Rain is forecast, but the day dawns bright and sunny, so we decide on a tour of the countryside around Mostar while the going is good.
Our guide, Admir, makes himself available at short notice, and we set off for Blagaj. This was the seat of a Hercegovinian ruler, Herceg meaning Duke in English. The village is located at the source of the Buna River, and is famous for having a ‘Tekke’, a monastery for the Islamic Dervish order (of whirling dervish fame).
We all, the guys included, donned a wrap around skirt to go inside and view the building that dates back to 1500 or thereabouts. It is located at the mouth of a river cave, in an area constantly cooled from natural breezes and flowing water.
The whole area of Blagaj was bright and appealing,and we returned much later that day for a late lunch / early dinner of a seafood platter and salads, sitting beside the fast flowing Buna River.
We moved on to Pocitelj, and here we climbed up to a 16th century fortress overlooking the town. Admir warned us it was a long and steep climb, and that was no joke, at one stage I was clambering up hand over hand. Getting up was one thing, it was a miracle I made it down without falling on someone.
Further on we came to Medjugorje. We had already become aware of this wine growing region, on account of the delicious wine we had at my birthday dinner. However, this town is actually a place of pilgrimage. In the early eighties, several young girls claimed to see an apparition of the Virgin Mary, and now thousands of people flock to the Catholic Church to pray in front of her statue. It is actually quite a touristy town, with a Main Street that is one shop after another selling religious artefacts and other souvenirs.
Last stop for the official tour was the Kravice waterfalls. The falls are spectacular, a semi-circle of water dropping metres into the icy water below. We all had our swimmers under our day clothes, but it was only Waddy who was brave enough (read: what an idiot) to dive in the water. As he dived from the rocks, I was planning to write “and that was the last time we saw him,” until he surfaced shortly after with such a look of shock on his face that I thought he was having a heart attack. Admir says he has brought hundreds of people to the falls who expect to swim, but we are the first to actually carry through. Nevertheless, I would say to anyone visiting Mostar, if you have a free day in summer, go out to the falls with a picnic (or buy food there) and spend the whole day. It is a beautiful place.
The rain held off all day, and we were surprised to note that it was six-thirty by the time we got back to the hotel. We adjourned to the rooftop terrace, to share a drink and a laugh and watch the shenanigans on the Old Bridge. Young men will dive into the water once they have enticed enough money from the tourists. Naturally they are younger and fitter than Waddy. No-one paid him to dive in the waterfall.
Admir is the son of a mixed marriage between a Bosnian Muslim and a Bosnian Croat. He also shared with us his experiences during the war. They are all heartbreaking stories, and it is such a tragedy that the former Yugoslavia descended into so much chaos. Many of his current stories centred around the blight that we all know in a global economy, how is it that factories are closing, and how is it that food is imported when it is the same as what is home-grown? The only difference was that he was talking about food grown in “other countries” such as Serbia, Croatia and Slovenia. Admir says unemployment is running at 51% – although our guide the next day did say there is ‘black’ employment and seasonal work. But there is no doubt that tourism is vital to this country now that factory production and agriculture are in decline.
Something that has been on my mind for several days now is how easily any one of these young people could have been my child, telling this story. For six months leading to Tito’s death, I was living in Yugoslavia. Had I stayed and married my (Croatian) boyfriend, we would probably have had children, and they would have been under ten when the war broke out. I gave no thought to that when I decided to come away. Now I found myself constantly reminded of it. A lost childhood, living in basement shelters, with no schooling nor basic amenities. It is amazing how much they have achieved in the subsequent years – their intelligence, education, English – all are exemplary.
Monday 24th June 2013, Garrulous Gwendoline, Mostar.