Bosnia-Herzegovina. Why haven’t I been dreaming about seeing this place before?
I really hadn’t thought of it, and when I was looking at the map before I left for this latest trip my eyes skimmed right over this country. I wanted to see Montenegro and Albania, and maybe Serbia if I could get it squeezed in; Bosnia-Herzegovina wasn’t one that even registered for me. But on my first afternoon in Dubrovnik, though, a quick conversation had me convinced that I should give it a chance.
A couple things I learned on the ride up: before reaching our destination our little tour group of about 16 people would need to pass through customs and border control 3 times, and the same again on the return. I have to admit I’ve gotten kinda used to the European norm or not needing to worry much about borders, but Croatia is part of the European Union while Bosnia and Herzegovina is not. And, there’s a small little section of Bosnia that reaches the coast in between Croatia. I guess this goes back several hundred years: when the Turkish Ottomans ruled Bosnia, they allowed Croatia to continue to run the mines for silver and such on what became their land, in exchange Croatia allowed them seaport access. And it stuck.
Our first stop in Bosnia-Herzegovina was Kravice Falls. A remote area that would be difficult to find on your own if you didn’t already know which little marker to look for leading to the winding rural roads. There’s an entrance fee of 5€ now, but don’t let that deter you. The falls almost sneak up on you from the forested hills, but once you get to the first bend and see the cliffs drop away and hear the rush of the water you wonder how something so incredible could have seemed so hidden a moment earlier. It’s like a mini Niagara Falls in the forest, but with sparkling shades of emerald everywhere instead of city neon lights.
After about an hour spent staring at the falls, it was time to move on again. During the 45 minutes or so that it took to drive to Mostar, the guide told us about what life was like during the war in the ’90s. I still find it hard to wrap my head around the idea that during my idyllic childhood there were people trapped in their city being shot at if they stepped outside, with the food supply so cut many were forced to pick grass after dark to eat in order to survive. The main bridge that the city of Mostar is famous for was bombed and completely destroyed during this war, on November 9, 1993. It had stood connecting the city since its completion by the Turkish Ottomans in 1566, and the destruction was later considered a war crime. The bridge that I saw is an exact replica, built with a few pieces of the original that had been pulled out from the river, completed and opened in 2004.
The city and river and surrounding area is beyond beautiful, and the moody skies just prior to the rain felt exactly right to me after the somber stories I’d just heard. I’m told the river is this colour because of copper minerals in the area. Either way, it’s real and it’s breathtaking.
The reconstruction of an entire city takes time, of course, even during such an ambitious drive such as this country has had. While it’s easy for us tourists to forget the tragic history and simply enjoy the streets of shops and restaurants and dramatic scenery, if you choose to look there are reminders everywhere. Down side streets there are many buildings still in ruin, some in the middle of being renovated and others already given over to the overgrown flora. Bullet holes still visible in many of the walls. It makes me wonder what real, day-to-day life is like here. The half hour we had with a local guide didn’t give much of an answer to that. She spoke about how lucky they were under the socialist rule as part of the former Yugoslavia with almost no unemployment, and free schooling and healthcare. She mentioned briefly that there were tensions, and that because there was no freedom to express oneself publicly, their private activities and faith meant that much more to them as a society. The faiths and culture groups have caused further division, with the Muslims from the 400 years of Turkish rule and the Catholic Croats and Orthodox Serbs in an uneasy union split across the city. Even today, the chipper and cheerful guide said that there is still two of everything in Mostar; you can go to a Muslim hospital or a Catholic one, or school or police force or nearly anything you like. “How wonderful to have two options of everything in such a small city!”
I got the sense that tourists were welcome, and I would highly recommend this area as a stop on your next itinerary. The stalls full of local and handmade goods are great to browse through, with lace and lavender next to Byzantine platters and Turkish lamps or local grappa and of course gelato stands.
Or, the views of the city alone are worth the drive. I’ll leave you with one more image, then I’m off to the next stop!