Welcome to Bosnia and Herzegovina

Friday 20th June 2014

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Today is a pretty chilled day.  I had organised through Scott’s hostel a direct transfer from Kotor to Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina.  I knew it was me and three other girls but I didn’t realise we travelled in a normal car – underhand deal perhaps?  I’ll never know.  However it was the same price as taking the bus and a few hours shorter as the car is able to take a more direct route on shittier roads that buses can’t handle so I was happy. And having our own guide was pretty helpful too, he chatted to us the whole way (about three hours) and stopped off three times for photo opportunities.  The first stop, I asked for as I hadn’t been able to get a picture the day before on the bus trip from Tivat.  In the inlet there are two churches that appear to be floating on the water.  I think I remember him saying that one of the churches was catholic and the other Greek Orthodox.  One of them was built on a natural island and the other was built on a man made island.  One of them is particularly beautiful.  Note to other travellers, in this part of the world it can be quite hard to google info that you’re looking for.  For example I have been unable to find out any info on these churches and the Maraton track, like how long it was, and have since had trouble finding info on tours I have done, online or even form pamphlets etc.  You just have to show up and get talking to people!  And commit the info to paper and ink or a a keyboard and internet connection.

Not the greatest picture, but the best I could get of my favourite little church.
Not the greatest picture, but the best I could get of my favourite little church.
A lake en route from Kotor to Mostar. A particular chemical explains why it is so blue.
A lake en route from Kotor to Mostar. A particular chemical explains why it is so blue.

I am really gutted to be leaving Montenegro.  I really would have loved at least one more day exploring the bays that I saw on the bus yesterday, or hanging out with Mohammad and Jack as they are both good quality.  But I have pushed my Mostar booking back three times already and don’t feel like I can stuff them around a fourth time.  I think for this reason I have a bit of a shitty attitude entering Mostar, as my heart is still in Kotor.  Coming into town is an eye opener.  At every turn there are war reminders; shelled buildings, a guy waiting for a road crossing with only one leg and construction on every corner.  The other thing that you can’t ignore is the flags, everywhere!  They are strung through all the streets.  I just thought Bosnians were extremely patriotic but I heave since learned that this is their first ever time in the soccer World Cup and they are so proud and so happy to be in it.  The best news since the war apparently.

The flag of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Pictured here at the boarding crossing as we leave Montenegro.
The flag of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Pictured here at the boarding crossing as we leave Montenegro.
War time damage from shelling is apparent everywhere.
War time damage from shelling is apparent everywhere.

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I have had my hostel recommended to me by a number of people and it doesn’t disappoint.  Hostel Majdas (pronounced Maida’s) is again the home of the proprietor and it’s absolutely gorgeous, so bright and colourful inside and out.  Majda is probably in her 50s and is a very accommodating hostess.  We are cooked breakfast each morning and encouraged to come to a Bosnia coffee session in the afternoon.  Today (and I WISH I knew about this beforehand) the majority of the hostellers are at the infamous Majdas tour.  It is run every second day but because of my timings, I will miss it so I sign up to do a similar tour tomorrow that is run through the hostel that the Aussie girls are staying at.

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Beautiful beautiful Hostel Majdas

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I meander through the old part of the city, buying some souvenirs and some cherries as I go.  After taking shots of the famous bridge I end up on the below shores of the Neretva River.  During this time I see some locals jump off the bridge.  This happens 5-10 times a day. Hiking happens is one guy stand up on the bridge fence, attracting attention.  He spends the next 20-30 minutes trying to solicit cash from people so they can watch someone jump.  He tries to get money from everyone watching.  It’s a bit uncomfortable to watch.  One part of me is glad I’m on the shores below so I don’t get hassled, the other part of me would have loved to tell him where to get off if he asked me for money for this ridiculous cause.  After he deems he has made a decent dollar some other guy comes along wearing only budgey smugglers, and jumps off the bridge in a very particular style. Tourists can pay £25 to do it too.  It’s 25m high and they have to do some kind of training about how to jump first.  A 21 year old South African guy died doing it in 2011 and I’ve heard lots of horror stories about severe bruising incurred by tourists.  I’m game for most things, and I did consider it, but chickened out slash couldn’t really be bothered.

Some snaps captured on my first touch down on Bosnian soil. Mostar.
Some snaps captured on my first touch down on Bosnian soil. Mostar. This is the famously green Neretva River.
Under the famous bridge. Stari Most.
Under the famous bridge. Stari Most.

I return to the hostel for the 5pm Bosnian coffee ritual.  I hate coffee but was interested in the custom so I sat and learned about how scooping off the top creamy layer meant a host was welcoming guests into their house and then you have to dip a corner of the sugar cube into the coffee and take a tiny bite etc etc.

Learning all things Bosnian coffee with my fellow hostellers
Learning all things Bosnian coffee with my fellow hostellers

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Majda told us about some local foods that we should try. In particular:

Burek – sort of like pies but the pastry is not as crusty.  They are usually filled with meat or cheese.
Cevapcici – Like… sausage and bread, with a twist.

Majdas showed us YouTube clips about the bombing of the bridge, Stari Most, during war time and told us some of her stories.  It was quite a moving experience, albeit shared with four semi drunk young Irish lads and a Scott, who were, to their credit, just as engaged as sober me.  She was very open about her distrust and dislike of the government and the media, a sentiment echoed by every local I have met since.

I came with pretty much zero knowledge about the war in Bosnia. It’s just something I remember being on tv when I was a kid.  It’s hard to explain what happened with the bridge without providing some context.  This is the version we heard from Maida: The war began in 1991 by Serbs living in Bosnia that basically wanted to make one big Serbia.  At this time Serbia was the strongest country in Yugoslavia (this is coming off the back of other countries having already achieved independence from Yugoslavia such as Croatia and Slovenia).  Soon after the start of the war, in 1993 I think, the head honcho in Serbia and Croatia made a deal to join forces, gang up on Bosnia and split the country so that Croatia gets half and Serbia gets half.  So the southern part of the country, where I am now, was mostly engaged in war with the Croats and from Sarajevo northwards was more concerned about war with the Serbs.  The Croats bombed the beautiful bridge in 1993-4.  A temporary foot bridge was constructed and used for many years.  Construction of the bridge I saw today only started in 2001 and didn’t open until 2004.  Some original pieces were retrieved from the river and used in the rebuild and I am told that it is a pretty close replica.

After our history lesson and a few more drinks (not me though) we head out to the season opening of a cave club, that’s right,  a cave club.  Literally, you walk downstairs and the roof (not sure if that is the correct term for the top of a cave?) is dripping on you.  The first thing I notice is that the ratio is really working in my favour with the male female ratio about 90, 10, not that I’m in the market.  Looking is free though and my god, never seen so many babes.  Single ladies, get to Bosnia!  And not just the men either, everyone there had put in 110% into their appearance before they left the house that night, albeit all of the girls are wearing about a 10cm layer of make up but whatever.  The next thing I notice is that everyone is tall.  Now I’m at least 5,10, so not exactly a wilting wallflower, but I am dwarfed by this new giant species of woman.  Possibly has something to do with the ten inch heels they are all wearing which brings me to my next observation, no one is dancing.  It’s the most bizarre atmosphere; the club is packed and I can feel the sexual tension vibrating from the cave walls but everyone is just standing around looking each other up and down, oh and not in an overly friendly way either.  Specially not the girls.  Try as I might, I can’t crack a smile from one of them.  For the first hour I am so happy to just watch what’s going on.  Another weird thing.  It’s bloody hard to order a drink.  Most places I’ve been it’s really quite straight forward.  Go to the bar.  Order.  Pay.  Drink.  Not so much here.  I still don’t really understand it but I think you’re meant to order from a waiter who then tells the barman, who then makes your drink and gives it to the waiter, who you pay, then the waiter gives it to you?  So there’s all these barmen standing around doing nothing while I am standing right in front of them trying to find a dam waiter.  Stupidest system I’ve ever seen.  And how does that work when you’re getting loose on the dance floor?  So it takes nearly 20 minutes just to try and order a rum and coke.  Oh and then they will try and rip you off for sure.  If you can it’s much easier to buy drinks through a local, if not, try and find a pricelist and hold them to that.  Or ask a local beforehand how much you should be paying for drinks and demand change back at all times!

I quite enjoy the music.  About two songs play that I know, the rest are Bosnian/Balkan clubby music that makes for easy dancing.  Me and Katie, a British girl I have befriended in my hostel, meet the three Aussie girls from yesterday and get our dance on.  After a while comes the biggest culture shock of all.  So we are dancing on the main dance floor.  There is a second level above us, like a big stage. These two women appear and start dancing.  The are unlike any women I have seen.  Everything is rock hard except for their fake boobs. I don’t think they’ve ever had a pie in their life.  They are so tanned up that I genuinely thought they had put on that body paint that body builders use for competitions.  And they sparkle.  Maybe that’s an additional feature at the tanning salon these days.  Oh and of course they are wearing barely anything.  Most of my undies are larger than their “shorts”.  When they come out my jaw is on the ground for about 15 minutes,  I can’t believe it.  The feminist inside me is in cardiac arrest.  But this is clearly not anything new as no one else really gives them the time of day.  I however have my eyes glued to them for most of the night.  To keep things exciting there are flares set off on either side of them, highlighting their brown, glittery bodies and terrible dance moves.  We dance until about 2am but that’s about all I can handle before the smoke situation really starts to get to me.  You can smoke anywhere here and the thick haze floating over our heads is really affecting my ability to draw the adequate oxygen required to pump out my dance moves.  I have a brush with death on a narrow street on the way home when a speeding car comes from behind and accelerates when he sees me.  I’m grateful that I’ve only have three drinks and am quick to do a kind of hands free cartwheel onto the footpath and into the waiting biceps of Fireman Sam (an extremely lovely and very good looking Canadian guy who is a fireman but whose actual name is Coltin).  I quite literally jump into his arms.  Thank god it wasn’t one of the Irish lads there or I probably would have squashed him into the footpath.  My heart is light and fluttery all the way home (nothing to do with the biceps) with the knowledge that had I been drinking before going out I probably would have been road kill.  Our tour guide tells us the following day that drinking, driving and speeding all at the same time, are not uncommon.

What clubbing in an underground cave in B&H looks like.
What clubbing in an underground cave in B&H looks like.

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