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.
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!
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.
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.
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.