Keeping the faith in Mostar

The further we travel, the more apparent it becomes that the one thing that makes any place special is not its grand buildings, historical sights, natural beauty or great food. It’s the people we meet. And we’ve had the pleasure of spending time with some very awesome people throughout this trip. We’ve had tea with Habishah and her nomad family in Morocco, we’ve made paella with Jose and Reitxel in Toledo, and we’ve celebrated our friend Josil’s birthday party together with Davide and his family in Verona, to name a few. We’ve also hung out with many other like-minded travellers.

Arriving in Mostar, Bosnia after a four hour bus ride from Dubrovnik, we weren’t quite sure what to expect (and were a little bit anxious, no doubt), but we certainly did not expect what was coming. Mostar now sits on the top spot of our favourite travel destinations. We were initially supposed to stay for two nights, but liked it so much we stayed for three, and could have easily stayed for a week or longer, if time had permitted.

This is mostly because in Mostar, we had the honour of meeting Majda (pronounced Mai-da) and Bata. Majda runs Hostel Majda’s – the friendliest, warmest hostel that we’ve ever stayed at. She makes friends with all her guests, always makes sure everyone is alright, and even finds the time to whip up something special in the kitchen everyday for everyone, on the house.

Travelers leave behind all sorts of artwork and memorabilia at Majda’s. See if you can spot our contribution – one of the Orang Asli pandanus bookmarks we had brought along on the trip

Majda’s brother, the SNAG (Sensitive New Age Guy) Bata, runs an offbeat 12-hour tour of Mostar’s surrounds catered specially for backpackers (only those staying at Majda’s). Bata’s tour is terrible because it has spoilt all future tours for us. We cannot imagine any other tour coming close to being as truthful, crazy and side-splittingly funny (and a little scary) as his. We won’t give away much more details of where we went and what happened, as his jealous competitors might stumble upon this blog, but we’ll just leave you a little bit of advice – come to Mostar, stay at Majda’s and go on Bata’s tour!

Bata doing his thing

Kravice Waterfall

Crazy Dylan went swimming in the 12-degree Celsius water

Bosnians take their coffee very seriously. Correct way of drinking Bosnian coffee: Dip a bit of the sugar cube in the coffee, then take a small nibble and slurp the coffee

Sara’s favourite dessert, Hurmastica (syrup-soaked sponge fingers)

The Mostar countryside

Pocitelj, an Ottoman-era fortress village in the Mostar countryside

A sufi centre of learning in the village of Blagaj, which dates back to the 15th century. This important site for Muslims was miraculously spared from shelling during the war. The limestone caves behind it are an important archeological site where neolithic artefacts have been uncovered.

The same warmth and hospitality exuded by Majda and Bata were also evident in the other Bosnians we come across in Mostar – the shopkeepers, grandmothers, gentlemen hanging out in coffee houses, hairdressers, children, cats, etc.

Haircut time

Having said this, we are only all too aware that Mostar is still a city divided (both physically and emotionally) along ethnic and religious lines, and that efforts to reconcile these divisions are still very much a work in progress. The physical scars of the 1992-95 war remain in plain sight, and are especially apparent in the dozens of bullet riddled, war torn buildings scattered around Mostar. But we cannot even begin to imagine the emotional scars the people of Mostar must bear and live with each and every day.

One of dozens of war torn buildings left behind in Mostar

This was once a bank and the tallest building in Mostar. The Croat army used it as a sniper post. It’s now abandoned and has become somewhat of a magnet for curious backpackers.

View of East Mostar from the fourth floor of the old bank building. Spent bullet shells can still be found amongst the rubble

View of the more affluent West Mostar from the staircase of the old bank

However, we are awed at the courage and determination of the people of Mostar to rebuild their lives and their town, especially under the very difficult prevailing circumstances. One story in particular stands out – that of a bridge that is said to have been akin to the soul of the people of Mostar. The Stari Most (Old Bridge), which had connected people living on both sides of the Neretva River that flows through Mostar, had been there for as long as anyone could remember. Mostar itself was named after the bridge keepers (mostari) who in the medieval times guarded Stari Most.

Stari Most was 427 years old when it was shelled to smithereens by the Bosnian Croat army in the siege of 1993. As this pedestrian bridge was of little strategic importance, its destruction has been termed as an act of “killing memory”, in which evidence of a shared cultural heritage and peaceful co-existence was deliberately destroyed.

The bridge was reconstructed in 2001, with help from the international community. The new bridge, which is called Stari Grad, was made to be as similar as possible to the original, using the same materials and technology. It is now the new heart of Mostar, a focal point for its growing tourism industry, and a symbol of hope of a peaceful shared future.

Stari Grad

The bridge is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site

Sign in the old town of east Mostar: Don’t forget

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9 thoughts on “Keeping the faith in Mostar

  1. teckwyn says:

    Amazing shots! Love the one with Dylan at the waterfall.

  2. mama says:

    Aiyo Dylan the water must be cold but refreshing I guess.I have heard so much of Mostar and Bosnia must go next year InshaAllah.You all can be our tour guide.

  3. beautiful beautiful beautiful.. love this place and you guys punya pics!

  4. Melissa G. says:

    my favourite post so far! 🙂 makes me want to leave everything behind and jump on the next flight out…

  5. Ee Lynn says:

    A touching and beautiful post! I remember the ethnic conflict only too well. So many chilling reminders of it in Mostar. Yet the people seem so gracious, kind and resilient.

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