A thought provoking and friendly journey through Bosnia via Mostar, Sarajevo and Jajce.
Monday 31st May
Today we were heading into Bosnia & Herzegovina, a country we wanted to have a look around. We wouldn’t be going off any beaten track walking mind, as this country still has many un-cleared landmines. In fact we would in the next few days see many landmine clearing land rovers roaming around. Before entering though we stopped at a gas station near the border, as we had been told that they could refill our gas bottles. No such luck, the Repsol bottle that was empty they couldn’t do. But he would be able to do the other one, only problem was it wasn’t empty as yet! We entered Bosnia & Herzegovina via the border point near Metkovic and were slightly disappointed not to get our passports stamped!
Our first point of call was going to be Mostar to see the famous bridge, that has been rebuilt since it’s destruction in the war. We headed north and past many old war damaged houses and bullet-ridden homes, something we would continue to see through out this country. But life seemed to still go on, after such recent terrible times they have been through. This country is and always has been a mixed ethnic and religious place stooped in history. The country though, since the war and the Dayton agreement has been split into different area’s depending on their ethnic background, i.e. Bosnian Serb (North and West) or Bosnian Croat and Bosnian Muslim (rest of the country).
As we came closer to Mostar the rain started, there were no campsites in Mostar itself so we headed down the road to the village of Blagaj and to a campsite called Camp Wimbledon, complete with tennis courts! After the rain ceased we took a walk down into the village and to the site of a Dervish Monastery. This was an old building perched under a cliff, where the Buna river gushes out of a cave.
It is still a retreat for Dervishes, so when we went upstairs our shoes had to be taken off and Lorna had to cover her hair with a scarf. It was a beautiful situation for a place of contemplation, also the countryside around and what we had seen so far was lovely and green. On the walk back to the campsite the rain came heavily down, so the rest of the day was spent inside.
Tuesday 1st June
With the weather a bit more settled, today we left the campsite and drove into Mostar to find some parking. Arriving we found that parking was a big problem, but after a drive around we did find a car park right next too the old town. Parking up we then found the price was very high per hour, but with not really any other options we stayed and headed into the old town. Due to our concern with the price per hour, our Mostar trip was pretty rushed but still well worthwhile. Entering the old town and walking through the cobbled streets of the old Ottoman quarter, was like entering another time and world.
We then came onto and crossed the famous Stari Most (Old bridge), although of course this like the old town has been rebuilt since the war.
We wandered the other side down small cobbled streets lined with cafes and stalls selling copper items, as the area is famous for copper smithing.
Coming out of the cobbled streets onto a main street, was where the realities of the war hit. Most of the shops and houses bore the scars of warfare, including a concrete block of a theatre strewn with bullet holes. In front of this place was a large telling graveyard, full of headstones that shared the same date of death for the years between 1992 and 1995.
We decided to head to the museum to learn more, a strange place run by a strange but friendly character who took us in and sat us down in front of a large screen. We watched a short film showing how Mostar used to be, with young lads competing in diving off the bridge and into the 5 metre deep waters below. The film then turned to the war and the destruction of the city and the bridge. It showed people still carrying on their daily lives amongst the rubble of the old town. It was a very poignant short film and certainly made you slightly aware of what they had gone through. The film finished with the rebuilding and grand opening of the new bridge, through a fan fare of fireworks. After a short look around the rest of the museum we thanked the curator and left.
After a further walk around Mostar and up the former front line of the town we paid our high parking fee and got back on the road.
We continued north through lovely countryside to Sarajevo, our next destination. Outside of the main city we found a campsite called Oaza in the Ilidza district, near the tramline to the city centre. On arriving it was raining again and as it was later in the day we decided to leave the city visit till tomorrow.
Wednesday 2nd June
Walked off down to the tram station, bought our tickets and hoped on the rattley old tram. Before long we are coming into Sarajevo, a city maybe going to be remembered for that long siege. The tramline we were on actually headed down what was known as sniper alley. Past the famous yellow Holiday Inn, where the foreign journalists stayed during the war. There are new buildings next to large burnt out shells of buildings and as we have seen so much before already, many many bullet holes. This road was where the Serb artillery up in the surrounding hills fired at will down on anything that moved.
We got off the tram at Bascarsija, the old Turkish quarter containing cobbled streets filled with lovely Turkish buildings and the bazaar.
This is a wonderful place to wonder around and through out most of the day we kept heading back here. Today though the rain kept coming down, so it was not the most fun for sightseeing! But still we wondered all around the city centre taking in the beautiful old buildings next to bullet-ridden places. After a small bite to eat and a drink we decided our legs had had enough walking around and besides which we just keep getting wet. We hoped back on the tram and headed back to the campsite.
Thursday 3rd June
This morning we left the campsite and headed for the Sarajevo tunnel museum eager, after yesterday’s city visit and with only a slight confused knowledge we had of the whole situation, to learn more about the history of the siege and what people went through. We seemed to have certainly come to the right place, as this was the tunnel that saved Sarajevo. The bullet-ridden house that houses the one entrance to the tunnel is on the one side of Sarajevo airfield, the city centre being on the other.
We entered the museum and went round to the back, where there was a group watching a film about the tunnel. The film shows the building of the tunnel while artillery fire goes on overhead and then people transporting food and soldiers to and fro. It then goes on to show the day to day lives of people in the city being bombarded, people dodge gunfire to pass the street and over to another buildings. Also a shot is taken of someone driving very fast down sniper alley to get to another part of the city, extremely scary stuff. The whole film is very very thought provoking and makes you realise how bad it must have been to live through the daily and hourly bombardment. The tunnel that saved the city was only 880 yards in length and the average width and height no more than four and a half feet, reaching below the airport and into the city. A small rail line was constructed to enable the better movement of supplies, before eventually telephone cables and an oil pipeline was fed through. The whole tunnel was built by hand, but to understand the great significance of it we need to know why.
Luckily for us at the end of the film a big Dutch group of tourists who were there got, in English, a spoken history by a Bosnian and we were told we could stay to listen. So I will try and briefly sum up what was said and hopefully not get too much incorrect.
With the death of Tito, Yugoslavia began to fall apart with most countries in turn wanting to break away and be independent. At the time Slobodan Milosevic, leader of Serbia, controlled the Yugoslavian army and this army was mostly made up of Serbs. For years in Yugoslavia and Bosnia in particular, people had lived happily side-by-side and were a mix of different religions and Ethnic groups, without anyone having any problem with each other. Mr Milosevic, when Yugoslavia was on the decline, started stirring up ethnic hatred and decided he wanted to expand the size of Serbia and basically make up a Serb only nation. As he was in control of the former Yugoslavian army he started attacking Bosnia & Hertz, who had no army of their own. He concentrated his efforts in 1991/2 to Sarajevo, thinking if he could take the capital city he would in turn take the country. They surrounded the city and bombarded it day and night. Ratko Mladic, the Bosnian Serb Commander is reported to have said “Shoot at slow intervals until I order you to stop. Shell them until they can’t sleep, don’t stop until they are on the edge of madness”. They cut off all electricity, gas and water supplies to the city as well as the phone lines! Many people fled the city, but many people stayed not wanting to give up their city and thus give up their country. The UN managed to broker a deal to keep open the airport for humanitarian aid purposes, although no Bosnians were allowed in. Also what the UN sent was apparently out of date small food supplies and to rub salt into the wounds vaccinations for Malaria that they didn’t have in Sarajevo! Many people were killed trying to cross the airfield at night to bring in supplies, until they came up with the idea of a tunnel under the airport. This would link the city with the Bosnian free side on the other side. The small Bosnian army had secured the other side, so safe passage could me made into the Bosnian hills and country to bring in supplies and arms. The siege continued in this way for four years with the deaths of many innocent civilians and the people of the city surviving on very little and under continuous gunfire. Eventually NATO and the west decided to act and within a month had bombed Serb artillery points around the city, ending the siege and the war. Leaving Bosnian’s and many people to think why did the west and NATO not take action before then? And how many lives could have been saved?
After the talk, we took a walk down into the remaining tunnel and viewed the rest of the museum. Now enlightened to the story of Sarajevo and after seeing the city yesterday, it was amazing how everything has been built back up and that it seems such a lively and friendly city. When we left we thanked the curator and spoke with him briefly, he told us that the Bosnians have a saying that “Anything is possible”.
We headed out of Sarajevo, with many thoughts passing through our minds and out into the countryside towards the town of Jajce.
We stopped on the way in the town of Travnik and had a look around the old ruined Stari bar (old town).
We then continued on to Jajce and a campsite on the outskirts, by the lakes called Plivsco. We pulled up in the campsite onto the grass and as it had been raining a while, proceeded to get well and truly stuck! After much wheel spinning in the mud, we managed to gain the help of some lads playing tennis as well as the guy on reception. We got Hymer out of the mud through sheer brute strength. Then decided we would just park up for the night on the concrete track! Later that evening I ended up watching the Bosnian v Germany game with the lad from reception, while he kept giving me wine and local rajki. The night ended up with me getting my guitar and both of us playing, that is until the night watch man came on duty and he headed home.
Friday 4th June
Took a walk around the lakes
and found some very odd little huts! I have no idea what they were used for?
We then headed off through the Bosnian beautiful and green countryside, back towards Croatia.
We were aiming for the peninsula above Dubrovnik called Peljesac. We ended up making a few wrong turns when we were back in Croatia, but eventually made it back to the coastal road. It was heading south near the peninsula that we then had to cross back into Bosnia, as they have a very small part of the coastline, well one town really called Neum! It was strange no sooner had we passed the checkpoint in we were passing it going back out. By the time we reached the peninsular it was getting dark, so we headed for the first campsite on the coast near the town of Ston.