters of the Neretva. 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.
The bridge defined Mostar (the name of the city actualy means bridge - most). Its destruction seemed to augur the city's death.
Yes, he jumped! If there no other volunteers, after collecting enough money from the tourists, a local guy jumps from the edge of the bridge.  A guy from my hostel was meant to do it to the day after. Only 20 m height! 
I took this photo, looked at the result and surprise surprise - found Brandy, who I met in Ohrid (Macedonia) in it!
From the bridge
The evidence of the warfare are everywhere


I stayed at Sky Lounge hostel in Mostar, which I highly recommend. It is located very close to the Old town, has 3 floors and a massive terrace with a bar on the top. All the staff is very friendly and offers lots of activities to choose from. They organize a Pub crawl almost every night, free cooking classes, many tours and activities. The hostel was spacious and pretty decent for the price. Quite a lot of backpackers come to Mostar to relax for a few days, especially after the craziness of Dubrovnik and Kotor and Sky lounge Hostel was a good place to charge the batteries and keep going afterwards.
 
Medina - one of the very helpful and friendly staff in Sky Lounge.          Lots of acknowledgment notes the guests have left
The terrace on the third floor
Free cooking class: Burek. Canada and France rolling the dough while Herzegovina is supervising :)
WHAT TO DO NEAR MOSTAR

Pochitelj is a UNESCO World Heritage-listed center and it is worth a visit. Don´t get scared by the steps, it doesn´t take long to get to the fortress or The Hajji Alija Mosque and you keep on climbing at your own pace and relax sometimes to enjoy the views of the village and the river. 
Pocitelj
Pocitelj´s fortress
 


Kravice
Another sight near Mostar is Kravice waterfalls. Only 40 km away from Mostar is it a must visit. Most hostels in Mostar orginez tours to the Kravice. I made it hitch hiking together with Brandy, was pretty easy and fast. A large lake surrounded in waterfalls,  but unfortunately too crowded in the summer. It’s free to enter, and although the water is freezing, you have free reign to wander everywhere. The water falls, through a series of about 20 falls, 25m and it’s a great way to knock the Bosnian hangover on the head! Water is very blue and freezing but it gets quite hot in summer so it is refreshing. And if you are up to it, you can swim across the ,climb the rocks and jump.

Kravice
The Blagaj Tekke, also known as the Dervish monastery, is located at the spring of the Buna river in the small village of Blagaj, a few kilometers south of Mostar. Very near to the tekke, under a 200 meter high rock,is the “Green Cave”: the largest karst spring in Europe, which gives rise to the Buna river. 






 
The cave and the Monastery
Coming back to Mostar Brandy and I got a ride with 3 guys in their 60s who were going to check on the bee hives they had nearby. We had a nice chat and before leaving I asked them what etnical group they belonged. The answer was “Does it really matter, we are Bosnians!” And after I insisted he said he was a Croat and the other two were Serbs. But he added: I´ve never lived in Croatia, they never lived in Serbia, we are Bosnians! I liked that answer a lot!
After Mostar I headed to central Bosnia. My idea was to go and spend a day or two in Jajce region before I head to Croatia. 
Bosnia is so green and full of rivers. Hitchhiking from Mostar to Jajce I had to ask the drivers to stop every time when a vew like that appeared.
Bugojno. Pretty good example of patching bullet holes
Jajce waterfall
Jajce was built in the 14th century and served as the capital of the independent Bosnian kingdom during its time. It is on the crossroads between Banja Luka, Mrkonjić Grad and Donji Vakuf. Around Jajce you can find the beautiful Great and Small Pliva lakes both equipped with water mills. The most recognizable symbol of Jajce is its magnificent 20 meter high waterfall in the heart of the town. Travelling through the mountain roads to the town may not sit well with some visitors, because the roads are pretty bad, but the scenery is picturesque. A 20 year old boy who gave the last ride to Jajce decided to be my guide and show me around the lakes and sights This way I learnt lots of interesting fact about the area.
Small Pliva lake. I tried too but it was quite slippery and knowing how clumsy I am...came back after 3 meters
Malo Plivsko Jezero. Looks easy but it is not! Quite slippery! But I did swim in there!
Veliko Plivsko Jezero (Big Pliva Lake)
The watermills 
My "guide" showed me that a bullet
 got straight to his mouth!



Last train remains in Jajce


Apart from Jajce waterfall I caught a group selfie down there :)

The Youth hostel in Jajce was fully booked so I was given this dwarf house. Slept quite well actually.
After Jajce I had to say goodbye to Bosnia and move on to Croatia. There are so many places I couldn´t visit and will make sure I go back soon. I hope.

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