Friday, August 6, 2010

Don't Worry, I'm Not Going to Somalia

Seems I am hitting all the war torn countries of the early 90's- first Rwanda, then Croatia (not that you can still see many remnants of the war) and now Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH).

I haven't been mentioning too much about my long journeys from place to place, but everything isn't exactly right next door, as you may be thinking. And even if it is nearby, the mountains make it very hard to find a direct route. Hence, I had a 12 hour journey on 3 different buses from Zabljak, Montenegro to Mostar, BiH (really just H in Mostar, since the Croats consider it the capital of H).

Unlike other places that don't talk too much about the war, you hear and see a lot in BiH!
Like a lot of places in BiH, there was many a war crime committed in Mostar, including some ethnic cleansing, rape and the destruction of the Stari Most, aka the Old Bridge over the Neretva River, built during the Ottoman era.

Upon arrival in the city, you see evidence of a war that ending 15 years ago. There are still shells of buildings along the front line- the street that divides the east (Serbian) and west (Croats) sides of the city.

The former bank building, used by snipers, is still sitting abandoned. Although I didn't venture up, a lot of tourists climb to the rooftop for a snipers eye view. Apparently the building looks exactly the same inside, with random office furniture, papers, books and an occasional shell casing laying around.

Mostar is most famous for the Stari Most, which was destroyed with all the other bridges in Mostar (although not all by the same side), along with many churches and mosques. Stari Most was reconstructed, thanks in part to the US, and reopened in 2004.
In addition to being old, the bridge is also famous for people diving or jumping from it- a 20+ meter drop. I had the pleasure (and pressure) of being the photographer and videographer for Alex, a Brit I befriended who made the jump at 25 meters!

People on the bridge were delighted that there was someone crazy enough to do it when they were around since only 420-some people have done it since the bridge reopened. Sadly, the annual diving competition was held a week before we arrived--- now those people are crazy!

I met Alex on BATA's famous tour the day before. No one will tell you much about the tour, other than that Bata is crazy (which he is), but EVERYONE tells you to do it!

The epic tour started at 10:30am and lasted til near midnight!!!!! To sum it up in one word- reckless!

The tour started with a brief tour of Mostar and some famous war sites. Then it was off to sample some of the best Borek (the local delicacy), which now that I have had more, really was the best.
There were woman rolling dough and cooking the pastry filled with meat, cheese, spinach or potato in a 1000 degree kitchen. Toasty!

After our tummies were full, it was off to the waterfalls. The water was FREEZING!!!!!!!!!!!!
After shivering, it was time for some climbing behind the waterfalls on slippery rocks. After my fingers and toes turned blue and I slipped down a rock (which didn't hurt that much because I was NUMB!), I took a break to warm up.

Now that I was sure my finger was broken, it was time for a beer before the rope swing and a hike to yet another 10m cliff jump (as it turns out, I think I only sprained my finger since it is starting to hurt less after a little over a week, and the scrapes are healing nicely).

After we visited an old fortress town and sampled some local sweets and beverages, then had to run after the van which was now pumping "turbo folk" with disco lights. It sounds ridiculous, cause it was! It was also a ton of fun-- so silly you couldn't help but laugh, injuries and all.

The tour finally ended with a trip to a monastery built into the side of a mountain. It was probably really spiritual and enchanting, but at 11pm I was just too exhausted to care.

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