An early start was in order for a trip to Mostar in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The drive was very scenic and interesting – we drove up the coast line of Croatia, briefly along the short 8km coastline of Bosnia and Herzegovina, back into Croatia, on towards the ‘main’ ramshackle border, and eventually through the beautiful but devastated Bosnian countryside.
I’d seen bullet holed houses whilst driving through Northern Croatia, however this was something else. The full effects of the recent war could be seen everywhere, houses looked old and run down, and the place had a general feel of being in a third world country – poverty seemed rife. Our tour guide told us that there is a 47% unemployment rate in Bosnia and Herzegovina, apparently most families rely on relatives abroad for their income. We drove past one house that looked half built, the outside was simply orange breeze blocks without any outer covering (as seems to be the norm across countries in this region), the upstairs was completely open to the elements, save for two side walls and a roof. I saw a little boy standing at the opening, behind him was a washing line and other pieces of furniture – it looked like a family lived in this makeshift shelter in a half-built house. It was completely mind numbing and I still can’t seem to forget this image.
We stopped off en route at a small Muslim village, with a mosque as the central feature. There were a few old women attempting to sell fruit, nuts and other touristy items on the road side – clearly all tours stop here. We walked up to the mosque and continued on to an old look out point, this gave us wonderful views of the surrounding countryside and a fantastic view of the village – I felt like I was back in Morocco. Some of the buildings have domed roof tops, and the Mosque sticks out above it all – there are visible signs of the war here also, as some of the buildings are now ruins and the ones remaining have the tell-tale marks of war.
I’m not sure I was quite prepared for arriving in Mostar. Houses covered in bullet holes and graffiti and policemen huddled in groups; our tour guide told us not to stand around in this area for too long, and to run across fast when we cross the roads – apparently cars don’t always abide by the red lights… It’s quiet, grey and a little eery.
Walking down the narrow cobbled streets with many shops either side selling an abundance of tourist goods, it feels totally separate to the world we’ve left behind. There are more people, the atmosphere feels safer, and there is chatter and noise – although granted, this is probably all down to the tourists who flock here to see the famous Mostar bridge that divides the town.
The bridge is quite phenomenal, it’s incredibly high and very iconic – it was a shame that we didn’t see any jumpers, I guess there weren’t enough people about as it was quite out of season. The day was a little overcast, but luckily wasn’t raining so there were still some fantastic views of the bridge and I managed to get some great photos.
On the other side of the bridge there’s a gift shop where you can watch a video of the destruction that came to Mostar in 1993. It almost brings you to tears – watching the continuous shooting at the bridge which results in numerous bullet holes and the eventual fall. ‘Stari Most’ was an iconic symbol of Mostar, which connected the Christian and Muslim sides of the town. The bridge you see now is a carefully reconstructed version of the original that stood in the same spot for 427 years. It’s a sad testament to the destruction that happened as a result of the Croat-Bosniak War, which can still be seen on the outskirts of the central tourist hub.
After our gift shopping and sight seeing, Julie and I stopped for a traditional lunch of ćevapčići – grilled minced meat with flatbread and onions – it’s considered the national dish of Bosnia and Herzegovina. It was a filling and delicious lunch and cost a pittance!
It was eventually time for us to say goodbye to the unique Bosnian town of Mostar. Today had been an eye-opener. Bosnia and Herzegovina still suffers greatly from the effects of the War that took place 20 years ago. It feels completely different to Croatia, and yet is still fascinating and beautiful. I’d love to return to spend more time here someday.