We said good bye to Dubrovnik (and Mackie who headed to Berlin) and headed for Mostar, just over the Bosnian border. We ended up in Bosnia somewhat randomly… I read some amazing reviews of a particular hostel there, we had enough to make it, so off we went.
It was a wonderful, amazing, moving, learning adventure. Definitely, a true travel highlight. We stayed at the absolutely wonderful Majdas Hostel, don’t even think of staying anywhere else. It’s clean, airconned, breakfast is freshly cooked, the staff and other guests are all lovely, and it’s a complete bargain (like everything in Bosnia is for western tourists). I really have to mention the breakfasts again as they were devine - my favourite was little freshly fried donuts. You could have them sweet or savoury, and so had cream or ajvar (a sort of capsicum relish that is SO YUM!). There was also toast, fruit and coffee, and both morning we ate outside in the already warm sunshine.
Mostar is a fascinating little town to explore. I understand it’s the most tourist friendly town in Bosnia (being close to the popular Dalmatian coast), and parts of it feel very touristy - there’s sweetly paved small streets, peaked bridges over deep streams and tourist tat shops. The boys who leap from the Old Bridge into the icy river definitely know how to work a crowd. But the majority of the city is not touristy at all. Many of the regular Mostarians (?) don’t speak much English but are friendly enough. There’s delicious food heavily influenced by Turkish cuisine, and in the long hot summer days we were there, a very buzzy nightlife! What strikes you most about Mostar are the obvious scars from the war the city still bears. Ruined buildings with their empty windows staring out into the street. Vacant lots. Bullet holes frequently mar the doors and walls of buildings in use. You cannot forget for more than a moment that you’re in a country so recently and brutally torn apart by war.
Talking to Bosnians will bring you even closer to the war. Majdas Hostel is run by a woman (Majda I believe), and her brother Bata runs an AMAZING guided tour of the area around Mostar. Bata and his whole family were forced to flee during the war - Majda to London, Bata to Sweden and their parents to Norway. Majda and Bata are now back in Mostar and their businesses are successful, helped I’m sure by their excellent English, but their parents reman in Norway. Their story of survival and escape from war torn Bosnia is shattering and very moving - Bata twice had his life saved by a person from a different ethnic group than him. This is notable for the fact the war was largely fought on ethnic grounds, by soldiers and politicians at the expense of regular people who just wanted to go about their lives.
But what we’re really here to talk about is the tour! The crazy mad tour that’d we specially come for! It was AWESOME! Bata is possibly the craziest driver I’ve ever had the pleasure of being in a car with, and he deemed blaring Bosnian disco at the loudest possible volume ‘an important cultural experience’. He first drove us round neighbourhoods of Mostar, and described much of the context for the war, what it was like during those years, what’s happening now as Bosnia rebuilds. He discussed the kind of political issues that tourists really get insight into, such as the fact that the vast majority of construction and improvement works have taken place in Croat neighbourhoods, not Bosnian hoods.
We then visited Medjugorje, a seriously important Christian pilgrimage location where Mary is frequently spotted by fervent believers. I had a semi religious experience with a cold drink and an ice cream (40 degree weather plus 12 people in a van means i was HOT!).
Actually scratch that, I really had a religious experience at the Kravice waterfalls, our next stop. After a somewhat terrifying drive down a steep narrow road, diving into cool blue blue water was a thrilling moment. No health and safety worries here, apart from swimming you can also scramble up the rocks, under the waterfalls and into the caves. Personally, i know my clumsy self too well and didn’t venture far, but Paul practically went spelunking, and then jumped off a 4 metre high rock! Adventure plus!
After a generous lunch - a sort of grill thing, quite Turkish, we went to one of the oldest surviving villages in Bosnia. This incredibly picturesque little place, looking like it’s straight out of a story book, was also fascinating. We had a break with one of the women living there, who served 3 different types of cordial (all grown in her yard!), Bosnian coffee (very strong and very sweet, with the grounds still in the cup like Turkish coffee), fresh figs and other fruit and sweets. We stuffed ourselves silly on the most ridiculously yummy, fresh, organic produce.
The final stop was to Blagaj, a holy place for Muslims. It was originally a monastery and now is a cultural and tourist spot. Visiting at night, with the dark river Buna flowing right out of the cave, it’s spooky and not at all a stretch of the imagination to think whirling dervishes used to practice here.
This one day tour is so much than I can write here. Bata is quite simply an amazing human being - willing to chat with everyone and share so much of his life. Not only is he a great guide and fount of knowledge about the area and the history, he is one of the most friendly and energetic people I’ve ever met. Bata, you’ll likely never read this, but thank you thank you thank you for sharing this day with us. We loved it, and we’ll never forget you, your story or our day. I tell everyone I can, and I’m telling YOU now - if you ever get the chance, go to Bosnia, stay at Majdas Hostel in Mostar and experience it for yourself.