After a long and tiresome bus journey, I arrived at 11pm in the city of Mostar. I was afraid the hostel might have closed its doors for the evening, as I wandered down the sleepy, dark streets, trying to trust that maps.me would get me to my destination. I hesitated at the end of a small, dark alleyway and stared around helplessly, with my backpack weighing heavily on my shoulders. Luckily, some drunken travellers were stumbling their way home and guided me in the right direction. As I walked through the doors to the slightly hidden-away Madjas Hostel, I was greeted by the friendly owners, who brought me deep-fried Bosnian toast with jam and cream and a cup of iced tea. It was a much-needed pick-me-up on this late, humid evening and their warm hospitality made me feel instantly at home. I sat out on the benches in the garden that night and soaked in the scents of Bosnia.
The next day reached over 40 degrees Celsius and my new-found hostel friends and I lazed around on the benches in the garden, taking advantage of the free breakfast, complete with more Bosnian toast, eggs, sultana and cinnamon porridge, creamed corn pudding, mint tea and coffee served in tiny cups. It would keep us going for some time!
At midday, I joined a tour run by the hostel. It was to last twelve hours (from midday to midnight) and if it wasn’t for the great sense of humour of our friendly tour guide, I would have cried all day, learning about the horrific events of the recent war and the political unrest that still seems to keep the country from truly settling into a life of peace and tranquility. Our guide was in his twenties when the war began and he had first-hand stories, which sent chills down my spine.
That day, our tour guide drove his mini-van, full of backpackers, into the city of Mostar and through the surrounding countryside. We listened to war stories, swam in magical waterfalls, feasted on Bosnian grilled meat, drank beer and explored castle ruins. We even had the privilege of visiting an old lady’s house, where we learnt some of the local language, slurped on carefully-brewed Bosnian coffee, sipped on sweet, homemade elderflower and sage cordials and feasted on fresh figs, apricots, dates, kiwi fruit and grapes that were all growing outside.
Here are few phrases from my Bosnian education that day:
- Boli Glava – It blows my mind!
- Dje si-legendo – where are you legend?! How are you going?
- Sta-ima – What’s up!
Despite the division of the country and all the horrendous events of the past, the people of Bosnia are full of such warmth and hospitality that it gives hope for the resilience and goodness of human kind. We returned at midnight that evening to bowls of homemade soup and rice, before we rolled into our bunk beds for some much-needed sleep.
My final day in Mostar was spent exploring the main city with some fellow travellers. In the new town, we wandered through the park, past the Bruce Lee statue (which seems to have no story behind it at all) and into an abandoned Partisan Memorial Cemetery, full of broken tombstones and overgrown plants. It was ridiculously hot and it was a relief to wander back with ice creams in our hands.
Next, we climbed the slightly creepy abandoned building, which was used as a sniper tower during the recent war. Full of rubbish and graffiti, we climbed the cement stair case several levels to the top, which gave incredible views over the town. It was so hot up there that our hands burnt on the metal ladder as we tried to climb back down.
After a feast of ćevapčići (the traditional Bosnian dish of sausages and raw onion in Pita bread), I continued my explorations alone, wandering through the cobbled laneways of the Old Town of Mostar, past shops full of glittering coffee sets, mosaic lamps and exotic art, and over the famous arched bridge.
I was lucky enough to watch a trained diver leap from the edge and plunge into the icy currents below. I stayed just long enough to see the sun set over the river, before wandering back for my final sleep in my Bosnian home.
For someone who knew very little about the country prior to arrival, it was an eye-opening experience, the kind that makes travel so enriching, addictive and worthwhile.
Have you been to Mostar? How was your experience?