Friday 26 July 2013

Passport to Bosnia

Mostar was our destination yesterday but as anyone knows it's usually the journey rather than the end point that provides the giggles. We knew it was quite a way and contrary to popular belief I'm not silly, I checked the map. So four hours, three border crossings later we finally arrived. 

Of course, somewhere along the way we were accidentally abandond in the Bosnian coastal town of Neum. Clearly our lesson for the day stated 'buns and cheap rum will be the ruin of us'. We were one minute late back for the bus and helplessly we watched it pull off, complete with our passports and suncream. As we stood there, there was that dual scream of laughter and disbelief. 

On the bright side, after a quick Google and call to the hotel, they came back. They'd already reached the next border crossing and the gruntle in the other guests was extremely dissed. The lovely guide was mortified though. Still, we had our buns to munch...

The scenery of mountain, river, plain was astonishing. A perfectly dramatic stage setting for the incredible history of this region. The beauty of the Neretva river belies the terrible crimes perpetrated against the people who lived here. I'm not going to go into the story of the creation and destruction of Yugoslavia; the senseless waste of life on all sides is well documented elsewhere. However it is clear that the effect on the collective psyche of the people continues and 'never forget' will remain with me.

It is a cliché to say that Mostar was a collection of contrasts. But it's true. An ancient town which feels like it's been newly discovered; shops which should have catered to locals, all selling the same copper trinkets; mosques celebrating the vine; and colourful tourists wandering amongst bullet riddled buildings. 

Asim our Guide took us through the Muslim way of life and we visited a 'Turkish' house. Not that it was Turkish, merely traditional Bosnian but such is the feeling of the Croats and Serbs, anything Bosnian is regarded as Turkish. I like the Bosnians; they have an innate contrariness. For instance, before they were Muslim, they had a breakaway, 'heretical' form of Christianity. This upset the pope, but he was even more upset when they converted to Islam. I wonder if this was a universal decision, or something more politically expedient?

Still, our ham, cheese and salad roll was unusual. The concept of serving food in the cafe we collapsed in was a novelty; the drinks were served by a harassed, stunning and bubbly young lady who told us she loved England. We asked about food and she promised us the best sandwich in Bosnia. Anyway she scampered down the road and came back clutching 2 bags with our sarnies. For 8 euros, we giggled with her, watched the world shimmer by and discuss the insanity of tourists. She told us that she wanted to leave the town, I hope she follows her dream because she was a massive personality and deserves so much more. 

I understand more about my Bosnian friend and I hope I never feel what she went through. But to go there and sense a town making a new start gives me hope for the people's future. I could say more but I'll save it for further ponderings at a later date. 

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