Day Trip to Mostar | Bosnia & Herzegovina
I don't know if we quite knew what we were getting into heading into Bosnia & Herzegovina. We had booked a day trip to Mostar from Dubrovnik through our Airbnb host, enchanted by the pictures we had seen of Mostar's famous bridge and teal river running underneath. It looked like a fairytale, and as a photographer, I wanted to capture its beauty through my lens. What I naively underestimated were the very real world scars etched into the landscape of this picturesque country, and what a profound impact the kindness and resilience of the people who lived through horrors would have on our time there.
On the way to Mostar from Dubrovnik, we passed in and out of a thin strip of Bosnia & Herzegovina that reaches the sea. Upon exiting Croatia, the street signs changed to include two languages: Bosnian and Croatian. This, our guide Zoran informed us, was because there are three official languages in Bosnia & Herzegovina: Croatian, Serbian, and Bosnian. And each group of people that has their own language, also has their own religion: Catholic, Serbian Orthodox, and Muslim, respectively. The two majority languages of a town appear on the street signs. Bilingual signs, while intriguing, weren't something new for me. But what was new for me, was seeing one language blacked out with graffiti on a majority of the signs. Someone had spray painted over the Bosnian on almost all of the signs in the coastal town of Neum. While the country had been at peace for over twenty years, it was clear not all residents had made amends.
Zoran shook his head as he told us an abbreviated and simplified version of the Bosnian War, even though we could tell there were many layers to the history he witnessed firsthand as a man in his mid-twenties at the height of the war.
As Croatia and Slovenia declared their independence from Yugoslavia in 1991, Bosnia & Herzegovina attempted to do the same, but disagreements between Croats, Bosnians, and Serbs resulted in bitter inter-ethnic fighting. Each ethnicity wanted their own country - not a mix of ethnicities lacking nationalism to tie them together. They fought, murdered, and bombed; sometimes targeting a specific group with ethnic cleansing and other times indiscriminately shelling innocent villages. Over one hundred thousand people died in the fighting, mostly civilians.
Continuing on our drive, we passed through a town surrounded by wetlands known for their frog legs and snails. While the red geraniums lining every window sill were endearing, it lacked the same charm the centuries' old stone villages along the coast possessed. As if reading my thoughts, Zoran said the reason all of the houses in this town were new is because it was completely leveled to the ground during fighting. Not one house survived. The entire town was decimated. We were silent.
A few minutes later we approached what looked to me like cement rubble, and Zoran said, "Those are the only two buildings left from what was here before the war. So much fighting. So much loss. And for what? They all live together in one country anyway."
"It's so sad," I quietly replied, staring out the window.
"Yes, it is so sad. Such a waste of life," he replied, with more anguish than anger. I looked to him in the driver seat and saw him wipe a tear from his eye. Twenty plus years after the conflict, driving through here at least once a week as a tour guide, and the wound was so deep that it still had tenderness.
We asked Zoran later if there was risk of war starting again. He said he didn't think so, not because the ethnic animosity had disappeared, but because they all still remembered the loss and no one wanted to go through that again.
Where to Eat
Ascinica Balkan II | Ascinica Balkan II is an authentic Bosnian restaurant in Mostar with a friendly proprietor. We recommend ordering a medium mix plate (it’s a hand written option on the inside front cover of the menu) for a variety of delicious Bosnian dishes.
What to Do
Walk the streets, hike down to the river to watch a group of local men jump off the bridge one by one, and visit the mosque. Paying extra to walk up the minaret is worth it for the views. We paid to visit the Turkish House, but would not recommend. It's an expensive entry fee for a one room tour and the exterior architecture is the coolest part about it.
Want to book your own day trip to Mostar?
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